Fridays Under $40: Three Meals in Chinatown

Posted on: August 7th, 2020 at 5:05 am by

Photo: Sara Graham

On Monday, when The New York Times reported on Chinatown’s outdoor dining scene, it was the first time I was happy to be scooped. The more we talk about Chinatown, the better. I live on Mulberry, just north of Canal and I’ve noticed it’s been slow to reopen compared to neighboring Little Italy and Noho and I’ve lamented it. When I interviewed Justin McKibben of Send Chinatown Love, I learned there were 700 restaurants in Chinatown—how could they all stay afloat?

There’s hope. On a recent walkabout, it seems Chinatown is coming to life, thanks in part to the new outdoor dining installations from architecture firm, the Rockwell Group. I wandered around eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, dipping into Columbus Park, and soaking up a bit of much needed hope. I noticed that without the tourists, it feels like a rare moment of community—only locals are out and everyone is in a mask. It might just be the safest place in the city.

Okay, let’s talk Chinatown.

Photo: Sara Graham

First, I popped by a tiny bakery that’s easy to miss—the construction site around 70 Mulberry Street has obscured many of the small businesses on the block. Along with fresh bread, bubble tea and bao, you can also get a creamy iced coffee ($2.00) and a crispy-yet-flaky lemon pie pastry ($1.50) and if you’ve got a birthday coming up, beautiful cakes Also on that strip of Bayard is an excellent plant shop that’s well worth a peek.

M&W Bakery, 85 A Bayard Street
Total Cost: $3.50
Hours: Vary. Check website.

Photo: Sara Graham

I think a lot about the souvenir merchants these days. Who is buying “I [heart] New York Shirts,” when tourism is incredibly sparse and locals might be questioning how much they really do love New York? I mean, I’d still buy a “I [weed graphic] New York” shirt. Speaking of style, I have a habit of wearing cheap gold-tone earrings, which always break, so I needed replacements. I found some oversized twisted hoops for $10.

219 Canal Street
Total Cost: $10
Hours: 10 AM – 6 PM

Photo: Sara Graham

Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles opened in late July after being closed since March. I remember trying to go there on March 15 (?), the exact date is hazy. I remember only a vague sense of panic when I noticed the roll-down door firmly shut. Part of this slow, surreal reopening is the odd sense of delayed relief in seeing some of these restaurants back. For now, these moments buoy me when my brain goes to the many other unknowns and I start to feel unmoored.

Photo: Sara Graham

Eat outside at the immaculate tables on Doyers and enjoy the lively lunch scene (Taiwan Pork Chop House and Nom Wah are consistently busy). While I enjoyed my noodles al fresco the server and I chatted. She explained they were one of a few hand-pulled noodle spots still in business, noting the upcoming closure of beloved 88 Lan Zhou.

Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles, 1 Doyers Street
Total Cost: $10
Hours: 10:30 AM – 10:30 PM

Photo: Sara Graham

For dinner, it was time to head to Mott for fine dining. Hop Lee, my usual go-to (the pink banquettes! the neon! The BYOB!) has been dark since March, so I tried Ping’s, a seafood spot that has been around since the late ’90s and also draws a lunch crowd. As one of the few spots to get alcohol down on Mott, it’s also a place to drink with dinner. They have Veuve Clicquot ($120) if you’ve got the cash to splash, or a nice dry sake for a reasonable $25, which will get two people sufficiently tipsy. I met my fiance, Chris, there and we split the shrimp shumai ($6.95) and an order of crispy crab fried rice ($18.95).

Photo: Sara Graham

As we finished our meal, storm clouds started to roll in and I resigned to a walk home in the rain—neither myself nor Chris had an umbrella. As the only customers that night, our server started packing up tables and chairs, noting they’d be closing soon. As we paid our bill, I asked how business had been since the installation. Slow, he said. At this point, he continued, they are just trying to survive.

Ping’s, 22 Mott Street
Total Cost: $12.95 (per person)
Hours: Monday-Friday: 11 AM- 10 PM
Saturday-Sunday: 9 AM – 11 PM

Total cost of walkabout: $36.45
Costs recorded do not include tip, so tip generously. Wear a mask.

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