After months of empty streets, it looks and feels as though Chinatown is slowly coming back to life. You only need to take a trip down Mott Street to see it for yourself.
At the intersection where Mott meets Grand, po-pos pushing granny carts have reclaimed the street, as they haggle their way through vegetable stalls brimming with scallions, bitter melon, and fuzzy white peaches. Follow them as they cross Canal and look to the right — you’ll see people lining up for hefty half-pound containers of Big Wong’s roast pork to go; while on the left, diners sit in the shade of Wonton Noodle Garden’s new sidewalk seating, happily slurping bowls of wonton noodle soup (yes, even in this heat).
But if you continue your way down and follow the curve past Pell Street and its flying golden unicorn, you’ll notice something wholly new and exciting: no cars or traffic, just a closed-off, outdoor seating haven that’s been carved out on the very last stretch of Mott Street.
Welcome to DineOut NYC’s latest dining installation. Conceived by the Rockwell Group, a design and architectural firm based in New York, DineOut NYC began as a pro-bono effort to provide free adaptable outdoor dining kits to local restaurants throughout the city looking to transition to al fresco seating. And as the group’s first non-profit community-wide initiative, DineOut NYC has effectively closed Mott Street to traffic between Mosco and Worth Streets for an entire block of open-air, socially-distanced dining.
“For Chinatown, it’s a morale booster,” says Wellington Chen, the executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, which worked with the Rockwell Group to identify the segment of Mott Street with a great concentration of restaurants (see guide below). “The Chinese dining experience has always been about the community, a communal gathering. And there’s no better place than this.”
As one of the first-hit and most gravely impacted neighborhoods during the pandemic, Chinatown was an obvious pick for DineOut NYC’s inaugural community-driven expansion. “As a lifelong New Yorker, I feel we have an obligation to help neighborhoods like Chinatown that have contributed so much to the diversity, vibrancy, and economy of the city,” says David Rockwell, founder and president of the Rockwell Group.
The Rockwell Group and Chinatown partnership also worked with the New York City Hospitality Alliance and the NYC Department of Transportation to choose and close off the area, along with support from Moet Hennessy, Resy, and American Express.
Bordered by the Church of the Transfiguration and Chatham Square, restaurants within the one-block stretch include a star-studded lineup of Chinatown dining landmarks and under-the-radar gems — all of which will have their own dedicated DineOut NYC outdoor dining setups, alongside first-come, first-serve public seating.
Unlike the city’s Open Streets plan, which only closes restaurant corridors and streets to traffic during the weekend, Mott Street’s outdoor area will remain car-free seven days a week until October 31, as an effort to revitalize the ravaged community.
“I would just encourage all the people to come down to Chinatown, and support in whatever way you can,” says Chen. “In the darkest time, all you need is a candle in the middle of the tunnel… It’s going to be a long way back but I hope that this is the beginning of many more candles.”
Without further ado, here is your restaurant guide to DineOut NYC’s Mott Street takeover.
A chef favorite (catch Lucas Sin of Junzi Kitchen and Eric Sze of 886 there), Ping’s will take you straight to Hong Kong with an excellent array of stir-fry dishes — both chefs swear by the silver fish stir-fry with jicama, squid, and chives — in addition to seafood specialties and exquisite dim sum served all day long.
For those of you used to the basement glow of this Chinatown institution, get ready for a brand new Hop Kee experience in broad daylight, anchored by the same old-school menu that reads like a best of the Chinese American canon: egg foo young, chop suey, Cantonese-style lobster, and the like.
In the roll call of New York’s ultimate soup dumplings, Shanghai 21’s xiaolongbao is right on the list. The heavy pouches come six at a time and boast thin skins, which burst with fragrant broth. Get them three ways — pork, pork and crab meat, and pork and black truffle — alongside other Shanghainese staples.
Wo Hop and Wo Hop Next Door
Whether you’re a fervent patron of Wo Hop upstairs or downstairs, one thing’s for sure: We’re all Wo Hop outdoors fans now. The late-night landmark known for its Chinese-American, live seafood, and traditional Cantonese dishes continues to delight with its roster of hits, from pan-fried flounder over choy sum to beef chow fun. Bonus: it’s BYOB.
Those in the know come to this underrated spot for supreme wonton soup, top-tier soup dumplings, and comforting congee. Get a wonton soup (sans the noodles) and ladle it with Noodle Village’s homemade fish cake and a side of satisfyingly crackly, deep-fried fish skin.
Japan’s notorious ramen chain has been doling out noodle soup since 1968: tom yum chicken, tonkatsu curry, and beef sukiyaki are some of the ramen flavors you can get, alongside more classic styles.
Pinklady Cheese Tart
A Mott Street newcomer, Pinklady Cheese Tart serves the eponymous Japanese desserts, consisting of a rich, creamy filling atop a buttery crust. The shop offers them in three flavors — original, matcha, or chocolate — alongside refreshing yoghurt smoothies.
Crêpes don’t solely belong to the French as the Japan-based T-Swirl Crêpe proves. Here, a crispy, chewy rice flour batter envelops either the most extravagant dessert (matcha, chocolate, truffles, and strawberries) or a unique and savory twist (think Okinawa hot dog or T-Swirl’s take on a BLT).
A self-described Southeast Asian Kitchen, Wok Wok is bringing its hawker street food-style plates out from its basement location and back onto the streets: Flaky roti torn into chunks and dipped in tingly curry; Malaysian beef rendang; and an oyster and chives omelette by way of Taiwan’s night markets.
Buddha Bodai Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant
For those seeking the creativity of Chinese faux meats, Buddha Bodai is the place to be. A sanctuary for vegetarians, this Mott Street stalwart prepares vegetarian dim sum dishes that will impress — simply order the incredible barbecue “meat.”
Bonus: As you finish your meal, consider supporting Chinatown’s oldest-operating porcelain store, Wing on Wo & Co., via their online store. The family-run operating boasts everything from classic rooster bowls to playful and more contemporary pieces — and though the 26 Mott Street shopfront is closed for browsing, in-store pickups are still on for those who just happen to be in the neighborhood…