Wontons, noodles, soy sauce chicken, and a handful of dollars. Craig Nelson, 2013.
102 Noodles or Big Wing Wong? That is the question. This old-school Chinatown joint with succulent meats hanging in the window goes by two names. But with food this good and cheap, who cares what they call it. The roast pork and soy sauce chicken are standouts, but if you add a side of Cantonese noodles smothered in gravy, then you’ve hit the jackpot. They also make an excellent version of pork and shrimp wonton noodle soup — perhaps the best in the city — that you can top with many different items including beef belly. When the cold weather hits, throw away the NyQuil. A few slurps of this will fix any physical or mental health ailment you have.
Big Wing Wong (aka 102 Noodletown)
102 Mott St
Inside the famous BBQ pork sandwich. Courtesy of Kingfox.
New York has seen a recent explosion of Vietnamese sandwich outlets across the city. But no matter how hard the rest of them try by using fancy ingredients and charging upwards of $10 (or more), it’s tough to beat Banh Mi Saigon for taste and price. This sandwich is the stuff of legends. The crunch of the fresh French bread, the earthiness of the pate, the candy-like texture of the bbq pork, the heat of the jalapenos, the sweetness of the marinated carrots, and the coolness of the cucumbers all come together in a perfect bite. And unlike some Vietnamese sandwich shops, the chicken and tofu versions are outstanding, not just an after thought. They upgraded locations a few years back, but even in the slicker environs, there’s still a jewelry shop in the front of the store just like the old place. Order a sandwich and pick up a necklace — only in Chinatown! They also offer delivery, a godsend for folks chained to their desks, and they score bonus points for being approved by the famous blog Porkchop Express.
Banh Mi Saigon
198 Grand St
Chinese diner paraphernalia.
With more and more businesses in Chinatown opting for a more modern look, it’s good to find some places that never change. Even down to the gorgeous sign, this place keeps it real with coffee, buns, and a counter to linger for hours at a time. It’s a pretty mellow scene inside with lots of long time Chinatown residents hanging out, but every once it gets a little crazy on the street outside. The pork buns may not be as top-notch as Mei Li Wah, but the coffee isn’t half bad and the rice noodles make a good breakfast while the chicken over rice (a favorite of the old timers) is the perfect lunch. We still miss Yuen Yuen which recently closed, but Mee Sum keeps the old-school Chinatown vibes alive.
Mee Sum Cafe
26 Pell St
Perfection (aka hand-pulled noodles) on a stryofoam plate. Courtesy of Jason Lam.
If you need a break from typical Chinatown fare, make a break for X’ian Famous. Ever since Anthony Bourdain visited their Flushing, Queens location, they’ve been expanding their empire across the city. Follow their expansion adventures on twitter. Luckily, this is the kind of chain restaurant you can easily support. Their savory cumin lamb burger is worth the trek through the chaos of Chinatown. In a basic space lined with long tables and wall counters, they are making some of the most awesome food in Chinatown. After a couple of lamb burgers, you can start loading up on their spicy and tingly beef hand-pulled noodles or the vegetable Mount Qi noodles in soup. After a few bites you’ll probably want to move permanently to Mount Qi, which must be a spicy noodle paradise. (Or the site of a famous battle.)
Xi’an Famous Foods
67 Bayard St
Other locations in East Village, Midtown, Greenpoint & Flushing
Three scoops are better than two. Courtesy of LabyrinthX.
It’s hard to believe, but this family run business has been around for over 30 years. This neighborhood landmark serves up some of the best dessert on the island of Manhattan and has one of the best logos on earth. The only downside is actually having to decide on a flavor. You can go with what they call “exotic flavors” like chocolate and strawberry, but that’s what Haagen Daz is for down the street. You’re in Chinatown, so go for local favorites such as green tea, red bean, ginger, black sesame, lychee, and almond cookie. You can follow them on twitter to hear about the latest flavors. Get a cone to devour while you walk around the neighborhood or get a few pints to take home. This stuff is so good, it even has a Zagat rating and their t-shirts sell almost as well as their ice cream.
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
65 Bayard St
A town you want to visit right now. Craig Nelson, 2011.
Overhyped? Sure. But worth it? Damn sure! This is a classic Chinatown experience that’s always bustling and always tasty. Chowing down here at any time of day or night is a win, but coming here for lunch is a real treat. You’ll get to share a table with jurors, Chinese grandmas, or famous actors (or at least Paul Giamatti’s mug on the front door). You might even benefit from having a generous table mate who offers you a taste of their food (true story — it’s happened a few times). If no one shares with you, just order the shrimp wonton soup or a pan fried noodle dish. And check out the guy in the window hacking up bbq meats. Don’t ignore him. Make sure to keep him busy and order up baby pig, soy sauce chicken, roast pork, and anything else they’re serving up. In fact, top off that soup with some fresh roast duck. Late at night, this place has a totally different vibe with drunken kids, foodies, and celebrity chefs chowing down at 3 am. This should be on everyone’s essential late-night eats list.
Curry chicken soup in the basement dining room. Craig Nelson, 2011.
Sanur has a dual identity. Downstairs they serve up amazing curry soups and traditional Malaysian and Indonesian dishes in a colorful, cavelike dining room. It’s easy to miss the entrance, so keep an eye out for the stairway just to the right of the window. On the street level is a cramped space just large enough for an amazing array of steam table items. Choose any three for a ridiculous cheap price. The dishes rotate everyday, but try the chili eggplant, tomato-egg-bean casserole, and curry (chicken or vegetable). If you’re a little adventurous add some sauteed bitter melon or chicken feet. If you have a favorite, you need to get there early before they run out. For a quick snack point to the curry puffs in the window. Filled with spicy potatoes and peas, they’re a steal at a dollar each. In the mood for a Malaysian breakfast? Get the curry flat noodle with mushrooms for only a couple of bucks.
18 Doyers St