When Chinese Tuxedo first debuted on Doyers Street in Chinatown in November 2016, it was the new kid on the block, a design-focused restaurant surrounded by longstanding neighborhood institutions. It has a trendy, bustling scene, and owner Jeff Lam, a general contractor and restaurant consultant, hoped to reinvigorate the Chinatown dining scene by opening a modern, hip Chinese restaurant aimed at drawing a younger crowd. He opened the restaurant with co-owner Eddy Buckingham, who spoke with Eater NY about the restaurant’s first year and future.
Now that the restaurant has been around for a little over a year, Buckingham says they’re trying to transition from being the newbie on the block to becoming a more firmly rooted restaurant in the neighborhood and on the historical street. “There are so many great venues that are opening so frequently, and I feel like our status as a new venue has expired,” he says.
Shortly after its debut, the restaurant secured two stars from Eater NY critic Ryan Sutton and from the Times’ Pete Wells, too, both critics pleased with the restaurant’s creative approaches to fusion. XO noodles are made with egg fettuccine instead of traditional rice noodles, covered in a seaweed butter and topped with a XO sauce made of shrimp and speck. These riffs on Chinese food come from chef Paul Donnelly, a native Scotsman who cooked for years in Sydney.
Eater New York named Chinese Tuxedo the most gorgeous restaurant of the year for 2017. Set in an old community opera house on Doyers Street in Chinatown, the bi-level restaurant has a clubby main room accented with exposed concrete walls and lit with candles. For the Lunar New Year, lanterns dangle from the ceiling, but the usual decor is typically more simple and sleek, lush palms interspersed in the restaurant.
While Chinese Tuxedo has a modern and fusion approach to Chinese food, the restaurant has strong roots in the neighborhood’s history. The owners chose the name for the restaurant to pay tribute to the original Chinese Tuxedo, a restaurant from late 19th century Chinatown that catered to Chinese residents and non-Chinese diners alike.
Chinese Tuxedo aims for a similar, wide appeal. As Buckingham puts it, a big dining room requires a broad audience. While he believes they’ve accomplished their goal of reaching a young crowd, he believes the restaurant’s success in its first year has been dependent on the diversity of its diners, he says. “It’s not strictly a millennial dining room,” Buckingham says. And while the restaurant does attract first and second generation Chinese diners, he also wants to expand people’s palates, bringing people in who might be newer to the cuisine, he says.
Buckingham says that he wants Chinese Tuxedo to expand the definition of what neighborhood restaurant can be. People tend to have positive but specific associations with Chinatown’s dining scene that Chinese Tuxedo — with its attention to decor and eclectic spins on Chinese food — doesn’t necessarily fit, he says. Still, “If you have good food in a great room, the neighborhood doesn’t matter — New Yorkers will embrace it,” he says.