A generation ago, going out for Chinese food had a well defined script. You'd likely order chop suey or lo mein. There'd be egg rolls, of course, if not also egg foo young. And if you wanted to get really fancy you might throw in some shrimp in lobster sauce.
And that was kind of it.
Today it's a whole different world. Robust Chinese communities across Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn have led to more focused, regional, and tasty restaurants than ever before, often in unexpected places. Midtown Manhattan has better restaurants than Chinatown these days; you'll find a whole suite of excellent Sichuan spots worth visiting amidst those office buildings. Over in Flushing, a growing northern Chinese population has led to the spread of hearty Dongbei cooking. And Hunan, Fujian, and Henan provinces are increasingly well represented across the city.
While most of the city's cheffy attempts to harness this new potential have come up short, that's starting to change, as a select few restaurants do more and more smart, novel things with Chinese cooking for an ever more educated and hungry audience. And this growth shows no signs of stopping.
All this means there's no one script anymore for Chinese dining in New York, so ask yourself what you're looking for. Do you want divey or high class? Fiery mapo tofu or fragrant XO-sauce-fried rice? One of the following restaurants should answer your cravings.
At first glance, Legend looks like any old Grand Sichuan, and the menu is full of General Tso and his fellow soldiers to distract you from the real treasures. But dig around and you'll find some of the city's best Sichuan cooking: braised tongue tossed with tender tripe and a blaze of chili oil; pungent radish pickles; slippery cellophane noodles swimming in a chili-vinegar broth with little nubs of pork.
Old reliables like a balanced mapo tofu and popcorn-addictive Chongqing chicken are made with care, but some of the menu's greatest pleasures are less common in New York. Be sure to try the Chengdu-style eggplant, which is fried with stray crisp nubbins of batter here and there, before it’s tossed with roasted peanuts, cilantro stems, and rings of not-too-hot fried chilies. Battered and fried kernels of sweet corn and pieces of fried shrimp are another fascinating order; they're topped with shavings of salted egg yolk for something rich and creamy but resoundingly crisp.
Take note there's now a Legend on the Upper West Side that's managed by the same owners. Some of the food is quite good, but a meal there is less likely to stop you in your tracks.
Shanghai Cafe Deluxe
When visitors come to Chinatown and ask me where to go for a Chinese meal, this is where I send them. That's not to say it's perfect—to be honest, the cooking can be pretty uneven—but if you're looking for the Chinatown experience of a classic Shanghainese menu and service that's a little more friendly than some of the competition, Shanghai Cafe Deluxe is the place for you.
The big draw here is gelatin-rich pork soup dumplings, the finest you’ll get in Chinatown. (Their pan-fried cousins, which come with glistening caramelized crusts—sheng jian bao—aren't stellar but aren’t bad either.) Stir fried rice cakes, like chubby, extra-chewy noodles, are tender, not greasy, and coated with just enough brown sauce, as are soft pan-fried noodles. Proteins are hit and miss (try the massive sticky braised pork shoulder), so I cut my starch with some nicely cooked snow pea shoots, which are invariably heavy on the garlic.
Great NY Noodletown
It's a downtowner fact that Noodletown just tastes better at 2 a.m. after karaoke. But this classic Chinatown dive, one of the few restaurants in the neighborhood that's open late, is about more than drunk food. The roast meats are inconsistent, but when they're on, they're on—tender, fatty, and not too sweet. Noodletown is also one of the only places to find Singapore chow fun: wide floppy rice noodles stir fried with roast pork, crunchy shrimp, and a not-overpowering amount of curry powder. The noodles pick up some char from the wok and are inevitably satisfying.
Then there are the noodles with ginger scallion sauce, a perfect plate of thin wheat noodles with a brilliant dressing, the scallions and ginger barely cooked in oil so they're as potent as can be, but still well balanced. Order extra sauce to slather over everything, then ask for more and sneak it home to dash in your hangover eggs.
Say "Chinese fusion" and you might deservedly get nasty looks. But eat the egg noodles at Fung Tu, which combine clams steamed in amontillado sherry, stir fried Chinese sausage, and ginger, scallions, and fermented black beans softened in extra virgin olive oil, for a dish that's somewhere between linguine with clam sauce and the Chinese takeout of your dreams. Then tell me chef Jonathan Wu isn't doing something special...and a little fusion-y.
Fung Tu has the seasonal menu and local produce and small-plates-for-sharing ethos that have come to epitomize so many restaurants these days, but it's also a restaurant with a vision, one that takes Chinese cooking in new directions without modern cliches. No one else is topping perfectly steamed egg custards with the deep crunch of fried taro, or stuffing moist smoked dates with pulled duck, and a wine list with excellent (and affordable) bottles that pair well with the food—particularly the mineral, saline sherries—is just icing on the cake. If you want to see what Chinese fine-dining will look like in America in 10 years, eat at Fung Tu now.
Mission Chinese Food
Pastrami, chopped into cubes and cooked like kung pao chicken, sounded like a ridiculous gimmick until Danny Bowien did it so well. At his new Mission Chinese Food on the Lower East Side, it's even better than it used to be—spicy and smoldering with well-crisped potato snuck in for something like hash.
This new Mission Chinese is an improvement over the old one. Where the old dining room felt like a neglected college dorm rec room turned mosh pit, the new one is stunning; wide red leather banquettes and lofty ceilings lend an old New York restaurant feel. The service, though still inconsistent, has improved, and servers are knowledgeable about both the menu (which incidentally has pizza now) and the rather good wine list.
Most importantly, the food's at a higher level. The old Mission Chinese could be so freewheeling with salt or spice that dishes could taste unbalanced. Today it's more coherent. A simple squash and greens soup feels nourishing in the best of ways. The random inclusion of a Thai banana blossom and green papaya salad is a smart one, and its acidity, spice, and crunch are pitch-perfect bedfellows for the Chinese dishes. And then there's the delicate fried dumplings, which are bound together with a sheet of starch that forms a lacy caramelized pancake—a dish that can only be made by a kitchen with real technical chops.
Just take note: Mission Chinese doesn't take reservations and commands long waits, so get there early if you don't want to wait two hours for your dinner.
There's an implied focus on value at most of Midtown's Sichuan restaurants, even the good ones—whatever you order, you're likely to get a lot of it. Cafe China works a little differently. The plates are smaller and the cooking's more focused.
