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Revision as of 15:38, 14 April 2012
Manhattan's famous Chinatown is a lively neighborhood, full of good values in restaurants and food shopping. Also on sale are cheap knockoffs of designer labels made in China, and all sorts of trinkets and toys. Chinatown is a much larger neighborhood in population and area than it used to be a few decades ago, and for all practical purposes encompasses most of "Little Italy" and a large portion of the Lower East Side, north of Canal Street and on the north side of the Manhattan Bridge overpass. Indeed, in a real sense, it can be said that the center of Chinatown is no longer on Mott St. between Canal St. and Chatham Square (though that stretch is well worth visiting), but has moved further north and east to East Broadway between Chatham Square and Pike Street and Grand St. between the Bowery and Chrystie St., where locals shop for foodstuffs - and you can, too, for good values. Chinatown has also been growing more diverse, becoming a bit less of a Chinatown and more of a China and Southeast Asia town, with a growing presence of immigrants from Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc.
The Chinatown area also encompasses what little remains of Little Italy, an area which is essentially comprised of a few blocks of Mulberry St. north of Canal, plus a bit on streets perpendicular to Mulberry (such as the block between Mulberry and Mott on Grand St., or part of it). Little Italy is almost devoid of Italian residents nowadays, and is primarily a kind of tourist theme park, but still contains a few eateries with reputations. What used to be the northern end of Little Italy, now called NoLIta (which extends north to Houston St.), is a quieter residential area, less touristy, and more often frequented by New Yorkers.
For general purposes, the D or B subway lines to Grand St. are optimal for accessing Chinatown. The J and Z to Bowery leave you a little north of the center of Chinatown. The F train to East Broadway leaves you toward the eastern edge of the neighborhood. The 6, R, N, Q, J or Z to Canal St. leave you a few blocks west of the center of the neighborhood though in the midst of the excitement, congestion, and vendors of Canal St (this is generally the best stop for shopping for anything other than foodstuffs). Further afield, it is also possible to take the 4 or 5 to Brooklyn Bridge or the 2 or 3 to Park Place and walk north and east. The A, C, or E trains that stop at Canal and 6th Av. and the 1 train, which stops at Canal and Varick, are far west of the neighborhood though walkable in good weather.
By MTA bus
Several city bus lines including the M9, M15, and M103 traverse Chinatown.
By long distance bus
Chinatown is the home of several super-cheap long distance bus companies, with Fung Wah Bus  being the granddaddy of them all. You can take buses from Manhattan's Chinatown to other Chinatowns in Boston; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; to various cities further afield; and to casinos in Atlantic City. Ticket offices of the various bus companies are scattered throughout Chinatown; besides Fung Wah Bus, there's also Eastern Coach , Lucky Star Bus , New Century Bus , and Sky Express Bus .
You can of course walk to Chinatown. If coming from Brooklyn, you can cross the Manhattan Bridge, which opened to pedestrian traffic within the past few years. Note though, that your view will be partially blocked by a protective mesh, and that you will be periodically rattled by the B, D, N, and Q trains crossing the bridge. But on the plus side, you will exit on Bowery near Canal St. in central Chinatown. Another bridge that can be crossed from Brooklyn to Manhattan is the Williamsburg Bridge. After crossing the Williamsburg, you will be left at the border of Chinatown on Delancey Street. All things being equal, though, it is most pleasant to cross the Brooklyn Bridge and then take the short walk to the southern reaches of Chinatown from the pedestrian exit. Note that it is also possible to use a bike path on the Manhattan Bridge and that the walkway over the Brooklyn Bridge doubles for most of its length as a bike path.
The main attraction in Chinatown is just walking through the neighborhood, visiting the above-mentioned shopping streets.
- Museum of Chinese in the Americas, 215 Centre Street, . M 11AM-5PM, Th 11AM-9PM, F 11AM-5PM, Sa-Su 10AM-5PM, closed Tu-W. Exhibits on the history and culture of Chinese-Americans. $7 adults, $4 students/seniors, children under 12 free.
- Columbus Park, Bayard St (between Mulberry and Baker Streets). An excellent place to relax and people-watch. Early in the mornings, people practice their tai-chi there. If you're interested, some of these people might teach you a little bit of it. At times, there are a group of women practicing the traditional Chinese fhan dances. Also, usually in the summer time there are basketball tournaments one may either participate in or watch. In the afternoon when school is out, many adolescents hang out in this park.
