How to Spend a Day in Chinatown, NYC
New York’s Chinatown district is often considered a foodie destination. In addition to the classic spots, the food scene has blossomed in recent years thanks to an influx of aspiring chefs and young restaurateurs. But the neighborhood, always shaped and reshaped by social and economic currents, is a time capsule, a commercial powerhouse and a mecca for art. There is so much more to see and do than restaurants. Read on to discover interesting things to do in Chinatown.
Where to eat
Cha Kee | 43 Mott Street
(Photo credit: @chakeenyc)
Often described as a Japanese-influenced Chinese restaurant, Cha Kee, which opened last year, isn’t just another place to sample fusion cuisine. The menu features Cantonese and Szechuan classics with a Japanese twist. Dan dan noodles, for example, use the typical ground pork and chili sauce, but the toppings are piled on top of a bed of ramen noodles and topped with an onsen egg (slightly rawer than a poached egg). Another signature dish is sweet and sour pork belly and jowl, a creative take on cha Chiu (Honey Roasted Cantonese Loin).
Banh Mi Saigon | 198 Grand Street
The store has been in Chinatown since 1989 and offers 13 Banh mì options, as well as more than a dozen other small dishes. The sandwiches are loaded with meat, herbs and relish, and have layers of flavors and textures. The most famous menu item is its grilled pork Banh mì. Other choices, like the lemongrass pork chop, ham and pate, and tofu are also excellent.
Hay Roasted Hay | 81 Mott Street
(Photo credit: @hayhayroasted)
The basement restaurant only has a dozen seats, but there’s always a line, even outside of meal times. Opened in January 2021, this unassuming place is among the best Cantonese-style barbecues in Chinatown. If you were to have only one thing on the menu, have the roast duck, which is extremely juicy but not too rich. Other customer favorites include Crispy Pork, Char Chiu (Honey Roasted Pork Loin) and Pickled Duck.
Mott Street Restaurant | 98 Mott Street
^ This is just one of the sellers here (Photo credit: @mott.street.eatery)
Flushing is famous for its department store basement food courts, and Mott Street Eatery has the exact same vibe and experience. Visitors can find various styles of dim sum, Japanese fast food, Asian pastries and Taiwanese street food all under one roof. “Western” dishes such as pizza and burgers are also available.
Yunshang rice noodles | 53 rue Bayard
(Photo credit: @yunshangnyc)
Food from Yunnan province in southwestern China is known for its exotic ingredients and delicate flavors and has become one of the most popular regional Chinese cuisines among Chinese millennials in recent years. The restaurant specializes in Yunnan-style rice noodles, known for their silky texture and flavorful broth. Customers choose their soup stock and additions such as thinly sliced lamb, marbled beef, and seafood, and the meal comes in a set that includes ten different types of relish.
99 Enhancing taste | 285 Grand Street
(Photo credit: @99favortasteofficial)
The all-you-can-eat hot pot and Korean barbecue restaurant are popular among the city’s young Asian American professionals. It offers an extensive selection of soup bases, ingredients, and dipping sauces. If you want to try something other than ordinary meat and seafood, try organ meats, different types of soy products, and Asian vegetables like lotus root. There is a large selection of tropical juices and smoothies on the drink menu.
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory | 65 Bayard Street
(Photo credit: @chinatownicecreamfactory)
The store has been around for over thirty years. It is busy even on a winter day with less than 30 degrees. There are over a dozen “conventional” ice cream flavors such as Oreo Cookies and Vanilla Fudge which are delicious, but the highlights are the Asian-inspired flavors such as Black Sesame, Beans red, Thai iced tea and durian (it’s not smelly, we promise!). Ice cream cakes are also available. Cash only.
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Candle Lab Lantern | 69 Mulberry Street
(Photo credit: @lanternelab)
Create your own handmade candles in the shop’s zen space. Participants can choose their own scents, decorations (flower petals and dried herbs, for example), candle containers and labels. Scent choices include many Asian-inspired scents such as tangerines. Each session lasts 45 minutes. It takes an additional two hours for the candles to cool and harden.
