The Definitive Guide To New York’s Best Chinese Restaurants

[UPDATE: This story was originally published on April 3, 2013.] News flash, people. That gloopy, salty, MSG-laden stuff we were raised on? That’s not real Chinese food. And it's about time we tasted the good stuff. With the city’s choice kitchens churning out authentic delights like salt-baked crab, cumin lamb ribs, and pork crab soup dumplings, we’ve got a clutch shortlist of spots ensuring Chinese grub will never be synonymous with that starchy, syrupy — but still tasty! — stuff ever again. Queens is filled with some spicy wonders, Brooklyn's got a dim sum hall ready to please any crowd, and, of course, Manhattan’s own Chinatown is stocked with semi-secret key players — and we’ve got the best of ‘em all right, here. In celebration of the new year, we've rounded up some choice picks of sit-down Szechuan spots, late-night Chinese mainstays, and downtown tea parlors. All you have to do is leave the decision-making where it belongs: the menu!
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Photo: Courtesy of Xi'an Famous Foods.
Xi'an Famous Foods
If you want to visit the holy grail that is Golden Shopping Mall without having to step foot out of your neighborhood, Xi'an Famous Food’s outposts in Manhattan or Greenpoint are your go-to, hands down. But, up in Queens, you can experience the notable chain in the basement location where it all began. It’s really impossible to go wrong with any of its heavenly, mindblowingly inexpensive offerings, so we suggest a little-of-this-little-of-that approach. Opt for one of the mini-chain’s meaty “burgers,” a hand-pulled noodle soup and a pasta of your choice, and round it out with our personal favorite: The spicy and tingly lamb’s face salad. You’ll have tasted Xi’an’s best, but won’t be too full to try anything else. (You are in Flushing, after all!)
Xi’an Famous Foods, 41-28 Main Street Bsmt #36 (at 41st Road), Queens; 718-888-7713.

Szechuan Gourmet
Though the upper ‘30s can be a dead zone for well-executed Chinese fare, the Midtown Lunch mainstay and New York Times-rated restaurant is a go-to for power lunches amidst a sea of mediocre restaurants. The blazing heat of its Sichuan offerings, like crispy, cumin-coated lamb fillet, keep loyalists coming back, but if double-cooked pork belly and other meaty delights aren’t for you, opt for the endlessly creamy ma po tofu. Killer tofu? Totally.
Szechuan Gourmet, 21 West 39th Street (between Fifth and Sixth avenues); 212-921-0233.
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Photo: Courtesy of Paul Wagtouicz.
Yunnan Kitchen
Locally sourced small plates and tasty organic fare make for a pricer take on Chinese dining than styrofoam boxes packed with dumplings, but believe us when we say it’s justified in more ways than one. The delicate fried potato balls and mushroom rice cakes are worth waltzing over for alone, and the meat -- well, it's sourced from the city's finest, making for a meal you'll be talking about for days after. Yunnan Kitchen specializes in not only delicious cooking, but spot-on plating — as in, a melding of flavors that create a landscape as to what dining off fresh edibles in China’s Yunnan province might really be like. Our favorite cuisine with a fresher, airier touch? That’s something we’d happily get behind.
Yunnan Kitchen, 79 Clinton Street (at Rivington Street); 212-253-2527.

Grand Sichuan International
Great Chinese food in Chelsea? You betchya. Though 9th Avenue is practically a world away from Chinatown's jam-packed streets, Grand Sichuan International is chock-full of spicy and savory authentic delights. Its soup dumplings have a delicious heft that holds up when approached correctly (bite, suck, chew, for novices), and the Dan Dan noodles will put most other pepper-laden pastas to shame. Pack a handful of Kleenex — Szechuan cuisine doesn't mess around when it comes to spice — and get ready for a meal that's the real thing.
Grand Sichuan International, 229 Ninth Avenue (between 24th and 25th streets); 212-620-5200.
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Photographed by Samantha Mancuso.
Spicy Village
Known for its big tray of chicken — which is, of course, an enormous tray of tender, saucy chicken — the Henanese restaurant is exactly the same since rebranding last year, much to its fans' delight. It’s a no-frills, teeny-tiny Lower East Side spot that’s chock full of insidery tips, like making sure you add hand-pulled noodles to that chicken order. (It’s just a buck!) When Mission Chinese Food megachef Danny Bowien goes, he orders the entire menu. We don’t suggest you do the same, but after just one taste of its pork pancake or other meaty wonders, you may find it difficult not to.
Spicy Village, 68B Forsyth Street (at Hester Street); 212-625-8299.