- Sara Delano Roosevelt Park, Chrystie Street (between Houston and Canal Streets). Another good spot to people-watch.
- Chatham Square, (at the intersection of The Bowery, East Broadway, Park Row, Mott and Worth Streets). At this square at the confluence of several major streets, there is a memorial archway to Chinese-Americans who died in WWII which has some interesting calligraphy. Also in the square is a statue of Lin Zexu, a Chinese scholar who opposed the opium trade in the 19th century.
- Mulberry and Canal Street. When many tourists arrive in Chinatown, they are greeted by the stench of dead fish that are sold along the streets. It's definitely a sight worth watching since it is a distinct quality of Chinatown.
One of the many bargain stores in Chinatown
Be mindful that most shops in Chinatown accept cash only. Canal Street east of Broadway is a paradise for bargain hunters and people looking to buy counterfeit knock-offs of high-end clothes and accessories. If you want to impress people back home with the fake Louis Vuitton bag you got for $30, this is the place to go. Also look at the stores that line Mott Street between Canal and Chatham Square.
NoLIta has become synonymous with avant-couture boutiques in charmingly dilapidated buildings. Some stores are so idiosyncratic that they appear not to sell anything at all, yet are perpetually crowded and passionately trendy.
- Elizabeth Center, 15 Elizabeth Center. If you want to purchase cute Asian accessories or dolls, Elizabeth Center (also known as EC, for short), is the right place for you to shop. Once you enter, go down the escalator and all the shops downstairs sell cute Asian merchandise. If you want to take sticker pictures, EC has it too. It's on the first level in the far left corner of the building.
- Deluxe Food Market, 79 Elizabeth St. (between Grand and Hester, entrances on Elizabeth and Mott Sts.), ☎ +1 212 925-5766. This humongous store has almost anything you can think of and more, both raw and prepared. Seriously; go and see.
- Bangkok Center Grocery, 104 Mosco St. (between Mott and Mulberry), ☎ +1 212 732-8916, . This modest-sized store contains a large quantity of Thai goods of various descriptions, and also sells inexpensive prepared sweet and savory items. Friendly, helpful service.
- Asia Market, 71.5 Mulberry Street, between Canal St. and Bayard St., (212) 962-2020 or (212)962-2028. Recently renovated from a dusty, old grocery store with tight aisles and rusty shelves into a brighter, more spacious store with a wider selection of goods. Asia Market supplies a variety of Asian ingredients, snacks, and drinks. Usually the difficult, hard to find Asian ingredients will most likely be available at this store. Even if it isn't available, the staff here is very friendly. You may leave the brand name of the product you want and they may try to order it for you. There is also a vegetable and fruit stand outside the store. Basically, this may be your one-stop store to shop for everything. One good example of the products this store has is fresh kaffir lime leaves which seems to be hard to find.
- Udom's Thai-Indonesian Store, 81A Bayard St. (between Mott and Mulberry), ☎ +1 212 349-7662. Often a bit cheaper than Bangkok Center Grocery, and sells things from Malaysia as well as Thailand and Indonesia. Husband-and-wife store owned by a man from Thailand and a woman from Indonesia, both ethnic Chinese.
- Kam Man Food Products, 200 Canal St. (between Mott and Mulberry), ☎ +1 212 571-0330, .
- Aji Ichiban, Four locations: 37 Mott St. (near Pell St.); 23 East Broadway (between Catherine and Market); 167 Hester St. (between Mott and Elizabeth); 153 Centre St. (between Canal and Howard), ☎ +1 866 833-3888, . Hong Kong snack shop, very popular with locals and tourists alike. The staff are friendly and give samples.
If you want knockoffs of designer labels, try the stores on Mott St. south of Canal first. There are other stores on Canal St., but you may find them more expensive. And remember, you get what you pay for, so if you buy a knockoff watch and it lasts you more than six months, be happy. Price shop and don't be afraid to try bargaining.
Local specialties on the street
If you want to have a really cheap meal, or it's really nice weather, consider buying something on the street (the fried chicken cart that you may find on Canal or Walker St. right near the triangle between Canal, Walker, and Baxter St. serves really tasty legs and wings, for example) or a cheap prepared thing such as is sold at the Bangkok Center Grocery on Mosco St. between Mott and Mulberry, and eat it in Columbus Park or another park as a kind of impromptu picnic.
