New York City’s Best Chinese Restaurants
For a place like New York City that prides itself on its culinary diversity, it’s amazing to see how far the offerings have come in the last few years. Long gone are the days when Chinese food meant greasy egg rolls, bland lo mein, and fried rice studded with unidentifiable meat. A wave of young restaurateurs like Danny Bowien, Jason Wang, and Wilson Tang are showing the vast range of Chinese cuisine, cooking regional specialties from across the country’s twenty-two provinces. Today you can find traditional Cantonese dim sum, fiery Sichuan delicacies, and creative cooking that defies all expectations—if you know where to look.
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Traditionally, visitors would head straight to the historic nexus of Chinatown in Lower Manhattan—an area still dominated by Chinese-American restaurants and shops, where the Chinese writing on many signs is still larger than the English translations. Get off the subway at Canal or Grand Street and you’ll find yourself smack dab in the middle of it all—butcher shops with whole chickens dangling in the windows, brightly colored bubble tea shops, grocery stores selling exotic herbs, spices, fruits, and vegetables. While the sights and sounds can be thrilling, it’s not exactly easy to navigate the maze of streets or know which place to go. Besides, it’s not the city’s only place to find good Chinese food. There are large Asian populations and many great dining options in Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, too.
These days you don’t even need to go to Manhattan’s Chinatown to find authentic food—in fact, some of the city’s best Chinese restaurants are in neighborhoods like Midtown, Greenwich Village, and Williamsburg. All over the city, there are options for every taste and budget, from cheap and filling street food-style eats to upscale restaurants with tasting menus, and everything in between. Get ready to bust out some chopsticks because these ten restaurants are true standouts that will satisfy your cravings and surprise you with their innovative cooking.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Opened in 1920, Nom Wah Tea Parlor is Chinatown's oldest continually operating dim sum restaurant and it’s still going strong. Located in the crux of Doyers Street—once called the Bloody Angle because it was the heart of 19th-century gang territory as depicted in Gangs of New York—this old school spot moved to its current address in 1968 and still looks much the same as it did then, with red vinyl booths, a lucky cat in the window, and faded sign on the façade. Wilson Tang, nephew of the owner since the 1970s, took it over in 2011 and eliminated the traditional dim sum carts. Now everything is made to order and arrives at your table hot and delicious—don’t leave without trying the shrimp and snow-pea-leaf dumplings and the crispy egg rolls.
Xi’An Famous Foods
What started as a tiny food stall in the Golden Mall—a maze of Chinese food vendors in Flushing, Queens—has since become a mini-empire of fast casual spots with a cult following. Anthony Bourdain made Xi'An famous on No Reservations, when he declared that the lamb burger was unlike anything he'd ever had at a Chinese place before. Jason Wang, who took over his father's food stand after studying business, is responsible for the spot's wild success. You can thank him for making the insanely spicy dishes of China's northern province of Xi'An widely available all across New York City. Order a plate of the hand-pulled noodles with hot chili oil and go to town.
Mission Chinese Food
Originally opened as a pop-up in San Francisco's Mission District, Mission Chinese earned rock star chef Danny Bowien numerous accolades for his no-holds-barred idiosyncratic approach to Chinese food. Though the New York location was shut down in 2013 due to various violations, it's now back and bigger than before—in every way possible. The cavernous new space looks like a cross between a swanky boîte and a trippy funhouse, with chandeliers poised above comfy banquettes upstairs and a mirrored corridor dripping in silk flowers downstairs. The menu is expanded, too—dishes like Bowien's famous kung pao pastrami are still there, along with many new additions. Order the Quick Mission Dinner or the Veg Dinner ($40 per person) and you'll get a mix of the best dishes, like green tea noodles with scallions and the addictive wood oven sizzled rice cakes.
Focusing on the cuisine of China's Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, this hip Lower East Side spot serves Chinese barbecue with meat sourced from local farms. There are large dishes like pork ribs, a plate of assorted meat skewers (beef short rib, cumin-crusted lamb, pork belly, curry fish balls), and crisp whole prawns with kaffir lime leaf, but some of the small plates are equally good if not better. The citrusy pomelo salad and the chewy, flavorful market rice cakes with kabocha squash, shiitake mushrooms, and greens are two unexpected standouts so good they'll have you wondering why you've never seen them on a menu before.
Hakkasan New York
It's not everyday you find a Chinese restaurant with a doorman and a velvet rope outside, but Hakkasan is not your typical Chinese restaurant. An international chain founded in London with locations in Dubai, Las Vegas, and Miami, the vibe is sleek and loungey, enhanced by dramatic lighting and carved wooden screens that let you peek at the other diners—mostly businessmen and their dates drinking brightly colored cocktails out of extra tall Martini glasses. For a restaurant with such an emphasis on looks, the food is surprisingly good—and beautifully plated. Don't miss the steamed dim sum, wok fried lobster, and Chilean sea bass with honey.
Kings County Imperial
Newcomer Kings County Imperial showcases the rich flavors and textures of the cuisine of central China, especially Sichuan province. Co-owners Josh Grinker and Tracy Young met while working at Vermont's celebrated Chinese restaurant A Single Pebble and traveled around China together extensively. Dissatisfied with Williamsburg's lack of truly good Chinese food, they opened this spot, where they whip up dishes like hearty soup dumplings, intensely flavorful mock eel made of shitake mushrooms, amazingly light fried rice, and spicy mapo tofu. Unlike most Chinese restaurants, this place has an excellent bar program of tiki-inspired cocktails and an atmosphere reminiscent of old world China, with a reclaimed mahogany bar, vintage metal chairs, and antique light boxes. Oh, and they grow their own Szechuan peppercorns and herbs in the gardens and have soy sauce from a producer in the farmlands of southern China on tap.
If places like Mission Chinese and Yunnan BBQ shy away from the expected Chinese restaurant décor, RedFarm bucks it entirely. Upon entering and seeing the rustic communal table surrounded by mismatched chairs, red-and-white checked fabric, and potted plants and candles dangling from exposed pipes, you'd think you were walking into any other farm-to-table establishment, but you'd be very, very wrong. RedFarm professes a greenmarket sensibility, but it definitely doesn't take itself too seriously. Chef Joe Ng plays with the food, serving Pac Man dumplings and Katz's pastrami egg rolls alongside more traditional dishes like black cod and three types of fried rice.
This unassuming spot in Midtown looks like your average Chinese restaurant (white tablecloths, red lanterns), but the food is anything but average. If you hadn't already guessed, this place specializes in the tongue-numbing, fiery cuisine of Sichuan province, and it definitely delivers. Get the dan dan noodles, mapo tofu, and cucumber salad—just be sure to order enough rice and have a cold drink on hand to extinguish the fire burning in your mouth.
Shun Lee Palace
Featured on Aziz Ansari's Neflix show Master of None, Shun Lee Palace has been a Chinese fine dining mainstay since 1971. Popular among Asian-Americans, the restaurant serves specialties from across China's many regions. House specialties include Beijing duck served tableside with pancakes, hoisin sauce, and scallions, dry shredded crispy beef, and Shanghai-style crab with spinach and black vinegar. There's also a location near Lincoln Center.
A no frills Chinatown mainstay, Joe's Shanghai has a league of devoted fans that insists this is where to find the city's best soup dumplings. The place is full of large round tables, and if you arrive in a small group, you might be asked to share a table with strangers. Luckily, the atmosphere is convivial and the food is served family-style. And at less than a dollar apiece, the dumplings are one of the best deals in the city. Order a bamboo steamer basket or two (pork and crab are equally good options)—just proceed with caution as they arrive piping hot.