It's the little things, like the dark fry job and toasted sesame seeds on the Chongqing chicken; the way the duck tongues are so tender and freshened up by scallions; and crisp pieces of lamb blitzed with enough cumin to slink into your pores. The chili heat is relentless where it should be but not omnipresent, so a meal here won't blow out your tastebuds. A more refined setting helps, too; you could take a date to Cafe China and they wouldn't bat an eye at the dark wood tables and 1920s Shanghai accents.
La Vie en Szechuan
Just north of Korea Town is a Sichuan restaurant that isn't very good at Sichuan food but wonderful at meatballs. I'm talking about the curiously named "pork meatballs in green vegetable soup": fist-sized balls of pork coated in a thin, ever-so-slightly sweet sauce of lightly pickled greens and bright osmanthus blossom buds. They reference a classic Chinese soup but make it better; the meatballs are more tender and onion-y, the sauce more flavorful and focused than a broth.
La Vie en Szechuan's great at other dishes, too, a few of which have their own original touches. Order the crispy battered and fried mushrooms dusted with sweet salted egg yolk; pleasing bitter melon in a mildly pungent black bean sauce that cuts the heaviness of everything around it; and ground pork with tangy diced pickled long beans. Just skip out on the underpowered Sichuan classics like mapo tofu, which seem to exist only as lip service for those too timid to try the more novel parts of the menu. A notable exception is the pictured Chongqing chicken, crackly-crisp and served with fried dough twists for extra crunch.
Hunan House has a sister restaurant in Manhattan, just footsteps from Grand Central. The menu has General Tso's and the like for the office crowd, but more traditional Hunanese offerings show off the region's talent for salt-preserving, smoking, and pickling. The "preserved beef with white pepper" spends some time in a smoker with tea leaves, then gets tossed with citrusy dried white chilies. Bacon-esque strips of smoked pork belly are stir fried with funky air-dried long beans. And tender fish fillets are served in a bubbling tureen brimming with hot pickled chilies, oily and rich to fight off the fiercest colds.
All of this is very good, and very rare in New York. Let's hope Hunan cooking catches on the same way Sichuan has!
Though Szechuan Gourmet may best be known as a popular Midtown Chinese restaurant, that’s actually a sister to an older Flushing restaurant. It's hard to go wrong with any of the chili-laced dishes here, but pay special attention to the spicy prawns with asparagus and ground pork. Tender shrimp are cooked shell-on but with the shells split open, so you get all that shrimp shell flavor plus direct contact between the shellfish and that eye-wateringly spicy sauce (and in an easier-to-eat package). Add on some superlative dry-fried string beans, nicely tender and smoky, to ease some of the pain.
Szechuan Gourmet is a madhouse at lunch with office workers darting in and out. At dinner it's a little more calm, so if you don't want to feel rushed while you eat, head there after sundown, or go in a large group, for which they’ll happily take a reservation.
Just across the street and down the block from Midtown's Szechuan Gourmet, Lan Sheng seems designed as a direct competitor to the old lion, and these days it's just as busy as its neighbor.
The Sichuan food's also just as good, from the aromatic and juicy Chongqing chicken's blistered crust, with balanced touches of sugar and MSG in the breading, to string beans that bear some nice acidity against the oil they're dry-fried in. My favorite dish is the prosaically named "fish fillet with vegetable," actually a bubbling stew of oily, chili-spiked broth full of fried-then-braised fish, creamy eggplant, and some crunchy vegetables. If you have any cuts on your lip, give this a pass, as the heat is sharp, fast, and a little delirium-inducing. But it's not just about spice—roasted chili and a good broth bring surprising depth to the stew; just another way in which Lan Sheng pays attention to the details.
Xi'an Famous Foods is the Shake Shack of noodles these days, with little shops cropping up all over the city. But the crown jewel in the empire is Biang!, a gussied-up sit-down restaurant in Flushing. It's meant as a nicer way to experience the best of Shanxi province's street food, with table service, real plates, and room to sit and linger. With exposed brick walls, trendy naked light fixtures, and easy-to-read menus, it's a very un-Flushing restaurant, perfect for introducing newcomers to real-deal Chinese cooking.
The chewy, spicy hand-pulled noodles that made Xi'an famous are just as good here, but the menu also covers items you won't find at other XFF locations, such as grilled skewers and small dishes (tender stomach, nubs of seitan, or tiny pork sausage-and-egg sandwiches), as well as stand-alone plates like grilled quail or wads of hearty buckwheat paste to drag through XFF’s addictive sauces.
It's scene-y, pricier than takeout, and they don't take reservations for groups smaller than eight, but RedFarm remains the apotheosis of Chinese-American cooking in New York. Typically humdrum hot and sour soup is made here with a stock of roasted shrimp shells and flavorful fried mushrooms. The broccoli beef bears the unmistakable mineral flavor of high-end steak, and it's perfectly cooked. Though they cost more than their dim sum analogues, steamed dumplings here are so delicate and flavorful they're worth their inflated price tags. (RedFarm's also home to the city's best soup dumplings.)
You'll find more than just well-executed Chinese-American classics at RedFarm. Order the shrimp-stuffed chicken, a whole deboned bird stuffed with shrimp paste and coated with dehydrated rice, which makes for a crispy skin that rivals any Peking duck. It's high-class French technique married to Beijing palace cooking, and you'll only find it here. So don't let anyone tell you the food here isn't authentic regional Chinese cuisine. That region just happens to be Manhattan.
Hunan Kitchen of Grand Sichuan
Another of the Flushing Sichuan classics, but unlike some (cough, the beloved yet disappointing Spicy and Tasty), HKofGS still does great food. I'm in love with their rendition of cumin lamb because it's about the lamb as much as the spice—tender, pleasantly gamey, and more than a little charred around the edges. Also excellent are the dry-fried string beans, which taste so smoky you might wonder if they've spent time in a smoker.
Speaking of smoked food, HKofGS serves Hunan dishes alongside Sichuan ones, like smoked beef with sun-bleached white chilies and sweet, pork-sticky Mao's red-braised pork belly. You'd do wise to order both of them.
Dongbei, China's northeastern region, is home to some of the country's heartiest food, which means toasted flatbreads instead of rice, thick, doughy dumplings, and a healthy respect for lamb. Lamb is a specialty at Flushing's Fu Ran (formerly Fu Run), where the must-order dish is the massive Muslim lamb chop, a rack of fatty, gamey lamb ribs braised until fall-apart tender, then battered and fried, and then smothered with a punchy mix of sesame seeds, ground chili flakes, and cumin.
