Sure, going out for “Chinese food” can mean deep-fried egg rolls and a mass of kung pao chicken, but that doesn’t need to be the case if you’re in New York City. The nation of China has innumerable distinct and exciting cuisines — from the fiery dishes of Sichuan in the country’s southwest to the intricately spiced, Muslim-influenced dishes of northern China — and all of these delicious iterations are represented in city’s five boroughs.
While it’s hard to even compare the countless sub-genres of great Chinese restaurants, here’s our top 10 overall favorite Chinese restaurants in New York. Check each of these spots off your list, and you’ll have a greater understanding of the diversity of Chinese fare New York City has to offer.
First stop? Chinatown, of course. This dense neighborhood in lower Manhattan is lined with excellent restaurants and eateries, whether you’re looking for hand-pulled noodles, five-for-$1 dumpling shops, bakeries with steamed buns or egg custard tarts, roast pork storefronts or cavernous dim sum palaces. Bustling streets, signs in Chinese characters, conversations flying in Mandarin: for an immersive Chinese experience, one of New York’s Chinatowns a great place to start. (Keep reading for info on restaurants in Queens and Brooklyn’s Chinatowns).
Shanghai Cafe Deluxe
If the bright fluorescent overhead lights of many Chinatown restaurants aren’t your style, Shanghai Cafe Deluxe offers an amusing alternative with its multicolored neon, which flirts more with throwback lounge than cafeteria special. No matter; you go to this Mott Street restaurant for the food, including pan-fried tiny pork buns, excellent pan-fried noodles with just the right level of char, and the best soup dumplings (xiao long bao) in Chinatown, with elegantly crimped skins around a super-porky filling and broth. 100 Mott St., 212-966-3988, shanghaicafenyc.com
As eating experiences go, dim sum is downright fun – a midday meal where waitstaff roll around carts piled with steamers of dumplings, trays of vegetable cakes, and so much more; just point to order and watch as your table starts to fill. Get a group together and head to 88 Palace under the Manhattan Bridge, where the prices can’t be beat (it’s easy to escape for under $10/person) and the dishes are varied and well executed. Start simply with excellent dumplings and fluffy steamed buns, or get more adventurous with chicken feet and tripe. 88 E. Broadway, 212-941-8886, 88palacerestaurant.com
Peking Duck House
There’s only one reason you go to Chinatown’s Peking Duck House; do we really need to tell you? Order the whole duck here, with burnished, gleaming skin, and it’ll be carved tableside and then served with pancakes, scallions and a dish of hoisin sauce. While duck isn’t the cheapest dinner in Chinatown, the restaurant’s BYOB policy helps keep the bill down, making this a great special-occasion restaurant for a group. 28 Mott St., 212-227-1810, pekingduckhousenyc.com
Even though you could spend weeks eating through Chinatown and Manhattan’s offerings, don’t stop there. New York has two other unofficial “Chinatowns,” one in Flushing, Queens, an immigrant-rich neighborhood that can itself feel like a small Asian city, and another in Brooklyn‘s Sunset Park.
Serving food from Dongbei, in the far northeast of China, Fu Run in Flushing is most famous for the Muslim lamb chop — not a chop at all, but a rack of lamb ribs braised, encrusted in cumin and other spices, and then deep-fried. It’s an impressive creation to behold, and a good representative of the region’s style, with distinct spices and lots of fried food. Don’t miss the fried cubes of taro for dessert, doused in melted sugar that pulls into thin threads as you chopstick up each bite. 4009 Prince St., Queens, 718-321-1363, furunflushing.com
Xi’an Famous Foods rose to fame as a small Flushing stall specializing in the foods of Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province. Over time, its $2 lamb burgers and Liang Pi cold-skin noodles developed a following, with multiple restaurants across Manhattan — and, more recently, a full-service spot, Biang!. It’s got all the Xi’an favorites in a sit-down restaurant carefully styled by owner Jason Wang, whose father runs the kitchen. Despite the pleasant surroundings, the prices are unbeatable; plates of grilled beef skewers for under $5, more than generous bowls of hand-pulled or buckwheat noodles for $6 to $7. It’s a fascinating look at next-generation Flushing. 41-10 Main St., Queens, 718-888-7713, biang-nyc.com
East Harbor Seafood Palace
Head out to Sunset Park on a weekend afternoon, but be prepared to wait; this immensely popular dim sum spot definitely crowds up around the lunch hour. But the great thing about dim sum? Once you’re seated, you can start eating right away — whether the carts that wheel by sport taro cake cubes, clams in black bean sauce, rice noodle rolls filled with shrimp or beef, or deep-fried whitebait, it’s all good. 714 65th St., Brooklyn, 718-765-0098, no website
ELSEWHERE IN MANHATTAN
Even outside of Chinatown, you’ll find standout Chinese restaurants. Sichuan spots, in particular, pop up in all sorts of neighborhoods, and as New York diners have gained an appreciation for Chinese fare, New York chefs have put their own interpretation on it, with modern restaurants inspired, but not limited, by Chinese and Chinese-American cuisine.
While the menu is Sichuan, the elegant interior in this Midtown restaurant is inspired by 1930s Shanghai. The result is one of the prettiest, most eye-catching restaurants in the neighborhood, with an impressive variety of dishes that showcase the principle flavors of Sichuan cuisine: ma-la, or “spicy-numbing,” with hot chilies and the camphorous, tongue-tingling Sichuan peppercorn. Don’t miss the spicy diced rabbit in a chili vinaigrette or the tiny duck tongues with peppercorn; Sichuan standards are great here, too, including dan dan noodles and dry-fried Chong Qing spicy chicken. 13 E. 37th St., 212-213-2810, cafechinanyc.com
While it’s not the looker that Cafe China is, Legend in Chelsea also excels in Sichuan fare; this is a place to head with a huge group when you’re looking for an affordable Sichuan feast. Among its unique dishes is the memorable Tears in Eyes, slippery rectangles of bean curd smothered in sauce with roasted chiles and black fermented soy beans. (Yes, it’s spicy, but not tear-inducing spicy.) Don’t miss the steamed chicken with chili sauce or the dan dan noodles Cheng-Du style, either. 88 7th Ave., 212-929-1778, legendbarrestaurant.com
Ever since its first location in the West Village opened, it’s had lines out the door–so RedFarm recently expanded to the Upper West Side, while it’s opening a Peking duck restaurant, Decoy, in the basement floor of its original digs. What explains its popularity? RedFarm takes a whimsical, creative look at American Chinese fare — expect “Pac Man” shrimp dumplings, styled after the video game, or egg rolls with Katz’s pastrami. But it’s not just novelty; Joe Ng, who’s running the kitchen, is a skilled chef and has a magic touch with dumplings in particular — though his talents range far beyond that. Multiple locations, redfarmnyc.com
Mission Chinese Food
While those looking for “authentic” Chinese fare won’t know quite what to make of Mission Chinese Food, Danny Bowien’s restaurant has all the fans, crowds and critical attention it needs. An offshoot of the group’s San Francisco restaurant of the same name, the Lower East Side spot plays fast and loose with Chinese ingredients; among their most popular dishes are Chongqing Chicken Wings, wings done in the style of the chili-mounded Sichuan dish, with bits of crispy beef tripe; and Thrice Cooked Bacon, with rice cakes, tofu skin, bitter melon, and chili oil. Note the restaurant was temporarily closed as of December 2013, so check the website before heading out. His new spot, Mission Cantina, dedicated to Mexican is also open just down the street. 154 Orchard St., 212-529-8800, missionchinesefood.com/ny/
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