When Canal Street Market slid into its double-storefront space at 265 Canal Street just east of Broadway in 2017, it was quite a different place. An Etsy-style crafts market found itself conjoined with a very Soho food court, with a loft-style, foliage-bedecked rear dining area. The food court featured stalls from dim sum faves Nom Wah, West Coast bubble tea Boba Guys, Ippudo spin-off Kuro Obi, and ice creamery Davey’s — now all vamoosed. Eventually, none of the original food businesses that inhabited the space remained on this thronged stretch of Canal, where strolling vendors flog counterfeit handbags and tourist hordes sweep back and forth like ocean tides.
What was the problem? Was its proximity to Chinatown a deterrent, since similar foods were available nearby, often at lower prices? Or did no one want to linger on the block, a hurry-through pedestrian spillway?
Now the Canal Street Market seems to be taking off, as all but one of its 10 stalls are filled and customers throng the space for lunch and into the mid-afternoon. The décor is different, too, with paper lanterns and tiny lights hanging from the ceiling, now seeming more like Chinatown than Soho.
On several recent visits, I found the food truly exciting, and here are the things I liked best.
Five Best Dishes
Wontons with chile oil at Joe’s Noodles and Rice
The Sichuan wontons at this offshoot of food court anchor Joe’s Steam Rice Roll — which replaced Nom Wah — blare with their orange oily brightness and constitute the neighborhood’s best versions of this dish ($7), so common now in all Chinese restaurants. No stinting on the cracked Sichuan peppercorns, which taste fresher than most, there’s chile oil, too, and do I detect a slight tang of fermented beans? This plate of food is also a great deal by today’s standards.
Taco de longaniza at Mucho Sarap
This descendent of Filipino street-food pop-up So Sarap does two things and does them well: tacos and lumpia, the spring rolls of Philippines and Indonesia. Here, both are imbued with Mexican elements. Three tacos ($15 for any three) are available per day, including on a recent visit chopped pork, chicken afritada, and best of all, longaniza, a sweet sausage with a hint of star anise. It’s topped with chopped onions and cilantro, and a thick red chile sauce and green avocado salsa come on the side. You don’t so much eat this taco as wolf it down with gusto.
Wagyu uni hand roll at Matsunori
Matsunori is a Lower East Side sushi bar specializing in some less common fish on a rotating basis, though the branch in the Canal Street Market has a more predictable selection. Nevertheless, there are some stunners, most available in hand roll, maki roll, donburi, or bowl versions. I was delighted by a wagyu and uni hand roll ($18), wherein the fatty steak has been seared for extra flavor and the bright orange sea urchin provides a creamy and briny dressing.
Somtum Gai Yang at Betong
This stall specializes in Hainanese chicken steamed the Thai way, but it also sells the very best version of Isan grilled chicken in town. Skin-on and marinated in spices, it is juicy with a winning grilled flavor, absolutely irresistible. And as if that ain’t enough, a wonderfully fishy side of somtum (green papaya salad) comes with it, littered with crunchy peanuts. This $13.95 tour-de-force is Isan on a plate, and one of the best meals in Soho (or is it Chinatown?), even with no sticky rice.
Six-chocolate assortment at Daniel Corpuz Chocolatier
Expensive little chocolates painted with pictures might be one of the last things you’d expect to find at the Canal Street Market, but there they are, two dozen varieties neatly lined up at one time: a Van Gough sky, a snowman with a carrot nose, an artist’s pallet, a version of “the Wave” by Hokusai in brown and cream, a bird’s eyeball rendered in scarlet and violet, and plenty more trailing down a row. Each chocolate involves at least two explosions of flavor that detonate in your mouth like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Take my advice, skip lunch, and just buy a box of six ($25), and then sit down to thoroughly enjoy them.
Betong (Hainanese Chicken)
Daniel Corpuz Chocolatier (Tiny colorfully painted bon bons)
Enzo Bruni La Pizza Gourmet (Slices from a brick oven)
Joe’s Rice & Noodles (Chinese noodles, soups, and wontons)
Joe’s Steam Rice Roll (dim sum)
Kabisera (Philippine home cooking)
Lazy Sundaes (Coffee, bubble tea, ice cream sundaes, and gelatin desserts)
Matsunori (Sushi rolls and bowls)
Mucho Sarap (Philippine Mexican tacos and spring rolls)