If you'd rather have a sit-down meal, Chinatown probably has the largest number of inexpensive restaurants in Manhattan. They range from the "rice, soup, and four side dishes" steam table places to the "4 dumplings for $5" establishments to full-service restaurants like Great NY Noodletown and East Corner Wonton, which abound in dishes "on rice," noodle soups, and congees for around $5 or less, and on up to a seafood specialist like Oriental Garden, where specially requested, highly-prized varieties of live fish and seafood can run up the bill somewhat. But what Chinatown lacks is anything truly high-end. For the most part (with the exception of Oriental Garden), $25 is about the most you are likely to pay, even if you pig out.
- Banh Mi Saigon Bakery, 198 Grand Street (between Mott and Mulberry), ☎ +1 212 941-1541. This is in back of a jewelry and gem shop; no kidding! Both the Banh Mi Saigon (pork) and Banh Mi Ga (chicken) sandwiches are fantastic. Get them to go and eat them in a nearby park such as the one on the corner of Spring and Mulberry, a few blocks north and one block west. Note: Do not confuse this place with Saigon Banh Mi So at 369 Broome St., which serves sandwiches that are fine but nowhere near as good.
- Bo Ky, 80 Bayard St. (between Mott and Mulberry), ☎ +1 212 406-2292. Very inexpensive food, reliable soups that are especially welcome in cold weather. Very quick service. They have side dishes of offal (pig's ears, etc.) for those who like them.
- Coluck Restaurant, 16 Elizabeth St. (btwn Bayard and Canal St.), ☎ (212) 732-6322. Located across Elizabeth Center. Very inexpensive food. Quick service. I must recommend the 'kimchi spam fried rice with pineapple'. It is delicious. Also the 'Chinese sweet pancake'. A fusion of Chinese and American tastes.
- Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, 65 Bayard St. (between Mott and Bowery), ☎ +1 212 608-4170, . Enjoy the "regular" flavors like taro, green tea, lychee, black sesame, mango, and coconut (or the "exotic" flavors like strawberry, vanilla...), and don't neglect the sorbets. Even though there is a Haagen Daaz down the street from this ice cream store, Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is the go-to place for ice cream when you visit Chinatown. On a nice, sunny day, you'll most likely find a long line of customers outside the store waiting to purchase their ice cream. That is how popular this store is. The owner experiments and creates his own flavor. A must-visit if you're in Chinatown! If you really like the ice cream, you may purchase one of their 'Chinatown Ice Cream Factory' t-shirt and support them!
- East Corner Wonton, 70 E. Broadway (corner of Market St.), ☎ +1 212 343-9896. Very inexpensive Cantonese food: Items "on rice," noodle soups, lo mein, etc. Authentic and an excellent value. Note that East Corner is primarily a breakfast and brunch establishment. It closes early (9:30 PM) and may be out of barbecued items if you go later in the day.
- Fay Da Bakery, 83 Mott St., btwn Canal & Bayard St.; 82 Elizabeth St, btwn Grand & Hester St; 191 Centre St., .
- Great NY Noodletown, 28 Bowery (corner of Bayard), ☎ +1 212 349-0923. This restaurant, which is open late, has the feel of a Chinese diner. It can be very crowded at peak hours. Try the noodle soups and congees (around $5/person), the Ginger-Scallion Lo Mein (ditto), the barbecued items, and the salt baked dishes, but don't neglect the less inexpensive specials, like the dishes with chives or pea shoots (around $13/person, with different charges depending on choice of beef, chicken, shrimp, scallops, etc.). It should be mentioned, for the squeamish, that their bathrooms tend to be pretty filthy, but there's never been any indication that standards of poor hygiene are practiced with regard to food preparation.
- Joe's Shanghai, 9 Pell St. (between Mott and Doyers), ☎ +1 212 233-8888, . This is the most famous of the Shanghainese restaurants in Chinatown, but not the best. Like most every other Shanghainese restaurant, it serves the popular "soup dumplings" (xiaolong bao in Chinese) which contain either crab or/and pork meat with soup all within a dumpling. However, due to its popularity, here are some tips: Don't wait on line, go only at odd hours and order adventurously (get things like eel).