Servers carve it tableside with the gravitas of Peter Luger waiters, but if you ask, they'll also talk up the fish, which Fu Ran does equally well. Get chunks of fillets, battered and fried like fat fish McNuggets, then dusted with cumin, salt, and chili flakes, or a whole fried fish smothered in chili bean paste. Then order the home-cooking workhorse of Dongbei: silky eggplant and meaty potatoes stir fried with green peppers in a simple but delicious brown sauce. And don't forget dessert: Chunks of taro enrobed in caramel, which you'll pick up lightning-fast with chopsticks and dunk into ice water to make a hard-shelled taro candy.
Here is your new weekend brunch: Go to Flushing’s Hunan House and order an entire casserole of savory steamed egg custard, which is topped with tender ground pork, scallions, and soy sauce balanced with chili heat and some sugar. Scoop it over rice, stirring a little to break up the egg, and let the sauce seep down in between the grains. Then gobble it greedily, letting the creamy custard wiggle down your throat.
Hunan House excels at food that shows off classic Chinese technique—steaming, stir frying, and all kinds of preserving—in a totally craveable way. I can't stop thinking about the spoon-tender braised Japanese eggplants hit with soy and topped with shaved salted egg yolk. And when a platter of fried shrimp tossed with dried chilies hit the table, they were gone a minute later. The shrimp shells are crisp and cooked enough to eat whole, so they, too, vanish without a trace.
Canton Gourmet is an otherwise typical Cantonese restaurant with two specialties: fried rice and fried-er chicken. That "famous golden rice" is a far cry from the soy-sauce-slathered takeout versions you're used to—it's light and aromatic, with just a touch of crisp, and tossed with fishy-funky XO sauce, golden raisins, shavings of cured egg yolk, and little bits of scrambled egg white.
The "famous aromatic garlic crispy chicken" is even better—a whole hacked-up chicken fried without batter or breading so the skin turns lacquered and almost flaky, more crisp and crunchy than any Southern fried chicken. The intensely seasoned meat is as juicy as you could hope for, and if that weren't enough, a fistful of dried garlic and fresh scallions on top makes this dish all the more craveable.
Out in College Point, Little Pepper is a trek to get to, even from Flushing. But that hasn't stopped Chinese food lovers from making the journey. The restaurant still brings the goods, with food that's boldly spiced but impressively subtle. Of all the fish fillets in a spicy, chili-riddled broth you'll find in New York, Little Pepper's may be the most delicate in flavor. Chopped pickled long beans stir fried with ground pork is a staple at plenty of Sichuan and Hunan restaurants, but none have the nostril-widening funk that Little Pepper's possesses. Also pay attention to the rice; the plump, flavorful, perfectly steamed grains are without equal in the city's Chinese restaurants.
If there's a trick to Little Pepper, it's making sure to go in a large group. The dining room can handle large parties, and these dishes are best eaten in concert so their flavors can reverberate against one another. If you only go with one or two people, you’ll miss out.
Though it's known principally for noodles, this Henan-style restaurant in Elmhurst does all sorts of things well. The doughy boiled dumplings feature great elastic skins. A cold appetizer station serves up subtly spicy pickled cucumbers and slippery ribbons of tofu skin. Simple yeasted buns, with chewy crumbs and crackly griddled crusts, are worth ordering plain to dunk into every broth and sauce on the table.
And then there's the rabbit. It's called "spicy crispy rabbit in big tray," and it's a massive platter of bone-in rabbit chunks that easily feeds four. Crisp bits of meat are dry-fried and tossed with smoky chilies and an impressive quantity of Sichuan peppercorns, which don't so much numb your mouth as leave a gentle tingle while you go to town on the juicy meat. It does, however, pack some heat—enough to keep every bite of bunny (and marrow in the bones) an interesting one.
Sunset Park is where you'll find the city's best twice-cooked pork. At Metro Cafe, the pork belly is cut thick and caramelized to a beautiful brown. Sturdy slices of leek add enough allium punch to keep everything fresh, and the kitchen takes a light touch with a powerful brown sauce made with a kiss of chili oil heat. This Sichuan restaurant also makes a wonderful smashed cucumber salad, swimming in chili oil and loaded with garlic. And don’t miss the crisp spicy fried shrimp and chewy pig’s ears.
One of the best things about eating Chinese food in New York right now is the diversity and quality of our dumplings. If all you go out for is the greasy, pre-cooked, four-for-a-dollar specimens in Chinatown, you have some work to do—there are excellent delicate wontons, tender boiled shui jiao, and crisply fried guo tie just a little farther afield.
Nine times out of 10 you'll get a better dumpling from a counter-service dumpling shop, where cooks have a better feel for dough, than a full-service restaurant. Look for busy ones; a line means high turnover, which in turn means fresh dumplings ideally made to order.
Though you'll find good dumplings in any neighborhood with a decent Chinese population, New York’s dumpling epicenter is Flushing, where small shops, particularly those with northern Chinese backgrounds, roll out lithe, snappy skins and stuff them with full-flavored—but not greasy—fillings.
Noodle Village is less a dumpling shop than a whole restaurant devoted to the twin arts of "dough wrapped around stuff" and "stuff wrapped around dough." Many of the noodle dishes are worth your time, but the big draw is the excellent wontons. Simple shrimp and pork wonton soup is the best of its kind in Manhattan, the shrimp plump and juicy, the broth brimming with chicken-y umph.
Also pay attention to the specialty dumplings, like the cilantro with black egg that gets a surprise dose of ground pork to balance out jelly-like, mineral-tasting minced century eggs. Add in the fresh kick of cilantro and you get a remarkably balanced dumpling with few analogues across the city. Sadly, the soup dumplings here don't live up to the rest of the menu. Skip 'em.
Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle
You'll find better hand-pulled noodles at Tasty Hand Pulled on Doyers, but that's okay, because Lam Zhou makes the best dumplings in Chinatown, and that includes shops that make nothing but dumplings!
They’re a little less fresh and elastic than ideal, but they're cooked well, until soft but not wimpy. The filling is an exceptionally juicy pork and chive version stained dark by soy sauce—rich and flavorful but not overly fatty. You can order them fried, but the price for caramelized crust is a few blown-out dumplings per plate. You may not mind that, as the minimum order is 12, though I tend to go for the simpler boiled dumplings to keep that filling as intact and juicy as possible.
New York, your soup dumpling game is weak. Sure, there are plenty of tasty-enough wads of fatty pork stuffed in dough, but beautiful broth without too much grease and thin, barely-there skins to contain them are rare around these parts. Rarer still is a restaurant that executes their soup dumplings consistently well.
