12 Must-Try Chinese Restaurants

By Patty Lee  |  January 28, 2014
Credit: Todd Carroll

With the Lunar New Year right around the corner, we take a look at New York City’s revitalized Chinese food scene, from spots serving regional classics to others giving the cuisine a 21st-century makeover.

  • Han Dynasty

    The Backstory: In September, Han Chiang expanded his empire of Sichuan restaurants to New York City, rolling out an outpost of the Philly cult favorite in the East Village.

    The Look: The cheery yellow room is sparsely decorated with a handful of Chinese oil paintings and polished dark-wood tables and chairs.

    The Specialties of the House: Chiang stays true to the fiery nature of Sichuan cuisine, dishing out standbys like dan dan noodles (here, they’re tossed tableside with flourish), wontons doused in his housemade chile oil and deep-fried dry pepper chicken wings.

    90 Third Ave.; 212-390-8685

  • China Blue

    The Backstory: Yiming Wang and Xian Zhang - the duo behind Michelin-starred hot spot Café China - turn their attention from Sichuan to Shanghai.

    The Look: Housed in the former Capsuto Freres building, China Blue draws its look from Shanghai’s jazz age. Pendant lamps hang in the lofty, blue-walled room, which is also decorated with antique typewriters and a sleek marble bar.

    The Specialties of the House: Shanghai-born Zhang tapped chef Dong Fa Chen (Mr. K’s) to recreate the dishes of his hometown, which include well-known favorites like xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and cong you bing (scallion pancakes), along with harder-to-find specialties such as crispy, sesame-flecked Wuxi eel and slow-cooked Lion’s Head, a giant pork meatball traditionally served in a clay pot.

    135 Watts Sts.; 212-431-0111

  • Credit: Todd Carroll

    Fung Tu

    The Backstory: Having revived Chinatown’s iconic Nom Wah Tea Parlor, budding restaurateur Wilson Tang joins forces with Per Se vet Jonathan Wu to give Chinese fare a modern upgrade.

    The Look: You won’t find any lazy susans dotting the 50-seat room. Wu’s artist wife Jane D’Arensbourg designed a cozy, wood-clad space that subtly nods to the restaurant’s East Asian roots with lattice light fixtures and crimson toon leaf (a type of garlicky green) wallpaper.

    The Specialties of the House: The menu is thoroughly Chinese-American, highlighting Wu’s contemporary take on family recipes: Steamed Parker House buns stuffed with sunchokes, shiitake mushrooms and glass noodles; sweet potato rice cakes tossed with preserved sausage; and egg rolls - a dim sum staple - filled with pork belly, olives and pickled chiles. Sommelier Jason Wagner (Chicago’s the Gage and Henri) heads the bar program, which includes a global wine list and Asian-inspired quaffs like the Fung Tu Gibson sweetened with jujube dates.

    22 Orchard St.; 212-219-8785

  • Milk River

    The Backstory: Brooklyn-born toque La-Niece Lyew, who put in time at the Mercer Kitchen and Kuma Inn, pays tribute to her Caribbean-Chinese heritage.

    The Look: Lyew named her two-story restaurant-lounge after Jamaica’s famed Milk River, and the channel served as inspiration for a 20-seat bar carved with waves. The swanky Prospect Heights restaurant - filled with tufted white booths and portraits of hip-hop stars - also nods to her Kings County childhood: there’s a digital mural of the Brooklyn Bridge on the second floor.

    The Specialties of the House: In a clever fusion of Jamaican and Cantonese flavors, Lyew sends out plates like grilled pineapple jerk wings, steamed hake with black-bean vinaigrette and salt cod fritters with a spicy scotch bonnet aïoli.

    960 Atlantic Ave.; 718-636-8600

  • Decoy

    The Backstory: As a follow-up to their beloved locavore parlor, RedFarm, Ed Schoenfeld and dumpling maestro Joe Ng debut a Peking-duck-centric bar in the basement of their West Village flagship.

    The Look: The subterranean den is outfitted with duck-hunting decoys, a rustic communal table and a wooden bar.

    The Specialties of the House: Currently operating as a late-night hangout (it opens at 9:30 PM), Decoy slings cocktails with an Asian twist: the Yuzu Caipirinha mixes citrus-infused syrup with Leblon Cachaca and lime juice, while the Sitting Down for Dinner features duck-washed whiskey, egg white and red wine. Ng will roll out his bird-based dinners in early February - until then, you can nosh on bar snacks that include old RedFarm standbys (Katz’s Pastrami Egg Rolls) and new Decoy specials (Double Duck Wraps, Shrimp-Stuffed Jalapeño Poppers).

    529 ½ Hudson St.; 212-792-9700

  • Lucky Luna

    The Backstory: Chef Howard Jang, bartender Ken Ho and manager Marisa Cadena - vets of the San Francisco food scene - riff on Mexican and Taiwanese street food with their first East Coast venture.

    The Look: The soon-to-open eatery is full of red accents, from a hand-painted wine rack to the crimson figures stenciled on the gray walls. The space - filled with punch-tin light fixtures - will also display works by local artists.  

    The Specialties of the House: Creative fusion fare include “Peking” duck confit steamed buns, a roasted garlic and sesame cucumber salad, and dulce de leche rice pudding topped with apples. On the drinks side, find mescal served with chile salt and oranges and kimchi-and-nori Bloody Marys.

    167 Nassau Ave.; 718-383-6038

  • InDessert

    The Backstory: Hong Kong native Joe Ngai shines a spotlight on the underrepresented desserts of his home city.

    The Look: The modern cafe is bright and airy, with white-paneled walls, orange metal chairs and a blackboard menu.

    The Specialties of the House: Unlike the watered-down stuff that Chinese banquet halls try to pass off as dessert, Ngai’s comforting tong sui (literally, sweet soups) are loaded with flavor. A refreshing mango-pomelo concoction - thickened with heavy cream and chewy sago balls - teems with ripe slivers of tropical fruit, while a velvety bowl of black-sesame paste gets its strong nutty aroma from stone-ground seeds.

    1 E Broadway; 212-528-3188

  • Louie and Chan

    The Backstory: Inspired by the Lower East Side’s diverse immigrant settlers, this bi-level spot boasts a split personality - the first floor houses a Neapolitan trattoria, and the basement, an Asian cocktail den.

    The Look: Down a flight of stairs, you’ll find the handsome, dimly lit drinkery, furnished with a curved wooden bar and intimate leather booths.

    The Specialties of the House: Sip Asian-accented drinks like the Beijing Sling (gin, grilled pineapple syrup and lime juice) and fortune-cookie-topped Chinatown Daiquiri (Appleton’s Reserve rum, ginger syrup and sriracha). On the menu upstairs, there’s a cross-cultural calzone that folds Buffalo ricotta, Peking duck, tomatoes and bok choy inside pizza dough.

    303 Broome St.; 212-837-2816

  • Credit: Clay Williams

    RedFarm, Mee’s Noodle Shop and Xi’an Famous Foods

    Our favorite Chinese mini-chains continue to flourish. In addition to launching Decoy, Ed Schoenfeld and Joe Ng flooded the Upper West Side with their Pac-Man dumplings; cheap eats favorite Mee’s Noodle Shop returned to the East Village; and Xi’an Famous Foods rolled out two more locations last year - one in Midtown, the other in Morningside Heights. Tingly lamb-face salad for everyone!

    RedFarm, 2170 Broadway; 212-724-9700
    Mee's Noodle Shop, 233 First Ave.; 212-995-0333
    Xi'an Famous Foods, 2675 Broadway