- M Star Cafe, 19 Division St. (between Catherine and Market St.), ☎ (212) 966-8988. Small restaurant decorated with caricatures of Hong Kong celebrities on the walls. If you hit the morning stream of customers, you'll definitely have to wait for a seat since their breakfast is... to die for! Extremely cheap! This restaurant is, by far, the best restaurant to eat at if you're looking for something similar to the diners in Hong Kong. A mix of Chinese and American tastes. Definitely try their french toast, pan fried rice noodle, and iced milk tea! Extremely cheap.
- Nice Green Bo, 66 Bayard St. (between Mott and Bowery), ☎ +1 212 625-2359. Stick to Shanghainese food and do not get things like "Jalapeno Chicken."
- Skyway, 11 Allen St. (between Division and Canal), ☎ +1 212 625-1153. Not much English spoken by the staff, but the food is authentic. Get the roti telur, satay, and main dishes such as those featuring seafood. You can easily have a full meal of noodle soup here for around $5, or you can choose to have a bigger dinner, in which case you might possibly break $20/person.
- Tai Pan Bakery, 194 Canal Street, ☎ +1 212 732-2222, . This bakery store offers numerous Chinese breads, delicacies, and both hot and cold beverages/snacks. It shares its name with a popular bakery store chain in Hong Kong.
- Yummy Noodles, 48 Bowery (in the Chinatown Arcade between Bowery and Elizabeth St.), ☎ +1 212 374-1327. Specializes in casseroles, including things like pig heart casserole.
- Hop Kee Restaurant, 21 Mott St, ☎ +1 212 964-8365. A decades-old Cantonese restaurant with classic dishes (Roast Pork Lo Mein, etc.) Open late on weekends (until 4AM), but Cash only.
- Lombardi's Original Pizzeria Napoletana, 32 Spring Street (corner of Mott), ☎ +1 212 941-7994, . The establishment in its current incarnation was opened in 1994, but describes itself as a continuation of "America's first pizzeria" (established in 1905). Their coal oven pizza is served by the pie, not the slice.
- New Amazing 66, 66 Mott Street. Very good Cantonese food--go in a large group and get a feast!
- Nha Trang Restaurant, 87 Baxter St (btwn Canal and Bayard Street), ☎ +(212) 233-5948. Looking to catch a quick lunch or dinner? This is definitely the place to go! Speedy service! You order and five minutes later, it's on your table ready to eat. A nice, homey Vietnamese restaurant. Be sure to try the soft-shelled crabs and fried calamari. It is done differently, but still delicious
- Ping's Seafood Restaurant, 22 Mott St, ☎ +1 212 602-9988. Good seafood restaurant especially the seafood pan-fried noodles & calamari. Also has dim sum. Note that this place can get very crowded during weekend dinner.
- Shanghai Cafe, 100 Mott St. (between Canal and Hester), ☎ +1 212 966-3988. Possibly the best Shanghainese food in Chinatown, overall. Many young Chinese-American couples have dates there. Do not be shocked if the check is delivered to you unbidden, but don't feel that it must be paid right away. It's easy to have a sizable meal here for around $15 and possible to eat here for less.
- Ajisen Noodle Restaurant, 14 Mott St. (btwn Mosco St. and where Bowery intersects Mott St.), ☎ +1 212 267-9680. If you're looking for Japanese food in Chinatown, this is the place to go. Quaint, peaceful restaurant. Definitely splurge on the spider roll (sushi with soft-shelled crabs) and the fried ice cream!
- Nyonya, 194 Grand St. (between Mott and Mulberry), ☎ +1 212 334-3669. This restaurant is part of a small chain with other Nyonya and Penang restaurants and is popular and crowded on weekends. Their roti canai is good. One word of warning, though: If you are looking for food like you had on your visit to Kuala Lumpur, for the most part, you won't get it here. Instead, you are likely to get very watered-down, Americanized versions of most of their Malaysian dishes. Expect to spend around $25/person for dinner.
- Oriental Garden, 14 Elizabeth St. (between Bayard and Canal), ☎ +1 212 619-0085. Somewhat upscale, white tablecloths. Excellent seafood dishes, in particular, and a good place for a banquet.
