Ten days ago, Chinatown appeared moribund, but now, it seems to be rapidly opening back up by fits and starts. From what I’ve seen, the nexus of this revival is the D train station at Chrystie and Grand, with activity radiating outward block by block. Grand Street from Mott to Allen is buzzing with activity. The emphasis is no longer on supermarkets with long lines on streets like Mott and Bayard, as it was a month ago. Instead, small stores selling vegetables, seafood, meat, and dried mushrooms are now prominent, with customers cautiously entering one by one and not crowding — at least on a recent weekday.
Other blocks showing the most activity include Elizabeth and Chrystie streets between Hester and Grand, Hester between Elizabeth and Chrystie, and, as before, Bayard between Mott and Elizabeth. My theory is most of the active blocks make it possible to dart out of the D train and do a quick shopping spree without a lot of walking. Several of the stores in these areas had new facades, and some had changes of identity or usage. Chinatown is remaking itself as it reopens.
Restaurants, too, seem to be resurrecting, especially those that sell the selection of Cantonese charcuterie known as shao la, sometimes generating queues with a five-minute wait. Recently reopened in this category is 218 Restaurant on Grand Street; while another shao la specialist, Great NY Noodletown, will be reopening tomorrow. Meanwhile, none of the most famous dumpling shops like King Dumpling, Vanessa’s, and Mosco Street’s Fried Dumpling are currently open.
A couple of Eater’s favorite restaurants and carryouts have now resurfaced. I’d been checking on Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food on a weekly basis and always found it shuttered, even though there were rumors it would sporadically open. This week, I was delighted to find a line in front mid-afternoon. The selection of charcuterie remained nearly the same, though the blue-masked carver was keeping the slab of baby pig under the counter, instead prominently displaying it in the window, and taking it out only when customers asked for it.
I got my usual — baby pig and duck over rice with a free side of steamed cabbage — and was astonished to find the price the same ($6) as it was pre-pandemic. Don’t forget to ask for the homemade ginger-scallion sauce. I really expected prices to be higher, given the increased difficulty of doing business, the danger involved to shopkeepers, and the meat shortage that has been occurring.
Another place that reopened is Green Garden Village, one of the new breed of ambitious Cantonese restaurants that have been appearing lately. Numbering four and protected by plastic sheeting, the staff labors in the front window behind a counter assembling orders. While I was there, most customers wanted charcuterie, though the entire menu is prominently posted.
Nevertheless, aside from the pricier stir-fries, prepared by a crew of cooks in the rear kitchen, most of the starchy coffee-shop menu is unavailable, including dim sum, congee, and noodles. “We haven’t been able to get noodles or dumplings from our suppliers,” the woman behind the counter lamented when I tried to order beef chow fun with gravy, a Cantonese-American classic.
She sized me up and recommended the wonton soup ($6), which I’d enjoyed there before. Instead of being gummy, the wonton wrappers were thin as silk, and the stuffing of shrimp, pork, and water chestnuts delivered a crunch. The slender wheat noodles were profuse, and the choy sum not overcooked. Most impressive of all was that the excellent broth was served in a separate container, so the soup could be assembled just prior to eating, preserving the integrity of the ingredients.
Just across Sara Roosevelt Park on Forsyth is the sainted Spicy Village, where the “big tray chicken” was popularized in NYC nearly a decade ago, when the place was called Henan Feng Wei. Served with wide wheat noodles rolled out on the premises, this showcase of chicken and chile oil was further seasoned with Sichuan peppercorns. The place has been closed since mid-March, with the gates pulled down tightly. When I went by yesterday, the gate was up and someone was working inside, though the door remained locked.
Where there’s life, there’s hope.