These days, the absolute best soup dumplings in the city are the beautifully formed but pricey versions at RedFarm. For those seeking out a more reasonably priced version, head to The Bao. Here the xiao long bao have skins so thin and delicate you can almost see through them; inside, the brothy payload is plenty rich and pork-sticky but clean-tasting, not greasy. Spring for the version with pork and crab; the latter adds a briny touch which, combined with the hint of ginger in the soup, makes for a soup dumpling you could almost call refreshing. But if you’re tempted by the spicy version filled with chili oil, skip it; the unrelenting and unwelcome heat throws the dumpling’s whole balance out of whack.
Xi'an Famous Foods
The noodle cooks at XFF know their way around a lump of dough, so it was only a matter of time before they started making dumplings. The chain's spicy and sour lamb dumplings are filled with tender, funky lamb that's more like braised chunks than the typical meatball, and they're juicy enough to spurt as you bite into them. The elastic boiled skins come dressed in the XFF signature sauces—black vinegar and chili oil—with some fresh ginger along for the ride to lighten everything up.
Tianjin Dumpling House
Arguably the best dumplings in New York come from this stall square in the middle of the perpetually frantic Golden Shopping Mall in Flushing. Tianjin churns out around 10,000 boiled dumplings a day in a dozen or so flavors, all with hand-rolled skins that are delicate and tender with just a bit of chew. I love the vegetarian egg, scallion, and glass noodle dumplings, but the must-eat filling by far is the lamb and green squash, as juicy as any soup dumpling but not at all greasy. The lamb's gaminess is tempered by garlic, ginger, and a little plain water infused with citrusy Sichuan peppercorns, and the filling is wonderfully complex yet subtle.
Dumplings here need no sauce, but if you absolutely must, skip the typical black vinegar and ask the staff to whip up some fresh garlic sauce, which brings a kick of pungent freshness to the fillings. A drizzle of chili oil won't hurt either.
They know what you're here for: menu item number six, wontons with hot oil. A Flushing classic that still delivers the goods, White Bear's specialty is light, vegetable-rich pork wontons in thin wrappers that are then topped with chili oil, flecks of roasted chili, some fresh herbs, and a smattering of preserved radish.
Neither the dumplings nor the condiments are particularly spicy. Actually, the whole package tastes pretty fresh and clean—honest green flavor from the filling with roasty, herbal, and mild pickle accents. That makes these wontons rather inhalable, which is where they get you—an errant crumb of chili that sticks to your lips, tingling enough to send you back for "just one more."
New York's best bowl of wonton noodle soup comes from this small Flushing restaurant, which serves almost nothing but broth, noodles, and wontons with said broth and noodles. Take a look at those wontons, which are stuffed to the brim with pork, sweet, crunchy shrimp, and touches of watercress. The meat is cut into substantial chunks so you get textural contrast as you bite your way through.
The wontons float in a basic Chinese superior stock, mostly chicken with suggestions of scallions, ginger, and ham. It's thin on body but big on flavor, one of the rare Chinese broths worth savoring in New York. And the noodles are right for this Hong Kong-style dish: thin, snappy, and resilient to the teeth.
Best North Dumpling
Keep an eye out for the address number on Main Street, then walk halfway down a narrow hallway populated by food and accessory stalls. Best North Dumpling barely announces its name, let alone makes itself easy to find, but the hunt is worth it for their boiled dumplings. Like White Bear, they make elegantly plated wontons, but the must-order is the thicker-skinned pork and "fennel" dumplings.
The fennel in this case is actually dill, and these juicy-but-not-greasy dumplings are loaded with the herb's fresh grassy kick. Can a dumpling be a digestif? Best North’s make the case that they can.
Lao Wang Ji
Most Golden Shopping Mall tourists stick to the basement-level food court, but they're missing out on the Fujianese-style tiny wontons at this upstairs stall. With no English signs or menus, you'll have to get by with pointing and gestures, but tell the kitchen you're looking for "small wonton soup." Pea-sized wontons have whisper-thin skins filled with tiny nubs of pork, and at Lao Wang Ji they float in a simple but delicious cup of chicken broth. Sip that broth and let the wontons glide past your tongue.
If you're coming from the Main Street entrance, Lao Wang Ji will be halfway down the hall on your right, across from the Southeast Asian grocery stall. There’s no English marking, but a yellow sign hangs in the hallway.
Li's Lanzhou Handstretched Noodles
Guo tie—what Americans call potstickers—are all about maximizing fried crust. The best way to do that? Add a little extra starch, so as the dumplings steam and fry, a paper-thin disk of crust forms across the entire pan. The guo tie then form a dumpling Voltron, all connected into one mega dumpling pancake.
That's what happens at this hand-pulled noodle stall in Flushing's New World Mall, and it's the best of the style I've had in the city. The intensely seasoned, amazingly juicy dumplings are open on both ends, so some of that juice leaks out of the dumplings as they cook. Normally that'd be a problem, but with this pancake method, those dumpling juices get concentrated and trapped within the sheet of starch for a pork-concentrate-flavored pancake to go with your excellent dumplings.
It's not hard to find a Chinese restaurant in New York with at least decent noodles, but when I get a hankering for the really good stuff, I seek out the specialists. That means eschewing grander restaurants for what are often small stalls with folding chairs and rickety tables, and more importantly, noodles that are made on-premises for unparalleled freshness.
To vastly oversimplify things, there are two major schools of Chinese noodle excellence in New York right now. One is the ropy, snappy hand-pulled noodle, in which an elastic dough gets twirled and stretched by highly skilled cooks to form long lengths of pasta with more bite than dried and rehydrated noodles ("chew power," as the Chinese might say). The second school is devoted to rice noodles, which also have an elastic bite, but are generally softer. There are more, of course, but these two genres are a good place to start.
Most noodle shops serve their noodles two ways: stir fried with meat and vegetables or immersed in broth. I usually go for the stir fried ones, since almost every noodle broth I've tasted in New York is thin and bland, plus the noodles tend to over-soften as they sit in the soup. My recommendations below reflect this bias, though you'll see some noteworthy exceptions to the rule.
Xi'an Famous Foods
These days you can find Xi'an-style noodles at a few shops, but it all started with Xi'an Famous Foods, and they still do it best. These hand-pulled noodles are beautiful: wide like pappardelle and inconsistent in thickness, so you get some thin, tender bites and more robust chewy ones all in the same slurp. I prefer the noodles stir fried with sauce rather than in soup to preserve all those textural delicacies.
