A decade ago, Hell’s Kitchen was the foremost destination for Thai food in the city, with such prominent players as Larb Ubol and Pam Real Thai Food in the neighborhood. At the time I walked the length of 9th Avenue from 53rd Street down to 36th Street, and counted 38 Thai restaurants on the avenue and side streets, sometimes ganged up in threes and fours on a single block, with multiple branches of some like Wondee Siam.
Now many are gone. When I walked the same blocks last week, I counted only 13 Thai spots. There are 15 Chinese restaurants overshadowing them, some with bright new signage, and others representing well-known brands, or recent Chinatown imports. Clusters of empty storefronts might foretell more, though at the moment, this neighborhood seems poised to become the city’s newest Chinatown.
What could be the reason? Well, the avenue is handy to several transportation hubs, including Penn Station, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and Times Square subways, and much of the city’s Chinese population must pass through these points to access Brooklyn, Queens, and the New Jersey suburbs. A friend also suggested that the proximity of the new Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China on 12th Avenue and 42nd Street also plays a role. Perhaps the most important is the increasing popularity of Chinese food in the city.
Here are the 15 restaurants currently open, running north to south, not including the storefronts devoted exclusively to bubble tea and other tea-based beverages.
1. Chong Qing Noodle: Named after a city that was once part of Sichuan, this noodle shop is a Chinese pioneer in Hell’s Kitchen, founded in 2017. Noodles and maocai are the specialties, including aromatic intestines noodle, cowpea noodle, and chicken maocai, a stew that also bobs with tiny pork sausages. 796 9th Avenue, near 53rd Street
2. Fortune Bowl: This fast-casual spot specializes in bowl building, with five-spice beef bowl and charred chicken bowl among signatures that include an assortment of Chinese, Japanese, and American ingredients. 746 9th Avenue, near 51st Street
3. The Corner: This bright red storefront, open a few weeks, is among the most sophisticated Chinese restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen. Half the menu is things that might be found at P.F. Chang’s, while the other half features dishes found at the city’s best Sichuan restaurants. Cumin flavored fish fillet and the bland-sounding boiled beef — which turned out to be fiery and flavorful — are two standouts. 698 9th Avenue, at 49th Street
4. A.A. Jing: This fusion restaurant serves budget-friendly Chinese and Thai dishes, with a sushi bar and a few further Japanese offerings. 689 9th Avenue, near 48th Street
5. DD Soup Dumpling: A new Taiwanese restaurant, DD specializes in soup dumplings and Japanese hibachi, and just inside the door is a phantasmagorical bar, so the place doubles as a drinking spot. The soup dumplings are very good, and an unusual version stuffed with loofah is available. 690 9th Avenue, near 47th Street
6. Big Wong: The third branch of this Chinatown ducks-in-the-window Cantonese mainstay, open since 1978, recently appeared, offering classic noodles, stir fries, dumplings, and soups, in addition to the usual char siu and other preserved meats. 683 9th Avenue, near 47th Street
7. Panda Express: These slick cafes serving a modernized Chinese American menu with lots of sugar added have been popping up all over town, and a Hell’s Kitchen branch was inevitable. 663 9th Avenue, at 46th Street
8. Le Sia: This crawfish (and other seafood) boil place caused a sensation when it first opened in the East Village, which may have been the site of the many prestigious and popular new Chinese restaurants at the time, but now the flagship is in Hell’s Kitchen and the East Village branch is closed. 651 9th Avenue, near 46th Street
9. Lubian Chinese Grilled Fish: This rare sort of Chinese restaurant specializes in whole fish from a Sichuan perspective. Several species are offered, served in flame-warmed troughs with a variety of sauces. 650 Ninth Avenue, near 45th Street
10. Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles II: The original is on Doyers Street, and makes some of the best hand-pulled Lanzhou noodles in town, in soups or with toppings. Like Big Wong, it imbues Hell’s Kitchen with Chinatown authenticity. 648 9th Avenue, near 45th Street
11. Tim Ho Wan: The heaviest of hitters when it comes to dim sum in NYC, Tim Ho Wan’s second branch is significantly located in Hell’s Kitchen, rather than Flushing or Sunset Park. This Hong Kong import fabricates dim sum slightly different — but not better — than the usual Chinese American variety. 610 9th Avenue, near 43rd Street
12. Ollie’s Sichuan: An offshoot of a sprawling Upper West Side Chinese noodle house, Ollie’s Sichuan offers the same mainly Cantonese menu, with a section of Sichuan dishes in a large premises that was once a diner. 411 West 42nd Street, near 9th Avenue
13. China Xiang: A six-year-old Hunan restaurant, China Xiang offers all sorts of quite good dim sum and Chinese American fare, too. Nevertheless, the Hunan stuff shines, including smoked pork and dried turnips, and braised fish stew with pickled mustard greens. 360 West 42nd Street, near 9th Avenue
14. Hua Cheng: Named after the lead character in a Chinese movie, Hua Cheng presents a scrumptious buffet to pick and choose from: $11 gets three dishes, lo mein or fried rice, and a can of soda, in a style of Fujianese restaurants popular in Chinatown a decade ago. 578 9th Avenue, near 41st Street
15. Chi: Chi is the strip’s most ambitious and expensive Chinese restaurant. Though nominally Sichuan, it offers a sprawling modern menu that runs from dim sum and Chinese American favorites, to braised whole fish flaming in a trough, inventive Sichuan dishes, and adapted regional selections from Xianjing to Dongbei. 492 9th Avenue, near 37th Street