For dim sum eating halls, especially those with carts, it is generally best to arrive by 10:30 or 11:00 in order to beat the crowds and have fresh food that is hot. Grand Harmony opens early and is a pleasant place to have breakfast between 9 and 10.
- Dim Sum Go Go, 5 East Broadway (at Chatham Square), ☎ +1 212 732-0796. More expensive than the average Chinatown restaurant and catering to a mixed clientèle of Chinese and non-Chinese, it is many connoisseurs' favorite spot for dim sum in Chinatown. All the food is made to order; no carts. Some of their non-dim sum items are also good. Roughly $15-17 per person for dim sum.
- Golden Unicorn, 18 East Broadway (corner of Catherine), ☎ +1 212 941-0911. Occupies a few floors. Each of the eating rooms is smaller than Jing Fong or Harmony Palace. There is also a bit more decor and the prices are a bit higher.
- Grand Harmony, 94 Mott St. (between Canal and Hester), ☎ +1 212 226-6603. Often used for dinner banquets as well as dim sum breakfast/lunch.
- Jing Fong, 18 Elizabeth St. (2nd floor, between Bayard and Canal), ☎ +1 212 964-5256. Has an eating hall about the size of a football field. Try to get a table near the kitchen (to your right on entering) if possible, and don't neglect the non-circulating items available on either wall. Note that Jing Fong reopened last year after being shut by the Health Department for failing an inspection for the second time, so if that bothers you, go elsewhere.
- Oriental Garden, 14 Elizabeth St., ☎ +1 212 619-0085. Also gets good notes for dim sum from some connoisseurs, though others find it inconsistent. There are some carts on weekends, but its dim sum is mostly to order.
- Ping's Seafood Restaurant, 22 Mott St. (at Mott St.), ☎ +1 212 602-9988. Medium priced, but according to some, the best dim sum in Chinatown (others vehemently disagree). They have exotic offerings such as calamari and sugar cane shrimp.
- Red Egg, 202 Centre St. (corner of Howard St., between Hester and Grand), ☎ +1 212 966-1123, . Mon-Fri 11 AM-11 PM; Sat-Sun: 10 AM-11 PM. This restaurant cares about its decor. Its dim sum is perhaps a bit less fancy than Dim Sum Go Go's, but in the opinion of many connoisseurs, it is perhaps the only other place in Chinatown where you can get a delicious, varied dim sum meal. Roughly $15-22 for dim sum.
When in Chinatown, try some bubble tea. It's named for the tapioca/sago balls in the tea, which are sucked up with an oversized straw or eaten with a spoon. This kind of tea, which originated in Taiwan, has a popularity in New York that extends beyond the Chinese community, so you can find bubble tea houses outside of Chinese neighborhoods, but the greatest concentration of such establishments is still in Chinese communities like Manhattan's Chinatown and in Flushing, Queens. There are numerous bubble tea houses in Chinatown.
- Teariffic, Mott St. (between Bayard and Pell St.), ☎ +1 212 393-9009. One of many bubble tea shops where you can order your bubble tea and, if you like, accompanying food to stay or take out.
- Quickly Bubble Tea, 11 Pell Street between Bowery and Doyer St..
- Vivi Bubble Tea, 49 Bayard St between Elizabeth and Bowery St., ☎ (212) 566-6833.
- Ten Ren Tea Time, 79 Mott Street between Bayard and Canal St., ☎ (212)732-7178. Hours: Sun-Thurs 11AM-11PM, Fri-Sat 11AM-Midnight. The best bubble tea in town, but price is slightly towards the expensive side compared to other bubble tea stores in the neighborhood.
- Best Western, 231 Grand St., ☎ (212) 925-1177. checkin: 4 pm; checkout: 11:30 am. Moderate.
- Comfort Inn Manhattan Bridge, 61-63 Chrystie St.. checkout: 11 am.
- Holiday Inn Soho, 138 Lafayette St. (corner of Howard St.), ☎ +1 212 966-8898, . On the edge of Chinatown, just walk due east to get to the center of the neighborhood.
- Hotel Azure, 120 Lafayette Street, ☎ (212) 925-4378. checkin: 3 pm; checkout: 12 pm.
- Sohotel, 341 Broome St., ☎ (212) 226-1482. moderate.
There are several internet centers in Chinatown. Look for them on Mott St. between Chatham Square and Bayard and on Eldridge St. between Canal and Grand, for example.
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