Chinatown Food Tour
Take a step back in time and explore on of Manhattan’s best preserved neighborhoods! NYC’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown in the western hemisphere. The neighborhood is home to an eclectic mix of people from all over Asia and is one of the most vibrant and exciting neighborhoods in the city. With hundreds of restaurants and historical sites there is no shortage of things to do. On this tour we explore ethnic, historical sites and sample foods that give this area its unique texture.
The narrow, tenement-lined streets of Chinatown tell the story of Manhattan’s former dark side. See how this area, once filled with gambling dens, opium dens, and notorious gangsters became Manhattan’s fastest growing neighborhood. We’ll discuss the original Gangs of New York and the Chinese Tong wars of the 20th Century. We even make stops in the 1st Buddhist Temple on the East Coast and a store that sells $300 chopsticks!
We’ll wind through the tiny streets and sample unique foods that can only be found in this neighborhood like fresh beef jerky that is so tender it literally melts in your mouth. We’ll try Chinatown staples like fresh roasted pork buns right out of the oven. If you’re a foodie this tour offers several stops that have lit the food blogs on fire including soup dumplings and Thai style ice cream. Sample an array of dried fruits and dried fish and visit the most notorious dumpling house in the city!
At every stop, you choose what treats you would like to taste. Try them all or none at all (don’t forget, this is also a history and culture tour). Unlike other tours that charge around $45, with some excluding food, on this tour YOU choose what to eat and how much to spend. Suggested amount to bring for snacks is $7-10, depending on your appetite! Vegetarian options available at several shops.
Where: Tour begins from the Chinatown Information Booth on Canal between Baxter and Mulberry Streets. Look for your guide with the Free Tours by Foot logo. Please use our Google map for directions to the tour starting point.
Duration: Approximately 2 hours. Tour distance is approximately 1 mile (1.6K)
Cost: This tour is free to take, and you get to decide what, if anything, the tour was worth when it’s done. A name-your-own-price tour is a tour for anyone’s budget. Suggested amount to bring for snacks is $7-10, depending on your appetite.
RECOMMENDED RESTAURANTS IN CHINATOWN
New York City’s Chinatown is home to one of the largest enclaves of Asians in the Western Hemisphere. This neighborhood is one of the cheapest neighborhoods to dine in the city; meals range in price from around $5 to $10 per person. Of course, if you’re looking to drop some dough while you’re here, there’s a restaurant for that, too.
Check out some of the most popular Chinatown NYC restaurants that won’t break your budget.
1. Nom Wah Tea Parlor 13 Doyers St.
The oldest restaurant in Chinatown, the Nom Wah Tea Parlor caters to both the Chinese and Caucasian communities. Wally Tang became the manager of the Nom Wah Tea Parlor after working at this Doyers Street mainstay for only four years. The owners, Ed and May Choy, sold Nom Wah to Tang in 1974. Though the décor has changed slightly over the years to keep up with the times, the lunch counter, Formica tables, and overstuffed booths remain reminiscent of a 1950s diner—a carefully crafted marketing ploy to attract customers from outside of Chinatown. The menu offers plenty of dim sum favorites—though you won’t see a dim sum cart in the joint. Simply check off the boxes next to your desired menu items. Popular eats include the steamed shrimp dumplings, scallion pancakes, pork fried dumplings and soup dumplings (though we’ll talk more about soup dumplings later).
2. Golden Unicorn 18 East Broadway
If you’re looking for a traditional dim sum dining room, replete with two floors filled with white table-clothed tables, golden chairs, and a denizen of food carts circling around, look no further than the Golden Unicorn. Opened in 1989, this East Broadway mainstay still gets pretty crowded on the weekends and in the summer. You can expect to see all your dim sum favorites, including steamed rolls, soup rolls, and piglet buns. The Golden Unicorn claims to be the first high-class Cantonese-style restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown, but it was actually the first since the old-school high-class restaurants closed after World War II. Golden Unicorn has been recognized by Food and Wine Magazine as one of the five best restaurants in NYC. It was also recognized as a top small restaurant by Restaurant Insider and named one of the world’s best Chinese restaurants by La Chaine des Rotisseurs.
3. Mei Li Wah 64 Bayard St.
Lauded as one of the favorite hole-in-the-wall dim sum shops in Chinatown, Mei Li Wah is probably best known for its baked roast pork buns. The price has gone up minimally in the past few years (from a mere to $0.80 to a whopping $1), but the quality remains the same. The exterior shell is soft, spongy, and a little sweet; finely diced onions lend just the right amount of sweetness to the otherwise savory minced barbecued pork inside.
Pair with a hot cup of tea, and walk over to nearby Columbus Park to enjoy the sounds of the rhythmic slapping of playing cards and the slow melodies of harmonicas.
