Chinatown & Little Italy

Chinatown & Little Italy, New York, New York (A)

New York City is a crossroads of culture, history, and food. No other place exemplifies the flux of people in and out of the city than Chinatown and Little Italy. With this guide, you’ll easily navigate through the crosshatch grid of lower Manhattan. Start with a historical overview of the area at the Tenement Museum, eat and shop your way through Chinatown, head up to Little Italy and end the day at a Goodfella’s bar.
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Walk Route

Guide Name: Chinatown & Little Italy
Guide Location: USA » New York
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 4.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 Km or 1.8 Miles
Author: Melissa Ruttanai
Author Bio: Melissa Ruttanai is an avid traveler, foodie and adventure seeker. She's visited over 25 countries and lived in both Japan and Thailand. Currently, she resides in New York.
Author Website:
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Lower Eastside Tenement Museum
  • Mahayana Buddhist Temple
  • Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
  • Ting's Gift Shop
  • Nom Wah Tea Parlor
  • Joe's Shanghai Restaurant
  • Noodle Village
  • Museum of Chinese in America
  • Il Fornaio Restaurant
  • Italian American Museum
  • Ferrara Cafe
  • Mulberry Street Bar
Lower Eastside Tenement Museum

1) Lower Eastside Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum tells “the story of 97 Orchard Street. Built on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1863, this tenement apartment building was home to nearly 7000 working class immigrants.” Guides insure that you not only hear their stories but you experience them too. Six tours are available, each focusing on a family or theme that lets visitors walk in the shoes of someone living in the building and neighborhood. After years of research, the museum allows visitors to walk through restored apartments, view objects belonging to the families who lived there, and get a fuller sense of what it meant to be an immigrant in NYC. Tours are 1-2 hours long and require reservations. Please check the website or arrive early. At the gift shop, inquire about special programs such as lectures, performances, and discussions. Tour transcripts are available in English and several other languages. Hours: 10-6pm daily. 212-983-8420.
Image Courtesy of Reading Tom.
Mahayana Buddhist Temple

2) Mahayana Buddhist Temple

Many Chinese Americans practice Mahayana Buddhism, which is the larger of the religion’s two main branches. As Buddhists, they observe the rite of merit making which includes visiting the temple, making donations, and praying to the image of Buddha. Sitting almost adjacent to the Manhattan Bridge Arch, the red and gold Mahayana Buddhist Temple is NYC’s largest Buddhist temple. Outside, gold lions have guarded the entrance since 1997. Inside, a 16-foot statue of Buddha rests on a lotus flower with a blue halo circling his crown. Locals come to burn incense and pay homage to the deceased. A small gift shop is upstairs. Open daily 8am-6pm. $2 donation is appreciated. 212-925-8787.
Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

3) Chinatown Ice Cream Factory

Forget Haagen Dazs! At the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, they capture the flavors of the Far East in their creative confections. Chocolate and vanilla are considered the exotic flavors here while the regular flavors are out of this world. Try a double scoop of lychee and black sesame, or a cup of red bean topped with a scoop of wasabi. Toppings include almond cookie, coconut flakes, lychee, and chocolate crunch. Sundaes, milkshakes, and plenty of kid-friendly options are also offered. Signature cakes are available for pickup. Their t-shirts have the dragon logo across the front and make unique souvenirs too. Open every day, 11am to 10pm. 212-608-4170.
Ting's Gift Shop

4) Ting's Gift Shop

At the corner of Pell Street and Doyers, Ting’s Gift Shop is the oldest in the neighborhood. While its red façade is an oddity, its interior is just plain quirky. The tiny shop is crammed from floor to ceiling with hanging lanterns, kites, and windpipes. Soaps, incense boxes, and chopsticks sit on shelves alongside miniature Buddhas, yo-yos, and portrait sketches. Turn one way and there’s a bin of bamboo backscratchers. Turn another and you’ll find a stack of playing cards. Yes, the items here are bizarre and dusty but they are affordable and memorable conversation starters. Hours: Monday 10-4pm. Tuesday-Sunday 10-9pm. 212-962-1081.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor

5) Nom Wah Tea Parlor

People say Nom Wah Tea Parlor isn’t old school but old, old, old school. With major renovations due to finish in early 2011, the iconic tea parlor will continue its legacy of serving the best tea and dim sum in town. Fill your table with different dim sum dishes, which are small portions of savory brunch choices. Don’t be shy. Try a variety. Even if you don’t like one or two, they only cost about $3 each. Opened since 1920, Nom Wah has been welcoming guests from all over the city and beyond with shrimp dumplings, pork buns, and rice balls. Patrons are loyal, coming back routinely with their children and friends and out of town guests, making this shop a must-see in the neighborhood. Check their website for times and details. 212-962-6047.
Image Courtesy of sfllaw of Flickr.
Joe's Shanghai Restaurant