Magical Jewelry NYC | 238 Canal Street #108
According to the website, it is the first jewelry company in the United States that combines the ancient Chinese practice of Feng Shui – theories about how the environment shapes fortune – with the art of crystal. Not only can shoppers find all kinds of healing crystals and semi-precious stones, but there are also horoscope readings and Feng Shui consultations available in person and virtually. The most interesting experience, however, is “aura reading”. For $40, a customer can take a Kirlian photo, which captures the subject’s electrical corona discharges, and then have a Feng Shui expert decipher what the image reveals about their personal aura and fortune.
Pearl River Market | 452 Broadway
(Photo credit: @pearlrivermart)
Opened in 1971 and having survived the crack epidemic, rent hikes and the pandemic, the store is still going strong. It’s not just a store for quaint homewares, beautiful Asian-style artwork, clothing and jewelry. Crowds of all ages, Asian and non-Asian, flock to the store on weekends. You can easily spend half a day here browsing the aisles and people watching.
Sugartown NYC | 63 Bayard Street
You can find a huge selection of sweet and savory snacks from China, Japan, and South Korea. But the most interesting items are dried plums, which in Chinese food culture serve a function similar to that of a mint candy. The flavor options are dazzling, ranging from very sour (good for motion sickness) to slightly sweet (good for after-meal snacks). They are available by weight and in prepackaged portions.
Books Yu and Me | 44 Mulberry Street
(Photo credit: @yuandmebooks)
It is an independent bookstore owned and operated by Asian American women. According to a New York Times article, 27-year-old owner Lucy Yu opened the store to promote books by a wide range of authors who have been historically underrepresented in book publishing. It also hosts readings, book signings and other small cultural gatherings.
Yunhong Chopsticks | 50 Mott Street
Chopsticks are not just utensils in East Asian cultures. They can be works of art and are often given as gifts for weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. The store sells over 200 different styles. Many are made from precious materials such as mahogany. For special occasion gifts, look for hand-painted sets. Prices range from $5 to $300.
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Things to do
Visit the art galleries
(Photo credit: @postmastersgallery)
The Lower East Side’s art scene has expanded in recent years to Chinatown thanks to affordable rents and a growing community of artists. The stretch of Walker Street between Broadway and Bowery is lined with no less than a dozen galleries. They are usually small, but fun to visit nonetheless. Some interesting ones to start with include Loong Mahwhich frequently features works by Asian American artists with ties to the neighborhood, and Postmasterswho is strong in multimedia plays.
have a haircut
(Photo credit: @12pell)
Just off the main Bowery thoroughfare, the triangle circled by Pell Street and Doyers Street is dotted with barbershops of every caliber, from no-frills $10 Cantonese barbers to spa-style salons that offer full-care services (such as like 12 Shovel). Weekends tend to get busy, but it’s usually no problem finding a spot if you don’t have a stylist in mind.
Visit the Mahayana Temple | 133 Canal Street, New York
(Photo credit: @mahayanatemple)
Located in a supposed building among the shops, offices and residential units of the always bustling Canal Street, the temple speaks to the history of the neighborhood. Prior to its creation in 1996, the building housed an adult cinema. Nowadays, visitors are invited to join the faithful in praying and relaxing. Additionally, the 16-foot Buddha is said to be the tallest in New York.
Walking tours with Mott Street Girls
(Photo credit: @mottstreetgirls)
Mott Street Girls (abbreviated as “MSG”) have been running Chinatown walking tours since 2020. The tours, each with a different theme, take visitors to famous sites and popular restaurants. Attendees can get a quick glimpse of how changing demographics continue to shape Chinatown’s architecture, commercial landscape, and community dynamics. The organizers, all young Asian women, are unafraid of the darker side of the Asian American experience and have actively advocated for better conversation and equal rights among growing anti-Asian sentiments.