Support New York’s Chinatown by Visiting These 20 Spots
Still reeling from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, this guide will show you how to visit (and support) New York's family-owned shops and eateries in Chinatown.
Chinatown is one of New York City’s oldest immigrant communities and chock-full of vibrant, one-of-a-kind businesses, both old and new. As you wander its streets, you will discover memorable meals, unique sweets, cultural treasures, and much more. Sprinkled among the legacy shops run by multigenerational families are popular new spots from creative young entrepreneurs. In the last century, Chinatown was centered on Mott, Pell, and Doyers Streets. Those narrow streets still hold a lot of history, but the community has spread out around them into a sprawling two-square-mile area, which continues to grow and is now one of the largest communities of Chinese people in the U.S. The history of Chinese immigrants in New York and other cities has not been easy. Years of persecution, punitive immigration laws, and restrictions allowed them to work only in laundries, restaurants, and garment factories. But today, Chinatown is a living link to the past and one of the last Manhattan neighborhoods that haven’t been gentrified, where 94% of the businesses are still considered “mom-and-pop.” Despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are beginning to thrive again, thanks in large part to the determined families who often work together 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week. They have made Chinatown a bustling community of restaurants, bakeries, tropical fruit vendors, shops, Buddhist temples, tailors, food markets, herb stores, and butchers. At night, the neighborhood streets are festively lit up with gayly colored lanterns. Many streets feature outdoor tables full of locals and tourists, enjoying dishes from classic Chinese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Thai, Korean, and Japanese cuisines. Heaping plates of savory noodles, gleaming mahogany-colored roast ducks, a dizzying array of dim sum, and custard tarts with the flakiest pastry beckon visitors to explore the neighborhood with their tastebuds.
WHERE: 18 Doyers Street
Instead of coming home with a generic I ♥ NY sweatshirt, you can discover treasures in a postage-stamp-sized store that first opened in 1957. Traditional trinkets include wooden cricket cages, hand-painted snuff bottles, Chinese lanterns, calligraphy sets, fortune sticks, paper dragons, and tiny cat-shaped teapots. Three generations of Tings still care for this cozy corner shop, which has delighted generations of kids with classic toys, such as finger traps, wooden puzzles, piggy banks, tom-toms, and tin tops.
Wing on Wo
WHERE: 26 Mott Street
Chinatown’s oldest continuously operating shop, Wing on Wo , was founded in 1890 by the great-great-grandfather of the current owner, Mei Lum. While its focus is fine porcelain, the shop also carries a fun assortment of jewelry and accessories. Classic porcelainware patterns depict dragons, cabbage leaves (portending wealth and luck), and peaches (representing immortality). Mirroring Chinatown itself, Wing on Wo’s wares respect the legacy of its founders while adding vibrant new ideas with creations from contemporary artists. You may still spot Lum’s great aunt and grandmother in the shop and hear LPs playing Cantonese opera.
Grand Tea & Imports
WHERE: 298 Grand Street
Grand Tea carries hundreds of teas (green, black, white, oolong, and flower teas, such as rose and chrysanthemum). Alice Liu manages the store her parents started and still works 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Pu-erh, the most prized of all teas, is their specialty. Like a fine wine, Pu-erh is more appreciated as it ages. Flavors range from smooth, woodsy, earthy to smokey. Their tangerine Pu-erh comes packed inside a tangerine peel. If you have the sniffles, try Doctor Mei Fong’s Flu Prevention & Cure Tea. They also sell teapots, tea sets, and feng shui items.
Steven Yen Photography
Mott Street Girls’ Tour
WHERE: Mott Street
Chloe Chan and Anna Huang, who are second-generation Chinese-Americans, will take you on a fascinating tour through Chinatown, pointing out the Chinese opera house, New York’s oldest brick row townhouse, “funeral row,” as well as historical eateries, shops, markets, and other local businesses. Along the way, they explain Chinatown’s rich cultural heritage and the often difficult history of Chinese immigration, including the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.
The tour is perfect if you want to understand the historical and cultural underpinnings of this unique neighborhood and appreciate the hard work of families who have made it all possible. The tour ends with local restaurant recommendations for you to stop by later.
WHERE: 13 Doyers Street
Opened in 1920 by the Choy family, Nom Wah is the oldest continuously running restaurant in Chinatown (it was initially a bakery known for almond cookies and mooncakes). In 1974, after working there 24 years, Wally Chang, a nephew of the Choy’s, bought Nom Wah. In 2011, his nephew, Wilson, took over and now serves dim sum all day. With green stools, red booths, and checkerboard floors, its charming interior delivers a time trip into the past. Their toothsome short rib rice rolls plop the meat on top instead of inside. Be forewarned: there’s almost always a line at this popular landmark.
WHERE: 16 Mott Street
Red willow patterned dishes atop large round tables form the perfect backdrop at this beloved restaurant. Try triple treasure (peppers, eggplant, and tofu stuffed with a delicate shrimp mixture), lobster Cantonese, and clams in a black bean sauce. Local mail carriers and judges from nearby courthouses flock here weekly for the $6.99 lunch special. Several walls display police patches from around the world. The original owner had two sons who were police officers. After 9/11, Hop Lee became “the place” for police and firefighters to eat. Now, it’s a tradition for officers and their families to lunch here after the yearly memorial ceremonies.
WHERE: 11 Mott Street
If you haven’t tried Hokkaido Style Cheese Tarts, now is your chance. The iconic treat, which started in Japan, fills buttery cookie crusts with warmly oozing cheesy centers. The tarts have found scores of fans across Asia and around the world. At Pinklady, the first place to offer these treats in NYC, Jean Lim and her twin sister Jen offer six flavors: original, matcha, ube, chocolate, black sesame, and original with blueberry filling. Magically, after a rest in the refrigerator, they firm up and transform into a cheesecake. Take a bite of a warm one and share your photo of the tempting, wobbly ooze.
Yun Hong Chopstick Shop
WHERE: 50 Mott Street
For over 13 years, this little shop has celebrated chopsticks, from plastic pairs that cost a few dollars to bamboo, mahogany, or gold-tipped chopsticks that cost a few hundred dollars. Owner Yun Hong will help you find the perfect gift (such as chopsticks depicting signs of the Chinese Zodiac or elegant boxed sets for wedding presents).
Great N.Y. Noodletown
WHERE: 28 Bowery Street
Thick noodles, thin noodles, rice noodles, wheat noodles, egg noodles; noodles in soups or stir-fried with meat and vegetables—Great N.Y. Noodletown has it all. For over 40 years, New Yorkers have flocked here for comforting bowls of silky wonton soup, congee, and their famous Cantonese BBQ, featuring roast suckling pig, BBQ pork, or roast duck with shiny brown skin and five-spice powder permutating its tender flesh. Try the duck noodle soup, soy sauce chicken, or beef chow fun. When the salt and pepper soft shell crabs are in season between April and October, that dish is a must-order.
Kim Snyder [CC BY-ND 2.0]/Flickr
Renew Day Spa
WHERE: 10 Bowery Street, 2nd floor
As you trek and taste your way through this fascinating neighborhood, you may notice massage services are offered on almost every block. You could surely use an hour of having your feet kneaded and pummeled by a pair of strong hands, from your calves down to your pinky toes. Add a neck or shoulder massage to the package for even more relaxation. Renew Spa provides a clean, serene environment for various services, including reflexology, bodywork, and aromatherapy with a hot stone massage.