6) Joe's Shanghai Restaurant

First founded in Flushing, Queens in 1995, Joe’s Shanghai now enjoys its success in Chinatown. Insanely popular, the restaurant bustles with locals and tourists, who come in for leisurely meals or rush out with arms full of take-out bags. At Joe’s, they specialize in dumplings but not the ordinary dumplings that you put in soup. No. At Joe’s Shanghai, they put the soup inside their dumplings! Lauded by the NY Times, Zagat, and Gourmet Magazine, this restaurant lives up to its reputation, serving a gamut of classic Chinese dishes such as prawns in chili, braised duck, and crispy yellow fish alongside its dumplings. Hours: Monday-Sunday 11am-11pm. 212-233-8888.
Image Courtesy of maarte_stewart.
Noodle Village

7) Noodle Village

Not in the mood for rice? Then go for noodles. It’s not that little cup of chicken noodle soup you get at the diner. At Noodle Village, noodles are an entirely filling and delicious delight. Service is fast, the décor simple, and the clientele, local. Trust your eyes, locals have hundreds of choices in town but choose Noodle Village for a reason. It’s the best. They offer rice noodles, egg noodles, thick noodles, thin noodles, udon, and lai fun too. Dumplings are fresh and perfect starters for your meal. Before you put down that menu, consider a Bubble Tea with mango or coconut to-go. The tapioca pearls are chewy treats! Open daily 10:30am-11pm. 212-233-0788.
Museum of Chinese in America

8) Museum of Chinese in America

Since 1980, the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) has been “a national home for the precious narratives of diverse Chinese American communities”. With more than 60,000 items in its collection, the museum showcases 160 years of Chinese American history through multimedia exhibits and thematically arranged displays. Photographs, textiles, clothing, and historical artifacts represent the experiences of Chinese Americans from across the country. The museum also hosts festivals, workshops, and discussions to promote a better understanding of Chinese American culture within the Unites States. Youth programs and school curricula are also available. Admission is free on Thursdays. Hours: Monday 11am-5pm. Thursday 11-9pm. Friday 11-5pm. Saturday-Sunday 10-5pm. 212-619-4785.
Il Fornaio Restaurant

9) Il Fornaio Restaurant

Meaning “the baker”, Il Fornaio specializes in traditional dishes such as gnocchi, rigatoni, and penne alla vodka. Simple and straightforward, the restaurant offers interesting daily specials such as fettuccini with shiitake mushrooms and swordfish. Located in the middle of Little Italy, Il Fornaio is best known for its overstuffed artichokes. While every trattoria on the block will boast about their stuffed artichokes, Il Fornaio seems to hold the unofficial title as reigning champion, steaming the artichokes to perfection and then stuffing it full of capers, garlic and olives. The menu also features salads, pizzas, and the lunchtime favorite, muffoletta sandwiches. Open daily at 11:30am—midnight. 212-226-8306.
Italian American Museum

10) Italian American Museum

A petite museum with big heart, the Italian American Museum opened in 2001 and dedicates its exhibits to the struggles and achievements of the Italian American community in New York. The museum collects memorabilia, oral histories and important artifacts that preserve the voice of this immigrant population. Founder and president, Dr. Joseph Scelsa says that the museum gives “context” to the neighborhood beyond the restaurants and cafes. The collection is permanently housed in the former Banca Stabile, an appropriate location. In the late 19th century, the bank was an unofficial community center for new Italian immigrants, offering services that helped them remain connected to the old country while adjusting to the new. Visitors are welcome to view the original vault as well as documents and teller desks. Wedding gowns, marionettes, and pushcarts from the turn of the 20th century provide authentic embellishments to the experience. Hours: Saturday 11am-6pm. Sunday Noon-6pm. Monday-Thursday by appointment only. 212-965-9000.
Ferrara Cafe

11) Ferrara Cafe

Little Italy’s first espresso bar, the Ferrara Café has been serving fine desserts and cappuccinos since 1892. Five generations later, the family still lives up to its name with their sweet treats menu including cheesecakes, tiramisu, and unbelievable cannolis. If that’s not enough to entice you, try something from their long list of pastries, cookies, biscuits, and candies. Light bounces throughout and ample seating allows for a great place to rest and recharge after a day of sightseeing. Many cakes can be shipped home. Inquire with one of the managers. Hours: Sunday-Friday 8am-midnight. Saturday 8am-1am. 212-226-6150.
Mulberry Street Bar

12) Mulberry Street Bar

At the edge of the main strip of cafes and restaurants, Mulberry Street Bar is no ordinary watering hole. Open since 1908, the bar has seen its share of actors, mob bosses, and actors playing mob bosses. This is a Hollywood favorite and the backdrop for several cinematic projects including Frank Sinatra’s Contract on Cherry Street, Donnie Brasco, and Godfather III as well as scenes from The Sopranos and Law & Order. Few aspects of the bar have changed since it opened its doors and the mafia ambience emanates from dark wood walls and pressed tin ceiling. The jukebox is loaded with Sinatra, the Four Tops, and Elvis. But above all it’s still a bar. So grab a Peroni and relax, it’s not like someone’s gonna whack you here! Hours: Sunday-Thursday Noon-3am. Friday-Saturday Noon-4am. 212-226-9345.

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