Serious Eats Neighborhood Guides: Simon Tung's Chinatown, NYC
Life is sweet for husband and wife team Simon Tung and Christina Ha. The first iteration of Macaron Parlour was as a pop-up, where the couple (then dating) sold their jewel-like treats at markets like the Hester Street Fair. Since then, they've tied the knot and had their first baby, a brick-and-mortar store in the East Village, where they sell their creative takes on macarons as well as a host of other pastries. When the pair get a hankering for something savory, they need look no further than their own front door, which opens up to the cacophony of flavors that is Chinatown.
Noodles: Lam Zhou Noodles is delicious, fresh and inexpensive. I first went for the experience. The moment you walk in, you'll hear the noodle dough being slammed onto the table. Though you'll have a dry mouth afterwards (MSG, perhaps?), the noodles have some great texture, plus soft braised meat and good chunks of veggies. Like most Chinatown spots, it's a no-frills joint. You want a soda with your drink? You need to grab it yourself from their soda fridge outside the restaurant.
Dumplings: Lam Zhou also has great dumplings. It's a hidden gem in there. Their dumplings are wrapped in a thin dough, which I prefer. I like the thin dough dumplings because they're crispy on the bottom and soft on top. The crisp almost has a potato chip texture. Their garlic soy sauce also helps take them to another level. For the awesomeness it does to your breath, it's not a first date meal!
Dim Sum: Jing Fong is the place to go for staple dim sum and large groups. They do everything right. The place is the largest in Chinatown and they're always packed. My parents like 88 Palace; they eat there once a week. They insist the new chefs in there are the best in the neighborhood right now. Personally, I like Nom Wah best; I visit regularly for my personal fix. Everything is made to order there, and you can definitely taste the freshness. Their style of egg rolls are supreme! No one else in Chinatown makes it like they do—it's a giant egg roll that's filled with everything you can ask for, as well as a delicate crunch. Some other dim sum joints let their egg rolls sit around until they get stale. Nom Wah's style of dim sum, you'll never have anything stale.
Roast Pork: Big Wong King has the best damn roast pork in town. Roast pork anything is awesome there—on rice, on noodles, on flat noodles, and my favorite, on their rice crepe! The caramelized pork is perfect with the rice crepe. When I order roast pork on rice, I always ask for a little more sauce in mine.
Late Night: 69 is open 24 hours. Christina always gets the oxtail on rice. It's not on their menu, but one of their waiters told me that it's their best-selling dish. Some days you'll get a portion that's tastier than other days. Christina and I have a theory that this dish is best late at night because they've reduced the sauce more and the oxtail meat is much more tender. Sometimes the meat is tough and the sauce is watered down, but when it's late at night, who's noticing? Also, it has carrots, potatoes and ginger. You might end up eating a piece of ginger, thinking it's a potato. Then you'll spit it out because I don't know anyone who eats chunks of ginger.
Wo Hop is also open 24 hours. You can eat upstairs for more authentic food, but I prefer downstairs for the typical Chinese take out eats. They make a mean spicy eggplant with minced pork dish. It's a tender eggplant with gooey brown sauce mixed with minced pork for some added texture. Just add some rice to that and you've made my day! They're all about turning out food quickly, so expect your food to come out within five minutes of ordering. Funny story: after many drunken nights of eating at Wo Hop, I started to go there earlier to have dinner with my now-wife, then-girlfriend. They knew Christina was "the one" when I kept showing up with the same girl, not drunk, and before 2 a.m.
Coffee: 12 Corners is a great small place to get a latte or cappuccino. It's the only place in Chinatown to get a good cup of coffee. There's seating and a very friendly staff.
Pork Buns: Mei Li Wah has quality Cha Sui Bao; not the clam shell pork buns, but the enclosed brioche-looking buns. They have warm buns ready to go; because they sell so many of them they're always fresh. I think it's the gold standard in Chinatown. You want good pork buns? You go there.
Stone Pot Rice: A-Wah has excellent stone pot rice dishes (often listed casseroles on menu). I always get a casserole with salted fish with chicken pieces there. If you do a take out order of one of the stone pot rice dishes, you'll actually get a stone pot with your order!
Tofu: Fong Inn Too has been there since I was a kid (I attended elementary school in Chinatown). There's always a line there. They serve fresh hot tofu with some honey. It's awesome stuff, served right out of a giant rice cooker. I pick up bot tong gao (white sugar jelly) for my sister there all the time. She's hooked on that stuff.
Groceries: New York Super Market doesn't have butter, cheese, or any American dairy products except whole milk and skim milk. What they do have is every packaged ramen you can think of, a full selection of seafood, all sorts of Asian vegetables, and a large assortment of fruits. You can find some nice inexpensive kitchen tools in there as well.
Rice Crepes: My favorite Chinese dish! There's Big Wong, as mentioned above. Nom Wah does a cruller wrapped in rice crepe. It's super fresh and comes in a nice portion size. But the rice crepes at Sun Hing Lung Co are the best damn fresh ones in Chinatown and they happen to be right next door to my building! They're available from around 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. It really caters to kids going to school and the old folks in the neighborhood. You can add anything you want onto it: chicken, beef, pork, eggs, corn, fish balls, cilantro and scallions. The lady with the red hat makes it best. She knows the exact amount of rice crepe batter to put into the steamer. The other lady puts a bit too much batter, making the rice crepe thicker than I like, although some people might like that. They have peanut sauce, soy, hot sauce, and oyster sauce to dress your crepes. It's hands-down delicious. They run their wholesale business from there as well. I used to come home from partying at 4 a.m. or from a late night in the kitchen and see them starting their day. Bonus tip: they also sell fried tofu, fresh soy milk, bottled sweet soy milk, and a whole bunch of other things I can't read on their menu.