New York City truly deserves the title of a “melting pot of cultures”. Over centuries, immigration to the area has greatly shaped the city’s cultural landscape and with more than 60,000 members, the Chinese community is one of the largest ethnic communities in the city. While some Chinese immigrants arrived in New York as early as the mid-1800s, most of the immigration happened in the second half of the 20th century and continues until today1.
Undoubtedly, such a long history of Chinese immigration has created a rich cultural heritage in New York City that enriches the city in many different ways, from fashion to cuisine to arts. The epicenters of Chinese culture in New York City include Chinatown in Manhattan and Flushing in Queens.
If you’re looking for delicious and authentic Chinese eats in New York, you won’t be disappointed in either of these places. However, there are some very stark contrasts in the history and present of Chinatown Manhattan and Flushing. Find out these differences in this article and hopefully, that will help you decide which neighborhood you should absolutely visit to experience Chinese culture in New York City.
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Chinatown Manhattan was first founded in the mid-1800s by Cantonese businessmen, selling mostly cigars. Chinese immigration was halted about a decade later through the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 but continued in the 1960s, again with the majority of immigrants coming from southern China. The population of the area belonged largely to the working class and especially in the early years, gang activity was not uncommon in Chinatown Manhattan2.
Flushing, on the other hand, gained its reputation as a Chinatown much later, in the 1970s, when a large number of Taiwanese immigrants first settled in the area. Over time, more and more immigrants from all across Mainland China moved to Flushing, creating a more diverse neighborhood and establishing Mandarin as the main language (as opposed to Cantonese in Chinatown Manhattan). The income and education levels of the immigrants in Flushing were also higher compared to those in Chinatown, causing the area to offer an overall higher standard of living. The Chinese community in Flushing continues to grow rapidly and has already overtaken Chinatown Manhattan in size3.
The unique historical developments of Chinatown Manhattan and Flushing have shaped the neighborhoods in such ways that they give off completely different vibes and the lifestyles of residents differ fundamentally.
In Chinatown Manhattan, you’ll encounter a slower, more traditional way of living. You’ll see street vendors selling fresh fruits more elderly people walking through the streets. Overall, Chinatown Manhattan looks a lot like the older, working class neighborhoods of Chinese cities.
Flushing, in contrast, offers a much more fast-paced way of living. You’ll see a lot of young people in the streets sporting the latest Chinese street fashion and dining and shopping at chic and modern places. The area looks very clean and overall resembles the modern parts of cities like Shanghai.
Both Chinatown Manhattan and Flushing offer great authentic and delicious Chinese cuisine. In Chinatown Manhattan, this will mostly come in the form of family-style mostly Cantonese restaurants and dessert shop. While Flushing certainly offers this type of dining too, you’ll also find more hip and glamorous fusion cuisine there, as well as a lot of hotpot and boba spot – whatever is currently popular with the young population in China.
Read more: Where To Find The Best Food In Koreatown LA
Where to eat in Chinatown Manhattan
I dined at this Cantonese restaurant a few years back and was amazed at both the accuracy of the flavor and the authenticity of the menu. From jellyfish salad, to duck tongue, to shark fin soup, you can find it all! It’s the perfect place to dine when you want to try something truly authentic and for western standards exotic.
- Address: 66 Mott Street, New York
- Hours: 11:00 am – 11:00 pm
- Website: https://amazing66.com/
Ice Cream Factory
This ice cream place is legendary! Ice Cream Factory offers a huge variety of homemade flavors, including durian, ginger, lychee, black sesame, and Chinese egg custard! The flavor is always on-spot, making this the go-to dessert place in Chinatown Manhattan.
- Address: 65 Bayard Street, New York
- Hours: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
- Website: http://www.chinatownicecreamfactory.com/
Where to eat in Flushing
Nan Xiang Xiaolongbao
This Michelin-selected Shanghainese restaurant specializes in xiaolongbao (Shanghainese soup dumplings) and it couldn’t deserve this award any more! The dumplings are rich in flavor and of course juicy, with the perfect texture, making the place a super popular dining spot at any time.
- Address: 39-16 Prince Street #104 Flushing NY 11354
- Hours: 9:00 am – 10:30 pm
- Website: https://nanxiangxiaolongbao.com/
Happy Lamb Hot Pot
Happy Lamb Hot Pot is a popular hot spot chain that has a very busy location in Flushing. Choose from a variety of fresh and delicious meat and vegetables to go with your spicy broth and boil everything together with your friends at the dinner table – the perfect way to spend an evening in Flushing.
- Address: 136-59 37th Avenue, Queens, NY 11354
- Hours: 12:00 pm – 7:30 pm, closed on Tuesdays
Called A Spring Chicken (叫了个鸡）
I was super surprised to find my favorite fried chicken chain from China during a stroll through Flushing. Called A Spring Chicken is famous for offering inexpensive fried chicken with spicy sauce. It’s perfect for a quick meal on the go and takeout.
- Address: 135-45 Roosevelt Ave, Flushing, NY 11354
Value To Visitors
Conveniently located in the heart of Manhattan near some of New York’s major sites, Chinatown Manhattan is the perfect place to enjoy a meal during a sightseeing tour. I wouldn’t consider it as much of a sight by itself since it looks quite similar to most Chinatowns around the world, but it’s definitely a great place to stop by if you’re nearby.
- Recommended tours:
Flushing on the other hand is surrounded by mostly residential and commercial neighborhoods in Queens and I highly recommend staying there when traveling to NYC. Not only can you find some awesome accommodation deals in Flushing but the location also makes it very convenient to go out in the morning or evening for a delicious meal or shopping spree before going sightseeing in Manhattan, which is also just a quick subway ride away. Moreover, its proximity to both La Guardia and JFK airports helps you save significantly on transportation costs coming from and to the airport.
- Hotels in Flushing:
Although both Chinatown Manhattan and Flushing are amazing places to experience the rich Chinese heritage and culture in New York City, the two neighborhoods differ significantly in their histories, lifestyles, and businesses. While Chinatown Manhattan reflects the more traditional culture of early Chinese immigrants in New York City, Flushing is a hip and fast-paced place where many of the younger immigrants choose to live. And while I personally always try to check out both places when I’m in New York, this can be quite difficult to do on a tight schedule. Therefore, I recommend choosing an accommodation in Flushing and visiting Chinatown Manhattan as part of a sightseeing tour to experience the best of both places.