All those sauces and toppings are worth ordering, from lamb blasted with cumin to the oft-ignored spicy "oil-seared" variation that's lighter on the black vinegar. And to be honest, they're more alike than different. The XFF mother sauces of meat broth, chili, vinegar, and warm spices like anise may get mixed in different proportions, but you can always tell when you're eating a XFF noodle dish. Accept no imitators.
The Uighur dish da pan ji, colloquially called "big tray of chicken," has become increasingly popular in New York in recent years. And once you taste the spicy stew of chicken parts and potatoes braised with warm cinnamon and star anise, it's easy to see why. Da pan ji is the main reason to visit this Henan-style noodle shop in eastern Chinatown, where for an extra dollar you can get it topped with excellent thick hand-pulled noodles.
Those noodles are a little thicker than Xi'an's, and a little more narrow, but they feature the same rough edges that dance on your tongue while soaking up broth. And what fine broth it is: warm and rich with layered spice and plenty of chicken fat. There are other soups on the menu for your noodles to swim in, but this is the one worth the trip.
Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles
Tasty Hand Pulled has a menu for the most demanding and obsessive noodle lovers. Do you want thin, ropy hand-pulled noodles or thicker, frilly-edged knife-cut ones? How thick do you want them? Stir fried or in soup? With what toppings?
Truth be told, they're all good, consistently the best you'll find in Chinatown. The pulled noodles have a pronounced snap, and the knife-cut ones—formed by shaving thin sheets of noodle off a log of dough over a pot of boiling water—are pleasantly thick but never doughy. Your topping and broth options are kind of incidental when the noodles are done this well, but a simple stir fry of vegetables adds some crunch to break up the starch—without distracting from the star.
Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen
A Golden Shopping Mall vet opened this Hell's Kitchen restaurant devoted to Chinese la mien, hand-pulled noodles, but he had the good sense to add steamed and fried buns and dumplings for good measure. (Hence the amusing if misleading name.)
Those noodles are a little thicker and doughier than fans of thin, ropy la mien may prefer; their texture is more akin to soft egg noodles. But they come in broths you'll want to slurp out of the bottom of the bowl. A "spicy beef ramen" broth hides unsuspected riches beyond its dollop of chili paste—deep beefiness from both flesh and bones, all rounded out by aromatic and medicinal herbs.
As for those steamed buns, both the xiao long bao and pan-fried sheng jian biao are tasty, if not hugely memorable. Your better choice is the glossy-bottomed pan-fried Peking duck bun, a dead ringer for a barbecue pork bun except it’s far less sweet.
Uncle Zhou is a restaurant destination for all sorts of things, but hand-pulled noodles have a prominent place on the menu. They are wonderful noodles, but will please a particular sort of noodle-lover. If you want your noodles thin and lithe, like snappy ramen or wiry spaghetti, these will leave you cold. But if you love nibbling thick creases of dumplings or the pressed edges of ravioli because you can't get enough of that doughy chew, then Uncle Zhou will make you fat and happy.
I'm most partial to the knife-cut noodles here, which are thick and rough-edged, but all of the noodles, and their many toppings, are worth ordering. Flavors can be simple, like the home-cooking classic tomato and egg, or more complicated, like Uncle Zhou's "spicy crispy chicken in big tray," which carries a warm, piquant heat from chilies and plenty of tender dark meat chicken.
Chen Du Tian Fu
The best dan dan mien I've had in New York come from the Philly chain Han Dynasty, but the food there is so uneven, it's hard to recommend putting up with a full meal just to canoodle with some spicy, porky, mouth-numbing noodles.
Chen Du Tian Fu, a wee Sichuan specialist in the Golden Shopping Mall, does a dish of dan dan mien almost nice enough to make me forget Han Dynasty's, with one notable caveat. Be sure to stir the noodles well so that each strand is coated in Chen Du's pitch-perfect chili sauce, which is chili-forward but not unforgivingly hot, and rich with the citrus buzz of Sichuan peppercorn. The sauce lingers on your breath for minutes afterward; it's the kind of dish you may not fall in love with at first bite, but still find yourself thinking about for a while after. As for the caveat: the noodles themselves are overcooked. Nice in a soft way, but they could offer more resistance to the teeth. Try asking the kitchen for noodles with a little more bite.
Yun Nan Flavour Garden
In Yunnan province, the choice starch for noodles is rice, not wheat, and the resulting noodles have a slick character with a deeper chew but softer bite than their wheaty analogues. At Yun Nan Flavour Garden, the noodles are made and dried in-house, and the quality shows in their elastic snap.
An easy-to-love topping is ground pork sauced with chili, black vinegar, and soy sauce, with roasted peanuts for crunch. You can also get your noodles in soup, though like most Chinese noodle soups in New York, the broth will be thin and bland, if adequately tasty. If you're looking for something that offers textural contrast to your noodles, try the fried intestines or pork cracklings. Both add a feral edge to the mild noodles, in the best possible way.
Taste of Guilin
If "stinky" and "wobbly" aren't adjectives you've ever applied to good food, get yourself to Sunset Park's Taste of Guilin. The specialty here is rice noodles, thick like bucatini but with a more soft and tender bite. Jiggle your plate of noodles and watch them wobble around like jello.
I love them stir fried with strips of beef and lobes of inky black mushroom; the secret ingredient, though, is pickled bamboo shoots, which deliver some serious funk on the nose but a more mild flavor, a mouthwatering savoriness bolstered by some chili heat. More pickled bamboo, please!
The unspoken truth of dim sum in New York is that it's all pretty much the same. While there are certainly better spots to have it than others, dim sum options here taste more alike than different. That's a shame, considering how some dim sum houses in China and Hong Kong have elevated the meal to a high art, serving seriously elegant, beautifully made dishes to a discriminating clientele. By comparison, a large New York dim sum restaurant's ability to handle a thousand or more covers in a single Saturday afternoon is certainly admirable, but the results never taste that exquisite.
That's not to say that dim sum here is bad per se, just that we should adjust our expectations. Steamed and fried proteins and carbs, even when rolled around carts for an hour, are pretty tasty, and dim sum in New York is always cheap. It's also inarguably fun; I've never had less than a great time stuffing my face with sub-par but compulsively edible rice rolls and har gow.
So when people ask me where to get dim sum in New York, I'm upfront about its faults, then focus on places that a) move their carts around fast for high dumpling turnover and b) have a pleasant atmosphere with good opportunities for people-watching. I also emphasize the importance of going for dim sum early in the day, when the steamed and fried dishes are at their best; they'll only get worse as the afternoon rolls around.
