I’ve grown up eating dumplings every Sunday. “Pork and chive” became my religion the way some people’s bloodstreams run liquified kale; I watched my mother expertly wrap and crimp until my pupils dilated as fast as the dumpling skins expanded in their boiling sauna. My mother’s first foray into America was New York, her first taste of America was Manhattan’s Chinatown, and there is no better neighborhood this side of the Pacific to experience the culinary joy that is the Chinese dumpling.
Chinatown dumplings are as diverse as the neighborhood itself: You’ve got your dim sum favorites, har gao (蝦餃) and shu mai (烧卖), sinfully delicious soup dumplings (or 小笼包, xiaolongbao), and some pure juicy sunshine aka wontons (馄饨), the best fried pork-and-chive dumplings you’ll ever eat.
But beware of… Nothing. There’s literally nothing in these dumplings that will turn you off to eating them. Flour your hands, let your MSG-laden pork sing, and let’s get to the rundown.
This Chinatown authority, steps down the block from cult-favorite Prosperity Dumpling, serves up standard pork and chive dumplings, flash-fried in extremely hot oil, with lots of wrapper and not much filling. While the skins lean on the edge of gummy and the chive on the side of too overpowering, these fried dumplings are crispy enough to break a few teeth, and pair well with the shop’s legendary sesame pancakes (ask for yours filled with duck and vegetables).
9. Soup Dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai
If you haven’t heard of Joe’s Shanghai’s xiaolongbao, you’re likely drowning in a salty pool of soup-dumpling-flavored ignorance. The uncannily flavorful purses of pork, cabbage, and crab appear on the table, it seems, before anyone even thinks to order them; you don’t go to Joe’s Shanghai and not eat these things. Joe’s is synonymous with tourism, however, and the sheer volume of guests means these dumplings are hit-or-miss; the soup can veer into coagulated territory and the skin can be too sticky.
The dumplings churned out by this hole-in-the-wall, so tiny one might walk on top of it, are as dense and heady as they come. The filling proves the standout of the bunch: A savory balance of porky fat coupled with grassy chive. It’d be criminal to leave without Jin Mei’s scallion pancake in your (two) hands — a giant, pillowy dough triangle to single-handedly carry you through all your midterms.
7. Soup dumplings at Shanghai Cafe Deluxe
One leaves this Mott Street classic desperate for a lesson in hand-stretched pastry dough and more than a few soup-stained articles of clothing: These soup dumplings induce excitement of epic proportions. Always crimped and steamed fresh-to-order (the same can’t be said for the infamous ones at Joe’s), Shanghai Cafe’s xiaolongbao are what Chien-Po from Mulan would order for himself and his beloved, with emphasis on the pork in “beef, pork, chicken, mmmmm…”
In a neighborhood of translations as literal as they come, Fried Dumpling is as to-the-book as you’ll find: Pork-and-chive dumplings with crispy, crackly exteriors and slightly dense, juicy underbellies are the only thing on the menu other than dou jiang, or soymilk, the quintessential Chinese beverage. Pay the affectionate ladies at the wok a visit, indulge in the enticing spattering of dumpling hitting oil, and try to control your tears of joy.
The skins on these (remarkably tasty) dumplings were unsettlingly un-crispy; a shallower fry at a lower temperature gives their exterior a chewier bite without being overly sticky. A nuanced pairing of pork and chive means the meatiness of the filling offsets its pepperiness without being a grease overdose. The tastiest dumplings are surely the ones you can eat ten at a time without feeling anything but euphoria, a theory Tasty fortunately (or unfortunately) confirms.
4. Wonton Noodle Soup at Great N.Y. Noodletown
Two words: WONTONS. NOODLES. If you love either and especially both, this classic hangover-curing bowl of heaven has your name written all over it. If you don’t, you need to reevaluate your life choices. There is something indescribably comforting and mesmerizing about these little pockets of juicy, fragrant shrimp tucked into a slippery wrapper, enveloped by oodles of lip-smacking carb threads. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
3. Soup Dumplings at 456 Shanghai Cuisine
No-frills, pure umami explosion: The only way to do xiaolongbao, and 456 Shanghai takes the prize for the most balanced, most flavorful, and most addicting ones you’ll find in Chinatown. The crab is potent, the dumplings conveniently bite-sized, and the pork never enough. Be smart and claim an entire steamer for yourself, unashamedly.
2. Fried dumplings at Lam Zhou Handpull Noodle
This Chinatown haunt steams and fries dumplings as scrumptious as their hand-pulled noodles. They’re the best of both worlds: A translucent, significantly less doughy skin than the others is flash-fried immediately post-boil, creating a mix of silky and crunchy in one beautiful parcel. A $3/10 deal makes it one of the most cost-effective in all of Chinatown, especially when paired with their equally ridiculous noodles (try classic beef or the more adventurous pork-filled fish ball).
When the Health Department shut down Prosperity late August, all of New York reacted like this:
Nevertheless, one bite of the most unquestionably epic dumplings in all of gritty, unapologetic, beautiful Chinatown, will erase all anger or indignant cries of “WHY?” The filling is deliciously porky and lip-smackingly juicy, the skin crispy as tempura, and melds into a denser, chewier interior.
Pair it with Prosperity’s house sauce (and drizzle over some Sriracha, too, which never hurt anyone) and you’ll have yourself four (or infinitely many, since it’s Prosperity) of the most mind-blowingly delicious bites this side of the Pacific.