Wo Hop
In a city where restaurants can have hawk-eyed focus on innovation and change, Wo Hop is a breath of fresh air. Well, a breath of fresh, old air, at that. This Chinatown mainstay, open since 1938, is a bit of a hidden gem to those whose favorite Chinese resto is the one that’s simply closest to them. But, the miniscule basement spot churns out the enticing delights you know and love — egg foo young, sesame chicken — without the dirty look you might get elsewhere for such basic indulgences. Pot stickers, General Tso’s chicken, pork fried rice — it’s all here, and with its crazy-late hours, Wo Hop’s a much better option for soaking up a night of debauchery (and securing cold leftovers for the next morning!) than ransacking your favorite bodega and going crazy on Kettle Chips.
Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street (at Worth Street); 212-962-8617.
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Photographed by Sarah Balch.
Great NY Noodletown
Though this place doesn't get much love in the press, it happens to be Momofuku proprietor David Chang's favorite, as well as his go-to after work for a late-night dinner. Even better? Momofuku Noodle Bar's famed spicy noodles are a riff on Noodletown's Ginger Scallion offering — but it’s still not the most notable item on the menu. The Cantonese resto specializes in unbelievably delicious roast duck, best served sprinkled atop noodle soup or laid over a platter of lo mein, and the salt-baking, a technique akin to light frying, makes for beautiful platters of crispy shrimp, squid, and soft-shell crabs you’ll regularly return for.
Great NY Noodletown, 28 Bowery (at Bayard Street); 212-349-0923.

Spicy & Tasty
One of our favorite parts about this Flushing mainstay is that you know what you’re going in for straight out the gate. The name is descriptive, sure, but the food here isn't just hot and delicious — It's some of the best Szechuan cuisine in an area already known for crazy-good Chinese eats. Twice-cooked pork and dan-dan noodles make for our order of choice, but if you’re brave enough to bare the Sichuan pepper head-on, opt for the shredded lamb with fresh hot pepper. (And, perhaps, bringing your own glass of milk to cool yourself down.) This may not be the place to take your egg foo young-loving parents, but for a culinary adventure that may or may not end in smiles and excess sinus fluids, this is the spot.
Spicy & Tasty, 39-07 Prince Street (at Roosevelt Avenue), Queens; 718-359-1601.
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Photographed by Samantha Mancuso.
Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine Restaurant
This low-cost LES hole-in-the-wall is typically only frequented by those who know where they're headed, as it's just down the block from mega-popular Vanessa's Dumpling House. But, with crazy-cheap, plump dumplings that also happen to be Pok Pok owner Andy Ricker’s favorite, you know this joint is serious. The more, the merrier seems to be the unofficial motto at Shu Jiao Fu Zhou, so order up a large container of 11 boiled pork-chive dumplings and wheat noodles with peanut butter sauce too, while you’re at it. Total cost: $5.
Shu Jiao Fu Zhou Cuisine, 118 Eldridge Street (between Broome and Grand streets); 212-625-2532.

Fu Run
Highlighting cuisine from the Northern region of China, Fu Run features a laundry list of Dongbei specialties that are as Chinese as it gets, even if you've never heard of 'em. Prepared to be wowed by a Manchurian menu that reads like confusing fusion, but is actually wholly authentic, featuring items like dumplings filled with pork and sauerkraut, cumin lamb, green bean sheet jelly, and the culinary piece de resistance: A massive platter of muslim lamb chop, braised, fried, and covered in a swath of cumin seeds. (See what we mean?!) This place is bonkers in the best of ways, and a true gem worth trekking to Flushing for.
Fu Run, 4009 Prince Street (at Roosevelt Avenue), Queens; 718-321-1363.
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Photo: Courtesy of Jocelyn Jiang.
Biang!
It usually doesn't take too much to nudge foodies out towards Flushing for a meal, but this offshoot of Xi'an Famous Foods has topped food critics' best lists since the day it opened for good reason. Named after the sound noodles made while being pulled by hand, the restaurant’s other offerings are so good that we’d understand if they wanted to name the place after them, too. Biang!’s lamb skewers are a meaty dream come true, and the liang pi noodles are a trip, but we’ll give it to ‘em — the namesake Biang Biang noodles do make for a more appetizing place than a restaurant called “Wonderful Lamb Dumplings.” (Though, from the thought of those juicy, mouthwatering dough balls, we’d probably eat there, too.)
Biang!, 31-10 Main Street (at 41st Avenue), Queens; 718-888-7713.