By a wide margin, Sunset Park is New York's dim sum capital; there you'll find the highest density of decent dim sum spots, a few of which are as grand and palatial as anything in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Chinatown's dim sum restaurants are better visited for convenience and their old school legacy than actual quality, and Flushing by comparison strikes out. While some of its dim sum restaurants have served tasty food in the past, none of them these days are consistently any good.
It's smaller than Sunset Park's more ostentatious dim sum restaurants, but the food is generally better. Not just the classic dumplings, which are shaped and steamed well, but also lots of specialty items you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. Spring for a deluxe plate of fried pork riblets and taro, both crisp beneath their caramel glaze. The pork nuggets are dense and meaty while the taro has more give, which brings all sorts of textural fun to the table—and plenty of bones to gnaw on.
Bamboo Garden is also one of the few dim sum houses where I'd feel confident ordering seafood. Ingredients are fresh across the board here, a convincing case for snagging some steamed clams with black bean sauce.
Sunset Park's Pacificana captures all the oversized grandeur of New York's dim sum palaces and couples it with generally solid food. The scale of the place is enormous, and high ceilings and a flood of light from the 8th Avenue-facing windows only enhance the sense of dining in a dumpling cathedral.
Dumplings are indeed the star of the show here, with skins that are still a little taut and snappy, stuffed to the brim with thoroughly seasoned fillings. Even the soup dumplings, while not fantastic, are sweet and meaty enough to be worth an order. Just save room for dessert: a fluffy deep fried bun that you’ll drizzle with sweetened condensed milk.
New Spring Garden
New Spring Garden's not quite as pretty as Pacificana, but the dim sum can be quite good—certainly better than the majority of Chinatown's. Look out for the steamed rice rolls, wrapped around shrimp, beef, or fried you tiao crullers, which, on a good day, are excellent—slightly sweet from the rice with a delicate creamy texture. Also keep an eye out for fluffy steamed buns filled with sweet, oozy cured duck egg yolks, as good a dim sum dessert as any.
My go-to dim sum spot in Chinatown is 88 Palace (not to be confused with the nearby Palace 88!), for two reasons. One: You'll find some uncommon dim sum items here, like creamy, mineral-y century eggs stuffed into lacy-edged taro fritters. Two: Even by Chinatown standards, 88 Palace is a bargain. I've yet to have a check come out to more than $10 a head. Standard dim sum rules apply—go early, particularly for the fried items, which are good early on in service but turn limp by the afternoon.
The super-massive chandeliers. The escalator ride to heaven. The expanse of tables and whizzing carts as far as the eye can see. No one does old-school dim sum on a more absurdly grand scale than Jing Fong. And for me that's enough of a draw. The food itself is appealing in a greasy sort of way, and lots of carts mean you'll fill your table up quickly, but make no mistake: You're here for the scene at a New York icon more than the food. But no matter; everyone should have a meal at Jing Fong at least once.
Dim Sum GoGo
Dim Sum GoGo eschews the dragon and phoenix motifs of the grand dim sum houses for a more modern look. Instead of a warehouse dining room, the two-story restaurant is decked out in clean white lines. And instead of carts roaming the floor you place your order on the menu by marking boxes in pencil.
This is the system favored by China and Hong Kong’s modern dim sum houses, and it's a smart move, since it translates to fresher food made to order—particularly the fried items. Pan-fried turnip and pumpkin cakes glisten with crackly crusts, and red bean-filled sesame balls arrive piping hot. You'd do best to stick to those fried items, though, as the cooks here tend to over-steam things to gumminess. But make an exception for the gloriously juicy duck dumplings, GoGo’s deservedly signature dish.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
You have to give credit to New York's oldest dim sum parlor, which isn't only still kicking, but thriving after its new owner Wilson Tang renovated the dining room and menu from the ground up. The place looks like a Law and Order set piece in the best of ways, with vintage-style red banquets and black and white floor tiling.
The food, while not incredible by any means, is among the better of Chinatown's dim sum spots. Steamed rice rolls are thin and supple, siu mai are juicy, and fried rice is blessedly not greasy at all. You order from a menu here, not a cart, and the freshness generally shows.
Hot pot is Chinese fondue, a communal meal eaten around a bubbling pot of broth in the center of the table, with each diner responsible for cooking their own food. Like fondue, it's a special occasion sort of thing; hot pot is time consuming and not particularly cheap, so going out for it is an event unto itself. Also like fondue, hot pot is all about the other people around your table. Do you want to spend two or more hours dunking thin shavings of raw meat into broth with someone? Will they be squeamish about eating fish balls? Do they know to only cook a few greens at a time so the rest don’t sit in the pot, turning slimy? Choose your hot pot companions wisely.
The typical setup involves two broths: a mild one seasoned with aromatic and medicinal spices and dried fruits like goji berries, and a spicy one peppered up by fistfuls of dried chili and a generous squirt of chili oil. As for the dip-ins, meat and seafood should look fresh. Vegetables, both hearty and tender greens, must be crisp and vivid in color, not limp and old-looking. And goodies—fish balls, blood cubes, and tofu, as well as an assortment of post-broth dipping sauces—should be offered in great number and variety.
Finding restaurants that nail all these points takes some doing, and to be honest hot pot isn't New York's strongest point. But the following destinations are all worthy of a special trip.
If you wonder where the Chinese youth of Sunset Park go out to dinner, one answer is the flashy, techno-buzzing Mister Hotpot. The spicy broth, riddled with chilies and Sichuan peppercorns, will satisfy the most ardent chili-heads. But the real pleasure here is the "mild" broth, which is actually anything but—a long, long simmer with pork bones and spices like cassia and star anise turn it milky white with a bold soupy demeanor that beats the pants off every other broth in town. It's a broth to treasure on its own, and it only gets better as more ingredients cook in it.
Those ingredients include perky-fresh greens and mushrooms; rosy lamb, pork, and beef; a wide assortment of tofu (soft, firm, and fried); fish balls; wontons; rice cakes; several varieties of noodles, and then some. There are few dipping sauces, mainly a funky-tasting "barbecue,” but lots of fresh condiments—chilies, scallions, cilantro, and raw garlic—to liven up everything else on the table.
Little Sheep has hundreds of locations across the world, and the secret to its global hot pot domination is simple: it's very good at what it does. Everything at Little Sheep is made easy for customers, from the quality broths (both spicy and mild bases are available for purchase in Chinese grocery stores, and they're the same as what you'll get on your table) to the cleanly laid-out menus that offer helpful combination specials for those overwhelmed by the number of options.
