New Yorkers are obsessed with Chinese food. Have been for centuries. So it should come as no surprise that this third generation, Manhattan born and bred, is the one writing this story. The Lunar New Year is upon us. But this year is a little different. It is the Year of the Dragon; China’s most revered symbol of good luck, success, ambition and great national pride. As I was born in the 1976 Year of the Dragon, this one hit close to home.
As a New Yorker, yes, I am obsessed with Chinese food. To the point wherein former co-workers and staff would buy me bags of chopsticks because I refuse to eat any Asian cuisine with a fork. So when you want the brutal truth in what is hot and what is not in terms of this incredible cuisine, trust when I tell you I have your back.
For over 40 years, I would celebrate the Lunar New Year at Michael Tong’s legendary restaurant, Shun Lee (I always frequented the west side outpost and dim sum café versus the east side location). Shun Lee was the first fine-dining Chinese restaurant, basically creating the high-end of the market for this cuisine. And I have spent over 40 years of birthdays and other occasions there, enjoying every sumptuous bite. Then the pandemic hit. Michael Tong sold his iconic culinary operations. And now I wouldn’t recommend you eat there in a billion years. The new owners are charging exorbitant prices for poor quality food, watered down cocktails, and amateur service staff. According to some reports, the new owners reside in China and leave the operation up to the staff on-site. Tong kept his employees around for decades. Most of them defected or were shown the door after the buyout, leaving newbies to run the castle. Scores of lifelong customers, yours truly included, have told them they need to fix things if they want to survive. Given their arrogance, I don’t foresee that happening. So, for the first time in my life, I say avoid Shun Lee at all costs. It is NOT the legendary restaurant that Michael Tong so lovingly built with the most delicious Chinese fare this city has ever known.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Equally as, if not more, important to the history of Chinese food in New York is Nom Wah Tea Parlor, the oldest continually running restaurant in Chinatown. Many credit Nom Wah with being the first dim sum restaurant in the city. Their fare is the stuff of which legend is made. From traditional dumplings to a more American-ized version of certain dishes, Nom Wah delivers on authenticity and flavor every time. And with their expansion, there are now multiple locations, and their food is available for shipping. www.nomwah.com
Dim Sum Go Go
A much more modern approach to Chinatown’s storied restaurants, you won’t find the traditional dim sum carts being pushed around to showcase (and explain) the dim sum being served. Dim Sum Go Go prides itself on high end, quality ingredients. And as someone who has eaten at their Chinatown location numerous times, as well as ordered delivery from there, I can tell you the food is authentic and delicious. You can even order their dishes frozen to have on another night! Dim Sum Go Go opened on East Broadway in Chinatown in 2000 and just opened an East Village outpost on First Avenue between 13th and 14th streets a few months ago.
Brooklyn Dumpling Shop
I would be remiss if I didn’t include Brooklyn Dumpling Shop in this roundup. Legendary restaurateur Stratis Morfogen who brought us Phillippe and Brooklyn Chop House, amongst a myriad of other restaurants during his illustrious career, opened Brooklyn Dumpling Shop during the pandemic as a way to bring his delicious, and often unique, fare to the masses in a safe, sanitary and non-contact way via his patented automat-format. Dumplings such as Bacon Cheeseburger, Mac N’ Cheese and Kung Pao Chicken are amongst the regular favorites at this incredibly successful franchise business. They are always launching new dishes and unique menu items for palates of all types. And they ship frozen dumplings all over the country! www.brooklyndumplingshop.com