Sunset Park is Manhattan's Chinatown through rosier, Brooklyn glasses. The crowds are thinner, the prices lower, and life moves at a patient pace. Down Eighth Avenue, the neighborhood's central corridor, you'll find a mix of Cantonese old guard restaurants and more recent Fujianese businesses, the result of China's latest wave of immigration to the U.S.
Though it's not as densely packed as Chinatown or Flushing, Sunset Park commands a strong local following for its mix of noodle shops, bakeries, and dim sum palaces. Truth be told, locals go everywhere in the neighborhood, but here are four beloved spots we found by hitting the streets and chatting up passersby.
Shrimp, noodles, jellyfish, and pineapple buns, right this way.
Good All-Around: Bamboo Garden
When prompted for an all-around favorite restaurant, two out of three locals we chatted with pointed to the one "on Eighth and 64th."
Once you're there, it's no surprise why. Appearing at the end of a lively street of bakeries, hairdressers, and markets, Bamboo Garden serves as the logical last stop of any Sunset Park tour; the kind of place that diners reach more as a result of the street's topographical design than the restaurant's culinary pull.
Inside, customers are greeted by 360 degrees of marble walls and golden drapery and adornments, all within a banquet hall primed for wedding receptions and other special engagements throughout the year.
Dim sum rules the morning and early afternoon, but the a la carte menu includes fried rice and noodle regulars, along with abalone, shark fin soup, and other pricier items commonly found in such larger regal venues.
Combine low- and high-brow items for a budget-friendly meal. The Spicy and Cold Jellyfish ($14) has a subtle tease of spice, and should be enjoyed mostly for its crunchy, elastic texture.
As a main, the Peking Pork Chop ($11) comfortably serves three. Abundantly glazed with a sticky sauce, it's unapologetically sweet but good eating. Alternate with strings of jellyfish for a burst of honeyed flavor at every reprise.
For Seafood: Golden Imperial Palace
A seafood favorite can be found two avenues east at Golden Imperial Palace. The restaurant lives up to its palatial title with high ceilings, grand washes of violet and yellow linen, and white tablecloth-covered carts of Peking Duck tending to customers left and right. It's the kind of stately operation where waiters adjust decorative sprigs until a dish's final tabling.
"My family and I come here for every major event," said Kathy Chen, who was, on this occasion, celebrating her husband's birthday with a table full of lobster.
Other seafood offerings range from honey-glazed dry squid and pan-fried flounder to a Cantonese-style lobster and sauteed conch.
The Fried Jumbo Shrimp with Salt and Pepper ($21) has the telltale clean brininess of quality shrimp. Served in a batch of 10 justifiably "jumbo"-sized pieces, the meat is hearty and succulent and thinly encased in a lightly salted fried batter.
Late Night Eats: Hong Kong Boy
Sunset Park's lineup of mom-and-pop shops start to shutter around 8:30 p.m. on the weekends; that's when Hong Kong Boy gets hopping. Situated conveniently across the N stop, Hong Kong Boy is a casual, if a little cramped, restaurant where both vegetable dishes and portions exceed the most liberal of expectations.
Highly requested by the late crowd, the Braised Watercress in Superior Soup ($9) offers a fresh heap of watercress in buttery broth, topped with sliced mushrooms and soft cloves of garlic. The mild soup is fragrant, soothing, and pleasantly green for a late night bite.
By contrast, the Dry Cuttlefish Lo Mein with Black Bean Sauce ($11) is a punch-to-the-gut pile of chewy ringlets of fried cuttlefish mixed with sliced onions, bean sprouts, and long, long noodles. Don't be intimidated by the large portion—it makes surprisingly good leftovers.
Sweets: Jade Food, Inc.
Sunset Park's bakeries and candy shops may lack the variety of those found in Manhattan's Chinatown, but fresh-out-the-oven sponge cakes, sesame balls, and other traditional sweets abound. At Jade Food, Inc., pineapple buns are displayed on tables outside, farmer's market-style. Soft, aromatic, and topped with a minimally sweet, crackly glaze, these simple, tearable breads make ideal walking snacks. The best pineapple bun you've ever had? Perhaps not, but served fresh and at 50 cents a pop, it's easy to see why they're sold straight from the baking tray.
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