You'll find meat choices from marbled ribeye to slippery tendon, and no shortage of fresh vegetables, plus some non-hot-pot items like a gloriously greasy two-inch-thick sesame pancake in case you want to gild the lily. Just make sure to visit the expansive sauce station in the back, which offers half a dozen sauces, thick and thin, sweet, spicy, and pungent, all for you to customize your bowl.
Little Sheep is clean, well lit, and mobbed on the weekends. You're guaranteed a wait at dinner, so come with some time to kill, or try visiting on a weeknight instead.
Hou Yi Hot Pot
Both hot pot locations above have à la carte menus; you start with a flat rate of soup base, then pay for each dipping ingredient you add. Hou Yi favors a simpler, more pig-out-friendly approach: a flat rate of $30 per person for a two-hour all-you-can-eat feeding frenzy. This is your Manhattan Chinatown go-to for hot pot.
Hou Yi's service and atmosphere have improved considerably since it moved to a larger location on Hester Street; no longer will you huddle at rickety tables ready to collapse under the hot pot's weight. New Hou Yi is comfortable and friendly, and its expansive menu offers some relatively rare items like tempura and udon noodles. You also have more broth choices: beyond the hellishly hot spicy broth there's a tame beef soup, a ginseng-enlivened herbal broth, and a vegetarian mushroom-vegetable broth. And for dessert: an ice cream bar! Not very good ice cream, mind you (it's from the wildly overrated Chinatown Ice Cream Factory), but cool, creamy ice cream hits the spot like nothing else after two hours of ridiculously spicy hot pot.
A few tables at Szechuan Gourmet have inset burners for hot pot, and even though a meal doesn't come cheap here (after tax and tip you'll spend about $40 a head), it's a worthy hot pot experience.
You do get your money's worth. This is another all-you-can-eat situation, and unless you specify otherwise, your table will receive a foot-tall mountain of produce and meat for your broth. The broth itself isn't the best—the mild is bland, and the spicy one, though pretty tasty, would benefit from some Sichuan peppercorns—but the dipping options are all quite fresh. I'd recommend speaking up and getting specific about which ingredients you want and which you don't; otherwise they'll just bring you a little bit of everything, which means a lot may go to waste. For instance, I'd take more of their excellent lamb, tofu, and fish balls over the hard-to-eat blue crabs and bland potatoes any day. But once you handle all that finagling, you'll be rewarded with an eminently satisfying (and filling) meal.
Some of New York's best Chinese food is eaten standing up, a nosh from a stall or shop too tiny to sit down in. This section covers kebabs, rice rolls, fresh tofu, roast pork, jerky, and more—all little bites to eat on the go that demand your attention.
I've also touched on sweets: bubble tea, pastries, and the gooey, comforting soups and puddings of Cantonese cuisine. A caveat here: No matter what bakery you visit, of any kind, get there early in the day for best results. No Chinese baked goods age well, and most bakeries only do one round of baking in the morning. Finding a good pineapple bun after 11 a.m., even in Chinatown, gets dodgy. That's part of why I've focused on more long-lasting sweets here, and bakeries that do multiple rounds of baking throughout the day.
Lastly, I've placed a couple of tea shops on this list—serious ones selling expensive but world-class Chinese and Taiwanese oolongs. It's easy to forget about tea as an essential and vital component of Chinese cuisine, but it's a remarkable subject to explore on its own and a great way to gain insight into Chinese culture more generally. Even if you're not a tea lover, give these shops a try and see if they can't win you over.
Taste of Northern China
A diminutive shop with outsized ambitions huddled underneath the rumbling Manhattan Bridge. If all Taste of Northern China sold was its splendid kebabs, that would be enough. But they also cram soups, noodles, and other large plates into a beyond-cramped kitchen.
Nonetheless, start with the kebabs, the perfect on-the-go Chinatown snack. The kitchen makes a couple dozen, from classic cumin lamb (gloriously fatty and tender with a smack of cumin and chili) to "healthy" (read: blazingly spicy) green beans and smoky chunks of cuttlefish. A special pleasure here is the griddled-then-grilled yeasted pancake, which is dusted in more of that cumin-chili mixture and left to pick up some char over coals. It comes out a fluffy grilled lollipop, with enough spice to singe your lips as you dive face-first into it.
Big Wong King
Most of Chinatown's restaurants offer char siu, barbecue pork, and roast duck, and many of them display it right in the window for tourists to Instagram. And as any seasoned Chinatowner knows, most of this pork is not very good. As often as not it's dry, too sweet, and lacking in real porcine flavor.
Big Wong King isn't exactly a diamond in the rough, but I've had better than average luck snagging a fatty, delicious portion of char siu over rice for a protein-heavy lunch. Walk up to the counter and be insistent—very insistent—that you would like some roast pork, please, but only the very fatty cuts. It's fine if you don't love munching on chunks of fat; ordering this way just increases the likelihood of getting moist, marbled meat, rather than something lean and dried-out.
Vanessa's Dumpling House
The suckers come for the dumplings, which are cheap, widely celebrated, and, well, fine. But the real treasure is the sesame pancake, a yeast-risen disk of bread one foot in diameter, pan-fried in enough oil to taste positively like a doughnut. A savory one, that is, with the deep nuttiness of sesame seeds bronzed into the crust.
Triangular slices of these pancakes become sandwiches encasing vegetables like carrots and cilantro and meats like thinly sliced beef. I usually go for the plain vegetable option for simplicity's sake; it's not like these things need any added richness. But you could stuff a Vanessa's pancake with some sheet metal and it'd still taste awesome.
New Beef King
Chinese jerky may be different from what you're used to. It's more moist, tender, and meaty than the American stuff, with a shorter shelf life, and it's seasoned with the likes of soy sauce, hoisin, and chili. It makes for a wonderful snack on a long day of binge-eating noodles, and there's no place I'd rather pick some up than New Beef King in Chinatown.
This "new" king has actually been at it for decades, and whether you pick up the classic candy-apple-red pork jerky (mildly sweet with a good kick of soy) or the "wet"-style sauce-slathered spicy beef, you're getting yourself a good snack. I'm most partial to the jerky "chunks," which have larger strands of muscle fiber for an even more satisfying chew, but if you're not sure what you'd like, just ask the friendly king. He'll be happy to talk you through your options.
