I do not profess to be a bonafide foodie, nor do I aspire to be one, but living in New York City often presents the opportunity for an impromptu culinary adventure; if you are willing. This is the story of one such adventure. My guide was Robert Kralovec, an NYC writer who introduced me to Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown. Their claim to fame as the newspaper clippings in the window declare, is the title of “New York City’s Best Dumplings”. Specifically, they make excellent xiaolongbao, also known as the soup dumpling and in Chinatown you can get 8 for around $6.00.
What is the elusive soup dumpling? Known for it’s very thin noodle “skin” encasing a generous spoonful of savory broth or soup, and a meatball of pork or a combination of seasoned crab and pork, they are delicious and perfectly warming for this time of year, and as I learned from Robert, there is also a technique to tackle eating them (Without burning your mouth, or staining your shirt as the soup dumpling is in fact, an inevitable soup bomb) Pick up the dumpling with your chopsticks or tongs provided (tricky) and place in your soupspoon. Take a tiny nibble of your dumpling to create a hole in the “skin” (chopsticks also make an excellent poking device) carefully sip out the soup from the dumpling or spoon, depending on skill level. (It took me 6 restaurants to get this down pat) take a bite of the dumpling, dipping the remaining portions in the vinegar and ginger sauce provided. *Note: If said sauce isn’t provided, you probably aren’t in the presence of legitimate xiaolongbao.
After foolishly claiming to having had “New York’s Best Soup Dumpling” later that week, I was met by disapproving head-shaking from friends for not having tried other restaurants in the area that offer up, in their opinion, better soup dumplings. Thus Robert and I decided to plan the obvious—a showdown tour of Chinatown’s soup dumplings. Armed with a well-researched list of New York’s Best from Yelp.com, paper, pens, and our own rating system, we headed back to Chinatown hungry for the truth.
Our results are below, our favorites listed first.
1. Joe’s Shanghai—24 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019
It was just that good. Put your name in, and be prepared to wait outside the restaurant during busy hours. There is a possibility you will be sat cafeteria- style next to other patrons at a table so get cozy, but they will immediately ask you what dumplings you want as soon as you are seated. Cash only.
2. Nice Green Bo —66 Bayard St, New York, NY 10013
The dumplings were deliciously memorable, we went on a Sunday night so the tiny restaurant was not crowded. They have family as well as couple seating. Bring cash.
3. Shanghai Asian Manor— 21 Mott St, New York, NY 10013
Other than Joe’s Shanghai, this was one of the other restaurants that had a lengthy line. We were intrigued and waited about 20 minutes. This is one of the more “modern” restaurants wherein the décor may pass for the late 90s, at best. Be prepared to wait—but it’s worth it. This restaurant takes cards. Yay!
4. Shanghai Café— 100 Mott St, New York, NY 10013
We must have arrived just before the dinner rush because they were definitely rushing us out of our seats, even though they brought us our hot tea at the end of our meal. This was our first stop on our tour but looking back, had some of the best dumplings. Neon lights were a bit much. There is a $5 minimum here, so you may want to get 2 servings. (Why not?)
5. Shanghai Heping Restaurant— 104 Mott St, New York, NY 10013
Right next to Shanghai Café this restaurant was one of the larger ones. Service was prompt. Dumplings were very hot and delicious.
6. Nom Wah Tea Parlour—13 Doyers St, New York, NY 10013
I refer to this restaurant as the “wild card” because it was not on our list, and to be fair, we just wanted to take a break for some beers. Nom Wah is not known for their soup dumplings but actually for really great dim sum since 1920! The ambiance though, is a time trip and can’t be beat. Don’t get the soup dumplings here. They took a long time; we only got 4, and no dipping sauce. This place is better for big groups craving dim sum.
Conclusion: Joe’s Shanghai is the clear winner here and lived up to its name, but if you’re pressed for time any of the top choices will absolutely suffice and you will not be disappointed, cold or hungry on your train ride home.