Chinatown in New York is a lively, historic neighborhood packed with restaurants, boba “bubble” tea cafés, souvenir shops and much more.
You’ll want to leave plenty of time to explore this culturally fascinating corner of the city, but don’t forget to take a break so you don’t run out of steam. Here are a few choices.
1) Chatham Square Library
The hush of a library has a calming effect, and while any spot in the heart of Chinatown may not be the quietest, the library is a good option for stepping off the busy streets for a few minutes. You can peruse the Chinese Heritage Collection, charge your phone, and use the restroom. This branch of the New York Public Library has been a gathering place since it opened in 1903, and provides a sense of the local neighborhood culture.
2) Columbus Park
This compact park was built during a more dangerous era in the city’s history, when the neighborhood was known as Five Points, an area made famous for its crime and corruption in the movie, “Gangs of New York.” Today, a stroll through the park will reveal a much safer and more pleasant resting spot. On any given day, you’ll likely see individuals doing Tai Chi, elderly men playing Chinese board games on the shady picnic tables, and women chatting and playing cards, pouring hot tea out of portable thermoses. There’s a nice community feeling, with space for everyone.
3) Jing Fong
This popular restaurant opened as a traditional dim sum hall in the 1970s and has been growing ever since. To prove it, their original seating capacity was 150 and they’re now up to a whopping 800 seats, making them a sure choice if you’re traveling with family or a large group. Jing Fong’s menu offers a huge range of dim sum favorites like BBQ Roast Pork Buns and Vegetable Dumplings, as well as a full selection of entrees. Plan to spend a couple hours here sampling their kitchen specialties in a welcoming, spacious environment.
4) Joe’s Shanghai
There’s fierce competition for soup dumplings in Chinatown but Joe’s Shanghai is often credited with serving the best. Their pork and crab soup dumplings earned them rave reviews in top-notch publications like Zagat Survey and The New York Times, but fans flock to Joe’s for other delicious dishes, too. Chinatown was actually their second location; they first opened in Flushing, Queens in 1995 and quickly became a favorite for locals and tourists alike. When you enter the Chinatown location, the welcoming staff and enticing smells will make you want to stay a while.
5) Mahayana Temple
This Buddhist temple was originally established as a gathering place for Chinese immigrants. Today, everyone is welcome to drop in for a few moments of peace. The entrance, marked by a red archway protected on either side by golden temple guardians, is unmissable. Inside, you can donate $1 for your fortune and peruse the gift shop on the second floor. To really unwind, take a seat in the main room. The chanting music, pleasant incense, and giant Buddha all contribute to a calming stillness. The temple is open to visitors every day 8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
6) Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Back when they first opened in 1920, customers could drink tea and buy mooncakes and a few other baked goods. That was the extent of Nom Wah’s service until they gradually evolved to become one of the most beloved dim sum destinations in New York City. Everything about Nom Wah Tea Parlor beckons you inside—from the tiny but charming street they’re located on, to their bright yellow entryway, to the red booths and sit-in counter that lend it a retro diner vibe.
7) Renew Day Spa
A massage is the perfect ending to a day of wandering the chaotic streets of New York, and Renew Day Spa is a popular, inexpensive place to soothe those tired muscles. They offer a variety of services including Swedish and Hot Stone massage, Reflexology, and an ancient Chinese therapy called Tui-na, which promises to “bring stimulation to the muscles and blood circulation.” Their consistently positive reviews mark them as one of the most popular spas in the neighborhood.
8) Ten Ren’s Tea Time
“Heavenly Love.” That’s what the name of this tea shop, originally established in Taiwan in 1953, translates to. The cheerful café serves up whatever your choice may be—from hot and milky to cold and fruity teas—and their chairs are comfortable enough that you’ll want to stay awhile. And in case you didn’t have your fill in the café, Ten Ren’s retail shop next door sells every type of tea you can imagine. In fact, their mission to deliver the best quality teas to their customers has led to the opening of more than 100 tea shops worldwide.
9) The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
On the menu are homemade Asian ice cream flavors such as lychee, durian, and red bean, but they also serve flavors they call “exotic,” like chocolate chip and strawberry. This running joke, plus their nonstop output of quality ice cream has earned this family-run business over 40 years’ worth of devoted fans. It’s not the best spot to rest tired feet, since there are actually no seats inside, but their colorful space and seemingly endless selection of ice cream will hopefully wipe away your fatigue.
10) Yu Zu Tang Foot Spa
There is a dizzying selection of foot massages to choose from in Chinatown, but Yu Zu Tang Foot Spa is consistently popular with locals and tourists alike. Staffed with skilled, professional reflexologists, it’s the perfect way to end a day of pounding the pavements of New York. Once they wrap up your foot massage with soothing warm towels, you may just want to stay for a massage, too. Go to Yu Zu Tang for a few minutes of solitude and a little self-care.