4. Shanghai Asian Manor 21 Mott St.
This place isn’t as big or as popular as Joe’s Shanghai around the corner, but New Yorkers might want to keep it that way. The big-ticket item on the menu is the xio long bao—better known as soup dumplings. In case you’ve never heard of them, these little dumplings are filled with fatty pork or crab (and sometimes even both) as well as a cube of gelatinous soup. The dumplings are steamed, and the soup melts into the pork. Nip the wrapper with your teeth, and slurp out the creamy clear broth. Once all the liquid has been spoken for, you can get to work on the dumpling itself. Steep it in the black vinegar while you get to work inhaling the broth from the next xio long bao.
5. Joe’s Shanghai 9 Pell St.
The first thing you notice about Joe’s will probably be the line snaking around the block. This place gets super crowded in the summer and on the weekends. The best time to come is before or after the lunch hour on a weekday. You can expect to share your table with plenty of strangers, and you’ll encounter everyone from politicians to neighborhood residents to tourists here. Joe’s specializes in the ever-popular soup dumplings, pan-fried noodles, soups, and Shanghai-style spare ribs. You can even order an entire fried fish (eyes and all) covered in a thick, brown gravy. Joe’s has been named “Best Restaurant” by the likes of Gourmet Magazine, Travel and Leisure, and New York Magazine.
6. Yaya Tea Garden 51 Chrystie St.
One of the few Japanese restaurants in Manhattan’s Chinatown can be found at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge. Here, you can snack on Japanese-inspired small bites including rice balls, sandwiches, rice, and noodles. Wash it all down with one of their many variations of bubble tea—a hot or cold tea served with tapioca pearls (also known as Boba) or jellies that can be sucked up with an over-sized straw.
All you need to do first is make a few choices regarding Boba flavor, texture and shape. Choose your tea flavor and let them know if you want milk tea or black tea. Then, choose the level of sweetness. You can also pick up plenty of prepackaged Asian cookies, candies, crackers and snacks here.
7. Kung Fu Tea 73 Chrystie St.
Kung Fu Tea was started by two brothers in Queens who were sick of seeing people line up outside mediocre bubble tea shops because there were so few choices back in the mid-2000s. They now own a small chain in New York City as well as outposts in other major United States cities and Taiwan. Space is limited in Kung Fu Tea, so plan on taking it to the park across the street to enjoy.
Hipsters love the bright lights, colorful tables and trendy atmosphere. The deal here is the same at Ya Ya; simply choose your flavor, Boba, and level of sweetness. All the tea is imported directly from Taiwan and is brewed every three hours to ensure freshness.
8. Vanessa’s Dumplings 118A Eldridge St.
With both C&C Prosperity Dumpling’s outposts closing in in 2016, the neighborhood’s hole-in-the-wall dumpling counters are fewer and further between. Luckily, Vanessa’s Dumplings is one shop that is not only sticking around the hood—it’s expanded into Union Square and Williamsburg. $1.50 gets you four pork and chive dumplings, and $4 gets you eight veggie dumplings. The wrapper is soft and chewy and a little crunchy on the outside. Submerge these bad boys in some vinegary soy sauce and top with a shot of sriracha. While you wait, you can peer over the counter to watch workers assembling sesame pancakes; more the consistency of a fluffy bread, these “pancakes” are stuffed with shredded carrots, daikon, and crispy duck.
9. Tasty Dumpling 42 Mulberry St.
One of the last of the hole-in-the-wall dumpling spots in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Tasty Dumpling lives up to its name. What the name doesn’t give away is how amazingly cheap these dumplings are. You can snag five dumplings for a meager $1.25. The pork and chive fried dumplings and the boiled vegetable dumplings are the stars of the menu here. (Don’t bother ordering the shrimp or chicken dumplings as cooking times are known to take up to 45 minutes on a good day.) Dowse those bad boys in some black vinegar or some watered-down sriracha, and you’ve got the perfect budget meal. Who says you can’t get a good meal for cheap in NYC?
10. Xi’an Famous Foods 67 Bayard St.
Most visitors don’t expect to see a curried lamb burger heading up a menu in Chinatown; yet, Xi’an is an area of China on the spice route that was known to see plenty of Middle Eastern ingredients including—you guessed it—lamb and curry.
The lamb burger has raised in price over the years but is currently only $5. Ground lamb sits atop a bun that resembles an English muffin or a crumpet. If you are afraid of spice, opt for the ground pork burger instead of the spicy lamb. Xi’an Famous Foods first opened in Queens in 2005 and gained famed after Anthony Bourdain filmed an episode of his Travel Channel show, “No Reservations”, there. Critics have lauded this hipster hot spot for its hand-pulled noodles, soups, and dumplings in addition to the famously cheap burger.
11. Chinatown Ice Cream Factory 65 Bayard St.
If you’re not stuffed to the brim at the end of your journey, head over to the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. Ice cream (which was invented by the Chinese thousands of years ago,) comes in flavors here ranging in traditional to exotic. You can snag a scoop of cookies and cream as easily and you can order a cone of durian (a fruit from Southeast Asia that ferments while it grows on the tree, giving it a pungent odor). Prices are surprisingly steep for Chinatown ($4.50 for one scoop), but the quality sure beats the Häagen-dazs down the street.