1. Dim Sum
20 Elizabeth St, betw Canal and Bayard. 212.964.5256
Where my Hong Kong native mom and I always meet up, it's a reliable choice for traditional, trolley-bound dim sum in a classically grand, large-scale dining space. It's foreigner-friendly with English-speaking servers who are more than happy to show you everything they have on their carts so you can choose. Don't let the tourists scare you away :)
Dim Sum Go Go
5 E Broadway, betw Bowery and Catherine. 212.732.0796
Opened by a French-American food writer and Hong Kong chef, the authentic a la carte dim sum is generally well-executed and served in barebone surroundings.
22 Mott St, nr Mosco St. 212.602.9988
A good bet for traditional cart-bound dim sum with an enormous selection. Serves dim sum 10am-4pm.
Very popular in the neighborhood, more traditional dim sum on trolley carts, but with English placards too.
Nom Wah Tea Parlour
13 Doyers Street.
Come once to this place, if only to check out the oldest dim sum parlor in NYC with a gang-laden history owing to its location on the so-called "Bloody Angle". It's mostly full of non-Chinese (and plenty of hipsters) who can order off the laminated English picture menu with ease.
2. Congee/Noodles/Soupy Dumplings
96 Bowery, betw Hester and Grand. 212.965.5028
Congee. Nothing fancy, just an excellent, wide variety (sliced fish and preserved egg, frog and snail) of this popular Cantonese breakfast of thick, rice porridge.
100 Allen Street, cnr of Delancey
207 Bowery, betw Delancey and Spring
Same restaurant group, these are great bets for a wide variety of the thick rice porridge.
Shanghai Cafe Deluxe
100 Mott Street
Soupy dumplings. One of my top two picks (other down below) for xiao long bao (soupy dumplings), both regular pork and with crab meat and roe. The menu also has a huge variety of braised, fried and soup noodle dishes which are very popular among the equally non-Chinese and Chinese alike.
Shanghai Asian Cuisine
14 Elizabeth St.
Soupy dumplings. My other top choice when I get a xiao long bao craving, though they have all of the Shanghai favorites on the menu (drunken chicken, sauteed baby shrimp with vinegar, and sheng jian bao (boiled dumplings with hard-fried bottoms).
Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles
1 Doyers St
Noodles. Things almost went pear-shaped here on a recent visit, when I found a strange piece of plastic in my bowl of noodle soup. But this aside, it is a legit pick when you're craving a hot, steaming bowl of rich beef broth with springy noodles. The space is cramped and very shabby, but when the noodle soup is this good, you won't be lingering for long.
Lam Zhou Tasty Noodles
144 East Broadway. 212.566.6933
Noodles. About two minutes after you place your order off the large menu on the wall, you hear the most incredible "thwacking" sound coming from the far side of the room, as a guy hurls, twists and pulls the thick piece of dough into delicate strands of noodles. The beef broth has the usual intensity of spice and beef bones and the noodles have the perfect chewiness and spring that I love in handpulled noodles. But this, like most noodle joints, is not a place you want to linger (unless you like the sound of middle-aged Chinese men yelling at each other over the hard thwacking of noodle pulling).
Soupy dumplings. Everyone knows this place as one of the better places to sample proper xiao long bao (soupy dumplings) outside China, with branches in Midtown and Flushing, Queens too. But after a recent taste test of a few others in the hood, this is not nearly the best iteration you can find.
11 Division St, nr The Bowery. 212.941.6888
THE best place for proper Cantonese-style seafood dishes in the city though you may want to bring a regular (or a Hong Kong native) as it’s not the easiest menu to navigate and most of the specials are written in Chinese on the wall.
14 Elizabeth Street. 212.619.0085
See below "On the Radar"
Italian. Where all the baseball players and celebrities dine, the best part is the garden out back.
165 Mulberry St. 212.334.3869
After our beloved Benitos II closed (RIP Salvatore), there wasn't any reason for me to go to Little Italy, other than for Ferrara's cookies and cannoli or Di Palo's mozzarella. But apparently the whole Benitos II crew was upped sticks and moved to this restaurant next door, so all our usual favorites should be here: linguine puttanesca, chicken scarpariello, mussels marinara and zucchini fritti.
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
Ice cream. Specializing in exotic ice creams and sorbets, even the “regular” flavours will get your head spinning - Zen Butter, Chocolate Pandan, and PB&J.
Desserts/Coffee. The best dessert spot in Little Italy, hands down. “America’s First Espresso Bar - Since 1892” has cannoli rivaling those of Veniero's as well as an enormous selection of traditional Italian desserts, cookies and gelato.
385 Broome St. 212.226.8413
At last, Caffe Roma seems to be back! This was our go-to for dessert after dinner at Benitos II, from the time I was 3 and living in the burbs until about 10 years ago when it all suddenly went downhill (stale cookies and cannolis and a sad vibe). But I recently went back to give it another try and it was terrific - the soft pignoli cookies (my mom's favourites) were tender and rich and the tricolore were moist and delicious. Truth be told, I actually prefer the old-school atmosphere here to the bright and shiny polish of tourist-favourite Ferrara's nearby (which I also highly recommend above).
ON THE RADAR...
Peking Duck House
28 Mott Street. 212.227.1810
Apparently THE place for Peking Duck - their menu has a lot of familiar multi-regional dishes, so it's a good choice for groups. Peking Duck banquets priced at $31/person, 4 person minimum, with choice of additional entrees included. They also do crispy duck.
14 Elizabeth Street, south of Canal. 212.619.0085
A couple of friends recently asked me for an authentic but approachable Chinese spot in Chinatown and I was hard-pressed to recommend one: while Fuleen is excellent, you really need to be with someone who knows what to order and preferably can read Chinese. Apparently this restaurant was a great success - not only could they cater to my friend's gluten intolerance, but it seemed pretty authentic to me (at one point, they complained that the only thing that nearly put them over the edge was when they took a fresh fish out of the tank and killed it for them on the spot - my kind of place!).
11 Doyers Street. 212.227.3099
Mexican. A pulque (fermented agave drink) and tequila bar with Mexico City street food-inspired menu, it's a popular choice among the hipster crowd. Same owner as Apotheke Bar next door.
Italian. Peasant's Frank DeCarlo serves up an appealing menu of "ciccheti" (small plates) inspired by the Venetian "bacaro", or tavern/pub. Reasonably priced, all dishes are under $20 and come with a good selection of Veneto wines.
Chinatown / Little Italy