Pacificana
You're bound to encounter a brunchtime wait at this chandelier-covered dim sum paradise, but given its high-quality, greaseless bites and buns, it'll be worth it. The massive second-floor expanse is typically mobbed with hungry revelers chowing down on their pick of divine cart-pushed bites, which far exceed some of the menu’s entree course options. As always, your best bet is to grab whatever looks good that’s breezing past, but anything featuring the other white meat, particularly the pork crackling or fried pork dumplings, is your way to go. We don’t think Pacificana’s dim sum is good enough to banish all birthday celebrations, but we will say this — gathering your best pals around a table to indulge in some deep-fried goodies instead of well-drinks and dancing might just make you the ultimate friend favorite.
Pacificana, 813 55th Street (at Eighth Avenue), Brooklyn; 718-871-2880.
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Photo: Courtesy of Joe's Shanghai.
Joe’s Shanghai
There are two facts any inductee into the unofficial Joe’s Shanghai fan club knows: First, never consider the uptown location to be its equivalent; and, second, memorize the phrase “pork and crab meat soup dumplings” and never look back. For a Chinese restaurant that’s known far and wide for its perfectly wrapped goodies bursting with hot broth, it’s surprisingly easy to accidentally look over them on the menu, or even mis-order. Tacked into the front cover of their menu on a loose sheet is a list of the oozing offerings, but take that aforementioned lesson to heart and order from memory. When the sweet, salty mix of meat and fish dumplings arrive, proceed as follows: Plop one in a spoon, take a tiny bite to let out some steam, then slurp out the soup before chowing down on the rest. It’s your helpful guide to preserving precious broth, and taunting any friends who can’t figure it out for themselves.
Joe’s Shanghai, 9 Pell Street (between Doyers Street and Bowery); 212-233-8888.

Vanessa's Dumpling House
Hefty, tasty dumplings on the cheap have landed in Williamsburg with Vanessa's newest location, where you can get a handful of the dough-wrapped good stuff outside of Manhattan for still less than $2. A perfect pairing of inexpensive treats and straightforward eats, it's a fail-safe of a meal sure to please anyone. Sesame pancake sandwiches, noodle soups, and 12 different types of boiled and fried dumplings make this place a Paleo-enthusiast’s nightmare, but who cares! As many New Yorkers’ Foursquares proves, once you fall for this land of crazy-cheap culinary yummies, there’s no going anywhere else.
Vanessa's Dumpling House, 310 Bedford Avenue (between South 1st and 2nd streets), Brooklyn;718-218-8806.
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Photo: Courtesy of Nom Wah.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Prepare for some massive OG status, as this is the first, the last, the everything in the name of Dim Sum. Nom Wah has been around since 1920 — that’s back in Prohibition days, guys — and has been slinging sharable small plates of delicacies like lotus leaf-wrapped sticky rice and knockout egg rolls, ever since. If you want to get a group of friends together for a multi-plated frenzy or even spend Sunday morning ordering up a round of delicious somethings that aren’t bloody marys, this is the place to do it. Oh, and hey — if it’s good enough for the great Emma Stone (http://instagram.com/p/WVqpM9xUOc/), it’s good enough for us.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers Street (at Pell Street); 212-962-6047.

Grand Sichuan House
Its food is incredibly spicy, but this Fort Hamilton restaurant is a go-to for Brooklyners who want authentic Szechuan eats without trekking all the way to Flushing. Grand Sichuan House even has a photo menu for no-fail ordering, but don’t panic upon seeing the red Szechuan pepper pods sprinkled atop the dishes, like the ching qing chicken — it’s the silent killers that’ll getchya, too. The Cold Dan Dan noodles with their pool of chili oil will take you right into the heart of this style’s spicy-as-hell specialties, but calmer, more straightforward offerings like ma pao tofu and a bevvy of oil-cooked veggies will cool the burn. And just because you’re already out there, Grand Sichuan House does happen to be located beside the outer-borough Century 21. You know, just in case you need to walk off all that food somewhere nearby...
Grand Sichuan House, 8701 Fifth Ave (at 87th Street), Brooklyn; 718-680-8887.
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Photo: Courtesy of Youngmi Mayer.
Mission Chinese Food
You can't talk about Chinese Food in New York without mentioning Danny Bowien's empire — and if you’ve been there, the unbelievable Thrice Cooked Bacon and Salt Cod Fried Rice, too. Widely considered a game-changer for its tricked-out take on traditional dishes, the San Francisco-based restaurantnconsiders its cuisine to be “Americanized Oriental Food”. But, digging in to Mission Chinese’s dishes in its haphazardly decorated back room proves nowhere near as simple as that. The table waits are massive, sure, and that while-you-wait keg in their holding pen is tops, but when you finally nab that well-deserved table and fill it with piles of other worldly delights, it makes for an experience that’s one-of-a-kind. (And, if we may: borderline transcendent.)
Mission Chinese Food, 154 Orchard Street (between Stanton and Rivington streets); 212-529-8800.
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