Sun Hing Lung Co
This is the best place to buy fresh silken tofu and soy milk, both of which are made right in the store. The tofu and milk have the clean, nutty taste of good soy, with a distinct green vegetable note that makes them stand out from the pack. Eat your wobbly, creamy tofu on the spot with some chili paste or rock sugar syrup, or take it home for some DIY mapo tofu or tofu pudding.
The front of the shop also has a window for ordering cheong fun, rice flour batter that's steamed into a thin sheet with fillings like egg or ground pork, then rolled up and sauced with soy sauce and chile paste. Sun Hing Lung Co's are exceptional. The fillings are flavorful and the sauces applied with a deft hand, but most importantly, the rice roll itself is impressively delicate, almost custard-like. It unfolds into thin sheets that soak up just enough sauce without turning soggy.
Bakeries are everywhere in Chinatown, but if you're looking for the fluffiest, softest steamed buns, the unfortunately named Golden Steamer should be your first stop. The best time to come is in the morning, but fresh, warm, cloud-like buns are available through the afternoon.
My favorite? The salted egg yolk bun, a filling of preserved, salted yolk transformed into a gooey, salty-sweet custard. The pumpkin filling, mellowed out with sweetened condensed milk, has an honest pumpkin flavor and isn't too sweet. On the savory side, both the char siu and pork-and-vegetable buns are worth ordering. The char siu meat isn't overpowered by its sugary glaze, and vegetables in the ground pork bun retain their crunch.
Fay Da Bakery
There are many, many independent Chinese bakeries around the city, but the two big chains battling for sweet bun domination are Taipan and Fay Da. Both are pretty good all-purpose bakeries, better than the average independent shops. But I give Fay Da a slight edge for its inclusion of two items: the taro bun and taro puff. Both are actually made with ube (aka purple yam), the more vibrantly hued and stronger-tasting cousin to taro, and its creamy vanilla sweetness makes a wonderful bun filling.
The bun is nice and fluffy, and the purple paste’s vanilla notes are an unexpected but welcome addition. The taro puff is more unique, and it’s something of a neutron star of Chinese sweets. This little violet number, with a tender, flaky dough encasing a thick cache of ube paste, is dense, but, when fresh, the best kind of sweet gutbomb.
Fay Da's quality varies by time of day and location; go in the morning for best results, but know that not every branch is up to the same standards. The best one is on Mott Street in Chinatown, where they bake on site throughout the day, giving you the highest likelihood of a fresh bun.
Kam Hing Coffee Shop
Steamed sponge cakes, lighter than the airiest angel food, are commonplace in Chinatown, but no one does them better than the tiny Kam Hing Coffee Shop. They know what you're there for—a warm boat-shaped cake that's barely sweet and delicately perfumed with eggs. Whether you hit the shop early in the morning or later in the day, your sponge cake is guaranteed to be warm and fresh. Don't hold on to it—peel off the paper wrapping and devour the little cloud on the spot.
Kam Hing recently started offering flavored sponge cakes in variations like chocolate chip and green tea. They're tasty enough as novelties, but since they're baked in smaller numbers and have lower demand, you're less likely to get a perfectly fresh one.
A good egg custard tart isn't shy about the egg, but the filling should be creamy, not rubbery. And the crust? Flaky and fresh-tasting, not crumbly or limp. Bread Talk's dan tat succeeds on these points more than any other bakery in Chinatown. It's always a good sign when you can see visible flakes in your tart crust, and that's certainly the case here.
New Flushing Bakery
Step off the 7 train in Flushing and you'll practically stumble right into New Flushing Bakery, home to the city's finest Portuguese-style egg custard tart. Compared to Hong Kong-style dan tat, the Portuguese tart (a relic of that nation's colonial impact on the island of Macao) is more sweet and vanilla-forward with a looser, less eggy custard.
New Flushing Bakery's custard has hints of almond alongside tropical vanilla bean, and if you can snag a warm one—they bake throughout the day so this isn't unlikely—it'll jiggle like warm pudding. The crust is special stuff, too. It's resplendently flaky and practically falls apart in your mouth.
Tong sui is a Cantonese blanket term for soupy, custardy, or pudding-like desserts, traditionally (but not always) served warm. Think red bean soup or inky-black bowls of sweetened sesame paste—admittedly acquired tastes.
But for those who do love tong sui's subtle pleasures, InDessert is the place to visit, particularly for its genre-bending, more universally appealing custards and black sesame waffles. No other tong sui shop in the city is as inventive, and none use ingredients as fresh as InDessert’s. The mango purée that cradles tender sago pearls is a dead-ringer for fresh, and it's cut by jewel-like shards of pomelo that bring a welcome tartness. I love InDessert's rich coconut puddings and soups, too, and anything with their dark, chewy purple rice.
A good bubble tea shop consistently cooks their boba until they're tender and sweet but not jelly-like. They also ask how much sugar you like and fix your drink accordingly.
Few bubble tea shops in New York nail both those traits. Even fewer do what Teado does—start with good tea, so your drink doesn't have to rely on sugar and fake flavorings to taste like something. That's what makes this tiny shop the best bubble tea spot in Chinatown.
I'm most partial to the delicately floral osmanthus oolong milk tea, but the classic black milk and fruitier flavors are all done well. Come cold weather, a cup of their nose-clearing hot ginger tea, with loads of the peppery stuff steeped into a syrup, is just the thing.
Fang Gourmet Tea
If you're after top-of-the-line Chinese tea, you need to visit Fang Gourmet. You wouldn't guess it from the location—a tiny fluorescent-lit shop at the back of a small mall off Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing—but the merchants here offer fine small-batch teas from all over China and Taiwan, both packed to take home or taste in the shop. To taste in the store, you hand over a fiver, then sit down for five steepings of a world-class tea, which takes about half an hour.
Not sure what what world-class tea tastes like? Well, the tea merchants are all friendly and extremely knowledgeable, so no matter how much you know (or don't know) about tea when you walk in, you're bound to know more by the time you stumble out all tea drunk.
Don't want to head to Flushing for great tea? A former Fang employee recently opened a shop of her own in Nolita. It’s a small, peaceful tea room perfect for tasting tea in small groups. The selection is small—only eight or so teas at a time—but superlative, mostly small-batch high-mountain oolongs purchased directly from the Taiwanese farmers who grow them.
You can buy loose leaves to go or get your own kettle and leaves to brew yourself in-store, but the best way to learn about what you're sipping is to do a "tea journey" tasting with the owner, where she'll walk you through several teas and explain how their growing and processing techniques translate into the nuances in your cup.