Chinatown – the home to unintentional Chinese hipsters, miniatures turtles, faux designer bags, and less-than pleasant fish markets that teem with live crabs, shrimp, eel, and sea cucumbers. Stereotypes aside, there are a few gems in this neighborhood – some already well known, others not yet popularized. Here are a few of my favorites:
The Chinese are famously known as the creators of cheap take-out, dim sum, and bubble tea. Who would have thought we’d specialize so well in ice cream too?
The “Factory” deviates from many of the swanky, dessert boutiques found throughout the fancy parts of Manhattan – it’s nestled in a fluorescent-bulb-lit nook, but don’t let the scrappiness deceive you. The flavors put Van Leeuwen to shame. There’s a well-rounded variety, but of course, you can expect a good selection of oriental-inspired flavors including black sesame, almond cookie, egg custard, ginger, taro, and longan. Lychee is my favorite.
Tacky neon lights. Excessive red and gold décor. Enough seating for what seems like thousands. You’ll occasionally find yourself situated at a table full of strangers – the hosts tend to pack you in with no consideration to your personal comfort zone. You can expect a whole lot of incoherent shouting from the cart-pushers, but don’t worry – they’re not yelling at you. It’s just their endearing way of encouraging you to take from their cart. You’ll lift open a metal dim sum lid from that said cart, only to discover a bunch of marinated chicken toes – one of the most popular dishes next to duck tongue and congealed pig’s blood. It doesn’t get any more real than a dim sum emporium like Jing Fong!
It’s chaotic and crazed, but that’s the beauty of all things Chinatown. Of course you’ll find more appetizing elements for Americans like me and you, such as shrimp dumplings, fried rice, and pork buns. But that’s boring.
Kung Fu Tea
This delicious tea shop has finally extended its presence from Flushing to Chinatown. I don’t know how they do it, but their tapioca balls are the most succulent I’ve ever had – they’re like balls of chewy honey. (The aforementioned simile does the amazing tapioca no justice… #similefail. I tried my best.)
My favorite is the iced “Ginger Wow Milk” (haha) – it’s absolutely delightful on a warm day, but given that NYC seems to have transitioned into cold weather overnight, I’ll opt for the hot version next time. Main ingredient? Ground up pieces of real ginger (no ginger-flavored powder crap like most places) – it seriously really heats up your insides. I imagine this must be what butterbeer tastes like… #harrypotternerdalert. To be honest, the “Ginger Wow Milk” is the only drink I’ve had from there – but it was enough to make me add Kung Fu Tea to my list of Chi-town gems.
I’ve been going to QQ Bakery since I was a wee little oriental tot with a bowl cut and straight-across bangs. Since then, I have never failed to walk out of QQ without a little yellow egg tart (or two) in my hand.
For a while, the bakery only had regular yellow egg tarts, but they have gotten creative over the past few years and concocted more varieties to satiate the diverse taste buds. They’ve spiced it up with egg white tarts for the health freaks; green tea egg tarts because there are green tea everythings now (mochi, ice cream, frapps… it’d be a shame to leave the green tea flavor out of the egg tart world); Portuguese egg tarts (for the worldly individuals)… the works. There are certainly better egg tarts outside of the QQ chain, but it will always be my go-to. They’re always reliably flakey and, of course, eggy – scrumptious!
That $4.25 place
I’ve been there so many times and still don’t know what it’s called. I don’t even think it has a name, so I know it by the huge yellow sign that says “TAKE OUT $4.25.” (Perhaps the restaurant’s written in Chinese and I just overlook it because I can never decipher any of those cryptic characters except for my own name.) Located on the outskirts of Chinatown at Howard and Lafayette, the classy establishment features a huge buffet where on one side, you point and nod at the items you want, and on the other side, the buffet lady scoops your selections into your 5-compartment Styrofoam plate. The $4.25 place has a decent selection of authentic Chinese food, but also mixes it up with the fake Chinese food for the tourists – best of both worlds!
I took Joseph out to dinner there last week (so generous of me, I know) and he loved it. Unfortunately I had to pay $1 more for the both of us because for some reason, they jack up the price to a whopping $4.75 if you want to dine in. Luckily, the price includes 5 generous scoops of whatever you’d like, a can of soda and water soup (basically dumpling soup without the dumplings), but for $4.25/$4.75… you can’t beat that! I can’t have everything, so I’d rather forgo pricey food so I can buy Kate Spade. ;)
Quality shoes trump quality sustenance any day.