clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
A crowd is visible outside of a restaurant in Manhattan Chinatown.
Mabu Cafe opened two weeks ago.

Filed under:

New Yorkers Are Lining Up at This New Hong Kong-Style Cafe Found Below Doyers Street

Mabu Cafe, the first United States location of a Canadian restaurant chain, is an instant hit

A “coming soon” hangs from the doors of Mabu Cafe, a new Hong Kong-style cafe in Manhattan’s Chinatown that insists it’s still in its soft opening. That hasn’t stopped New Yorkers from getting in line. By 11 a.m. on Thursday, a half-dozen people stood outside of the restaurant, turning over menus the size of travel brochures with pictures of pineapple bun breakfast sandwiches, spaghetti bakes with pork, salted egg yolk toasts, and pork chop croissants. An hour later, the small line had grown into a crowd of more than 30 people — the type of scene that’s typical on weekends at Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Chinatown’s oldest restaurant, located a few doors down.

Mabu Cafe is the first United States location of a small chain of Chinese and Taiwanese restaurants based in Toronto, Canada. The cafe opened two weeks ago at 18 Doyers Street, near Pell Street, according to a server at the shop. It’s been mobbed ever since.

A photograph of a person walking down a set of stairs in a restaurant, Mabu Cafe.
A hand opens the door of a refrigerator, revealing a single-used bathroom.
Dozens of customers are spread out in an underground dining room with neon lights and tchotchkes.
Clockwise from top: The stairs leading down from Doyers Street; the dining room at Mabu Cafe; and the bathroom, located behind a refrigerator door.

Customers find their places in a line that stretches toward Pell Street most afternoons. Every so often, a worker emerges from the restaurant’s neon-lit stairwell and waves a group downstairs. For all of the hype outside, the restaurant below is surprisingly calm. Customers huddle around tables made from mahjong tiles under the glow of neon signs that wish customers wealth and good fortune in Chinese characters. Between booths and tables, there are only around 40 seats.

The restaurant is an ode to Hong Kong’s cha chaan tengs, casual diners where set meals and sugar reign supreme. The massive menu advertises more than 80 items, not including drinks. While versions of lava toast and baked spaghetti can be found at other Hong Kong-style cafes in the city, none serve them in as wide a selection with as many twists as Mabu Cafe.

Take the fried ovals of milk custard, which are served on top of a functional scale. (Weight at the time of serving: 125 grams.) Under a section of the menu labeled “instant noodles,” a Thai soup with mussels and shrimp overflows from a ceramic Cup Noodles mug. One of the desserts — made with grass jelly, sago, and taro balls — consists of an edible bear lounging in a small bathtub filled with coconut milk.

A small portion of cheung fun appears beside a bowl of dark dipping sauce.
An overhead photograph of a table crowded with dishes, including pork bone hot pot, baked bolognese over fries, and cheung fun.
A pineapple bun breakfast sandwich sitting on a plate.
Clockwise from upper left: Cheung fun; pork bone hot pot and baked bolognese french fries; and a pineapple bun breakfast sandwich.

Others dishes are more straightforward, like “hot plates” of meat that come out sizzling like platters of fajitas, or bowls of rice topped with everything from scrambled eggs and eel to curry chicken and black truffle. Most larger plates range in price from $15 to $25, which includes the choice of a drink.

The restaurant’s Western Chinese comfort foods have been a hit in Toronto, where parent company Mabu Restaurants has operated a handful of businesses under similar names since 2011: There’s Mabu Station and Mabu Generation, serving Taiwanese fusion; Good Luck Hong Kong Cafe, another cha chaan teng; and the first location of Mabu Cafe.

Mabu Cafe, their first opening outside of Canada, is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday. An upstairs dining room with more seats should be open in the next two weeks, according to a server at the cafe.

NYC Pop-Up Restaurants

David Chang’s Majordōmo Heads to New York — And More Food Pop-Ups

NYC Restaurant Closings

A Seafood Shack, a ‘Shark Tank’ Alum, and More Closings

A.M. Intel

Radio Bakery Is Opening Another Brooklyn Location