Recently I received a call from a friend of mine whose son just moved to New York City as an entry level employee at the Manhattan office of my firm. When my friend called and asked for a personal favor for his son, I thought it was some kind of personnel issue. However, as my friend explained it, he received a distressed call from his son, who went downstairs to the eatery in the bottom of his Times Square building, and found to his horror that a small fruit cup was selling for $8. At that rate, his son said couldn’t afford to eat out at work, so could I provide some tips on finding affordable food?
I told my friend that the good thing about being Chinese and liking Chinese food is that the Chinese believe that even poor people deserve to eat delicious food. Consequently, despite a much greater concentration of poorer people in New York Chinatown than any other Chinese community in North America, you can get good and economical Chinese food in New York Chinatown, probably cheaper than anywhere else in the US. Indeed there are decent Chinese restaurants in Little Fuzhou where nothing on the menu is greater than $5.
But first I had to explain there are really two parts to New York Chinatown. First is the original, Cantonese, tourist imbedded Chinatown, south of Canal St. and west of Bowery. Then there is Little Fuzhou, east of Bowery and centered on East Broadway. Little Fuzhou is populated almost exclusively by immigrants from Fujian province. There are virtually no Fujianese in California, the reason being that most of them came to the US illegally, making their initial landing in New York. Being undocumented they can't travel anywhere by airplane, and are forced to travel by bus in and out of Little Fuzhou. The Fujianese probably run the majority of Chinese restaurants east of the Mississippi River.
From Times Square you could take the Q, N or R trains to Canal Street and find yourself on Canal and Broadway in Chinatown. However, that puts you at the west end of the original part of Chinatown, several blocks away from any concentrations of Chinese restaurants. The better option is to walk east on 42nd St. to the Bryant Park subway station to catch the B or D train. It's probably just a 10 to 15 minute ride to Grand St., and when you come out of the subway station you're on the corner of Grand St. and Chrystie. There are probably at least 300 Chinese restaurants and bakeries in Chinatown so there's plenty to choose from. If you walk east on Grand a couple of blocks over to Eldridge, you will find a number of dumpling shops that sell fried dumplings at four for $1, along with all kinds of similar items (e.g., onion pancakes, flat bread sandwiches, etc.). Prosperity Dumpling at 46 Eldridge is the best of the bunch, but there are many others. Panda Dumpling House, 67 Eldridge has a nice selection of dumplings and Chinese sandwiches. Spicy Village, 68 Forsyth (quite near the Grand St. station) has been discovered by hipsters for their hand pulled noodles. Spicy Village is probably a little more expensive because they have been discovered. There are many cheap hand pulled noodle places in the area, too.
If you head south from the Grand St. station, you can check out Lee Chung Cafe and Poon Kee, mentioned in my recent article on new restaurants in Manhattan Chinatown, for good and very inexpensive eats. http://www.menuism.com/blog/manhattan-chinatown-renaissance/ Nearby along Market St., south of East Broadway, I found two restaurants with ridiculously cheap food. Both Bamboo Restaurant and Good Good Taste offer a full sized order of peanut sesame noodles (fills a standard sized styrofoam container), plus a cup of soup, for $2.00. (And it was delicious.) I'm sure there are many other places like that in the immediate area.
Also worth trying are a couple of places in the article that are on Mott St., Cha Chang Tang and Noodle Village. And an old favorite on the border of old and new Chinatown is Great N. Y. Noodletown at 28 Bowery.
This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as New York Chinatown goes. Some of the places, even in Little Fuzhou, can be expensive. But there is a lot of less costly and good food to be found there too.