Something we treasure about being in North Jersey is the diverse array of international cultures that are nearby. An easy trip to NYC is to check out is the Chinatown neighborhood. The spots here range from classic Asian-inspired to a mix of everything else, all influenced by aspiring chefs and young restaurants coming to town. But the neighborhood, still constantly shaped and reshaped by social and economic currents, is a time capsule, a commercial powerhouse, and an art hot spot. There’s so much more to see and do besides just restaurants. Read on to find out some interesting things to do in Chinatown.
What to Eat
Cha Kee | 43 Mott Street
(Photo credit: @chakeenyc)
Often described as a Japanese-influenced Chinese restaurant, Cha Kee, which opened last year, is not just another place to get fusion food. The menu features Cantonese and Sichuanese classics with a Japanese twist. The dan dan noodle, for example, uses the typical minced pork and chili sauce, but the toppings are piled on 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 jowl and belly, a creative take of cha Chiu (Cantonese honey-roasted loin).
Banh Mì Saigon | 198 Grand Street
The shop has been in Chinatown since 1989 and offers 13 Banh mì options, along with more than a dozen other small dishes. The sandwiches are loaded with meat, herbs, and relishes, and have layers of flavors and textures. The most famous menu item is its barbecued pork Banh mì. Other choices, such as pork chop with lemongrass, ham and pate, and tofu are also great.
Hay Hay Roasted | 81 Mott Street
(Photo credit: @hayhayroasted)
The basement-level restaurant has only a dozen seats, but there is always a line, even outside of mealtimes. Opened in January 2021, the unpretentious spot makes some of the best Cantonese-style barbeque in Chinatown. If you were to get only one thing on the menu, get the roast duck, which is extremely juicy but not overly rich. Other customer favorites include crispy pork, char Chiu (honey-roasted pork loin), and brined duck.
Mott Street Eatery | 98 Mott Street
^ This is just one of the vendors here (Photo credit: @mott.street.eatery)
Flushing is famous for the food courts at the basement level of its department stores, and Mott Street Eatery has exactly the same vibes and experience. Visitors can find dim sum of various styles, Japanese fast food, Asian pastries, and Taiwanese street food all under one roof. “Western” food such as pizzas and burgers are also available.
Yunshang Rice Noodle | 53 Bayard Street
(Photo credit: @yunshangnyc)
The food from China’s southwest province of Yunnan is known for its exotic ingredients and delicate flavors and has in recent years become one of the most popular regional Chinese cuisines among Chinese millennials. The restaurant specializes in Yunnan-style rice noodles, known for their silky texture and flavorful broth. Customers choose their soup broth and add ons such as thinly sliced lamb, marbled beef, and seafood, and the meal comes in a set that includes ten different kinds of relishes.
99 Favor Taste | 285 Grand Street
(Photo credit: @99favortasteofficial)
The all-you-can-eat hot pot and Korean BBQ restaurant is uber-popular among the city’s young Asian American professionals. It offers a huge selection of soup bases, ingredients, and dipping sauces. If you want to try something other than regular meat and seafood, try offals, a few different kinds of soy products, and Asian vegetables such as lotus root. There is a large selection of tropical fruit juice and smoothies on the beverage menu.
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory | 65 Bayard Street
(Photo credit: @chinatownicecreamfactory)
The shop has been around for over thirty years. It is busy even on a below-30-degree winter day. There are more than a dozen “conventional” ice cream flavors such as Oreo cookies and vanilla fudge, which are delicious, but the highlights are Asian-inspired flavors such as black sesame, red beans, Thai iced tea, and durian (it’s not stinky, we promise!). Ice cream cakes are also available. Cash only.
Where to Shop
Lanterne Candle Lab | 69 Mulberry Street
(Photo credit: @lanternelab)
Create your own hand-crafted candles in the shop’s zen-vibe space. Participants can choose their own scents, decorations (flower petals and dried herbs, for example), candle containers, and labels. The scent choices include many Asian-inspired ones such as mandarin oranges. Each session takes 45 minutes. It takes two additional hours for the candles to cool and set.
Magic Jewelry NYC | 238 Canal Street #108
(Photo credit: @magicjewelrynyc)
According to the website, this is the first jewelry business in the United States that combines the ancient Chinese practice of Feng Shui – theories on how the environment shapes fortune – with crystal art. Shoppers can not only find all kinds of healing crystals and semi-precious stones, there are also horoscope readings and Feng Shui consultations available both in-person and virtually. The most interesting experience, however, is an “aura reading.” For $40, a customer can take a Kirlian photo, which captures the electrical coronal discharges of the subject and have a Feng Shui expert decipher what the image reveals about their personal aura and fortune.
Pearl River Mart | 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 is not only an emporium for quaint home goods, beautiful artwork, and Asian-style clothes and jewelry. Crowds of all ages, both 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 similar function as a breath mint. The flavor options are dazzling, ranging from very sour (good for motion-sickness) to mildly sweet (good for after-meal snacks). They are available by weight and in pre-packaged portions.
Yu and Me Books | 44 Mulberry Street
(Photo credit: @yuandmebooks)
This is an independent book store owned and run by Asian American women. According to a New York Times article, the 27-year-old owner Lucy Yu opened the store to promote books by a diverse range of authors 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, anniversaries, and birthdays. The shop sells more than 200 different styles. Many are made from treasured materials such as mahogany. For special-occasion gifts, look for hand-painted sets. Prices range from $5 to $300.
See More: A Weekend Guide to Catskill, New York
Things to Do
Visit Art Galleries
(Photo credit: @postmastersgallery)
The Lower East Side art scene has in recent years spilled over to Chinatown thanks to affordable rents and a growing artist community. The stretch of Walker Street between Broadway and Bowery is lined with no fewer than a dozen galleries. They are generally small, but nevertheless fun to visit. Some interesting ones to start with include Loong Mah, which frequently showcases works by Asian-American artists with ties to the neighborhood, and Postmasters, which is strong in multimedia pieces.
Get a Haircut
(Photo credit: @12pell)
Right off the main thoroughfare of Bowery, the triangle encircled by Pell Street and Doyers Street is dotted with hair salons of all caliber, from no-frills, 10-dollar-a-pop Cantonese barbers to spa-style salons that offer full grooming services (such as 12 Pell). Weekends tend to be busy but there is usually no problem securing a spot if you don’t have a particular stylist in mind.
Visit Mahayana Temple | 133 Canal Street, New York
(Photo credit: @mahayanatemple)
Located in an assuming building amongst the shops, offices, and residential units on the forever-busy Canal Street, the temple speaks to the history of the neighborhood. Before its establishment in 1996, the building housed an adult movie theater. Nowadays visitors are welcome to join worshippers to pray and relax. Plus, the 16-foot Buddha is reportedly the largest in New York City.
(Photo credit: @mottstreetgirls)
Mott Street Girls (cheekily abbreviated to “MSG”) has been leading walking tours in Chinatown since 2020. The different-themed tours take visitors to famous landmarks and popular eateries. Participants can get a quick overview of how demographic changes continue to shape the architecture, business landscape, and community dynamics of Chinatown. The organizers, all young women of Asian descent, do not shy away from the darker side of the Asian American experience and have been active in advocating for better conversation and equal rights among rising anti-Asian sentiments.