Last Updated on February 27, 2021 by Jim Ferri
Searching for the best dumplings in Chinatown can be an enjoyable way to enjoy the culture of a city…
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
By Carla Marie Rupp and Lari-Ann Rupp
We learned what a lot of visitors in New York City eventually discover, that a plate of the best dumplings in Chinatown can not only make a good appetizer, but can actually be an entire, tasty, inexpensive meal.
Our talk about dumplings began as we were wrapping up our day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York’s number-one attraction. After leaving the museum we sat for a while in Central Park and chatted about family. It was there that Lari-Ann, whose mother is of Chinese ancestry, told me how her Chinese aunts, Lily and Linning, would come over for Christmas with hundreds of fresh, homemade dumplings which she loved. We then decided to see if we could find the best dumplings in Chinatown in New York.
Our Plan to Find the Best Dumplings in Chinatown
We walked to the East Side and boarded the Lexington Avenue subway. Our plan: go to Canal Street in Chinatown and just hunt around for good dumplings in the warm July evening.
Once in Chinatown and walking along in a light rain, we came upon an interesting crooked street, Doyers Street, and Aunt Carla remembered a dumpling house that used to be there. We walked down the street but to our distress found that it has been replaced by a post office.
So we instead start looking at menus posted on the outside of some restaurants. Soon a Chinese woman holding a small child smiled and motioned for us to come to her little eating place, Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles. We peered at the menu posted outside, and of course, saw that there were dumplings. We quickly get a little table in the back and order steamed and fried dumplings.
Yummy and Juicy Dumplings
Service is fast, and we eat with pleasure. The dumplings are yummy and juicy – especially, as Lari-Ann observes, with the right amount of chili oil and vinegar. Not only do we enjoy the dumplings, but we also relish the hand-pulled noodle dishes our waitress Tina serves us. Our pocketbooks are happy too, because the most expensive dish, a generous hand-pulled seafood medley noodle soup, only costs about seven dollars.
We have a feeling that this little restaurant is really special.
We soon discover that it’s been aired as a feature on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-In’s, and Dives” and Liu Li de, the husband of the woman who asked us in, is the dumpling- and noodle-maker. From our table we watch as he skillfully stretches the freshly made noodles, hand-made just as the dumplings. That’s the good thing about finding good noodles: the rest of the food is likely to be pleasing as well.
Doubling-Down on Our Hunt for the Best Dumplings
A few days later we head back to Chinatown and doubling-down on our hunt for the best dumplings in Chinatown, deciding to try several places for an extended lunch. Already in Lower Manhattan, we head further east on Worth Street past the court buildings, turn left on Mulberry and take a quick right up the hill on Mosca Street to a tiny little place called Shan Dong Dumpling.
Shan Dong is crowded inside – we see blue- and white-collar workers, two fashionistas, a few international students, a father with a baby stroller, and even a UPS delivery person all passive-aggressively fighting to get one of the five stools and three bottles of sauce at the tiny counter. Then we realize what has attracted them all: a plate of five dumplings is only $1 and, even more surprising, we can take home 30 frozen for $5. What a deal!
One Chinese woman is hard at work swiftly making the dumplings from scratch, and her counterpart is dishing them up hot off the griddle into foam boxes and collecting the cash. In the ten minutes we’re there, they must sell more than a couple hundred dumplings!
Although the staff doesn’t speak much English, the service was less than 30 seconds. We just said what we wanted and how many, and they understood. The sign in Chinese and English advertised coffee, tea or milk for 50¢ each, as well as hot and sour soup, for $1. We only ate lots of crispy dumplings, pouring plenty of hot sauce on them.
Soon we were out sauntering up the hill towards famous Mott Street, often thought of as “the Main Street” of Chinatown for visitors. There we found Hop Kee on the corner of Mott and Mosco, thinking this is the place our friend Dubbie has been raving about. We soo learn the real name is Hop Lee, and it’s a few doors away and across the street.
A Feast at Hop Lee
We swiftly cross the street and are greeted by Li, the friendly manager at the door of Hop Lee. We notice it’s full of content-looking regulars, a good sign. We’re also impressed with the awesome costumes of all the waiters, who are dressed in spiffy bright red jackets, black bow-ties, and nice slacks. There are no Styrofoam boxes here; our food comes on china with complimentary tea, and after the meal we are pampered with orange slices, fortune cookies, and steamed towels.
The dumplings at Hop Lee, which came with a little smattering of brown gravy and sesame seeds, turned out to be the closest in flavor to Lari’s Chinese aunties’ dumplings. When the manager came by to inquire, in almost-perfect “Engrish,” how we liked them (and we enthusiastically nodded yes!) he shared with us that the triple-sized dumplings were generously filled with veggies, shrimp, pork, egg, and seasonings. We had enjoyed them all with no other sauces.
It was now mid-afternoon in our food hunt and it seemed like a good time to also eat a main course. We had learned that with a charming smile and a flashy wallet, you could get just about any off-menu delicacy you could dream up in Chinatown. We knew that if Lari-Ann’s Beijing-born mother were here, she would likely be eager to drop $70 for her undisputed and hard-to-find favorite dish: a family-sized bird’s nest soup.
We asked about it, but found it was out of our budget so we opted instead for comfort food and took delight in eating Lari’s favorite: a whole pan-fried bass with a double order of rice. All this, with tip, came to $30.00, incredibly good for a hefty meal for two, complete with the platter of dumplings at $6.00.
If meat is not your style, there is Buddha Bodai Kosher across the street from Hop Lee, a place I have delighted in for many years. I tried my hardest to get Lari-Ann to go inside and eat amongst the Chinese families and rabbis, but she made it clear how she felt about vegetarian food, especially on a full stomach, so I suppose I will go another day without her.
After leaving the restaurant we walked into Chinatown’s Columbus Park, where people were relaxing at tables and benches, playing cards and musical instruments much as they would in their ancestral China. We couldn’t help but smile as we watched one enthusiastic Chinese man holding a microphone and leading other musicians in singing “God Bless America, Land That We Love…!”
It reaffirmed the culinary and cultural surprises we found all over Chinatown.
If you go:
NYC & Company
Tasty Hand Pulled Noodles Inc
1 Doyers Street
New York, New York 10013
Shan Dong Dumpling
106 Mosco Street
New York, New York 10013
Hop Lee Restaurant
16 Mott Street
New York, New York 10013
Buddha Boddhi Kosher
5 Mott Street
New York, New York 10013