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The Best Eats in NYC’s Chinatown and Little Italy

Every time my mom and I plan a trip to New York City, she inevitably asks me if we’re going to go to Chinatown. She absolutely loved her visit to San Francisco’s Chinatown in the ’90s. I, however, was skeptical and kept avoiding it for years. After all, I live in Italy so never want Italian food when I leave and isn’t Chinatown filled with crap restaurants and tourists? When my mom and I decided to meet in NYC recently, I gave in, decided to surprise her and arranged a visit to Chinatown and Little Italy with Ahoy New York Food Tours. After having such great food tours in some other cities, I knew we’d see the best spots and try the tastiest treat by touring with an insider.

On a slushy and partially sunny morning, New York City was barely stirring and our cab zipped down 5th Avenue to drop us off in Chinatown. Liz, our Ahoy tour guide, was already waiting holding a sign as our cab pulled up 20 minutes early. Bubbly despite the Polar Vortez, I knew we were in for a great tour just by meeting Liz.

The first part of the tour took us just a few streets over to Little Italy. You may not know this about me, but I’m Italian. My family comes from the Calabria region and had ties to the Mafia (but that’s a story for another day). So the history of Little Italy, where some of our very own family possibly first called home in America was very interesting. Liz was full of interesting facts and stories, including where a famous mob hit took place that is still unsolved even today, but you’re going to have to take the tour to hear it. I can’t give away all of her secrets!

Alleva Dairy

Alleva Dairy

Our first tasting was at the oldest Italian cheese store in America, Alleva Dairy, for some proscuitto and fresh mozzarella. I had to smile with a little pride because the most famous proscuitto actually comes from the little corner of Italy I now call home, the Friuli Venezia Giulia. Liz told us about the fat, happy piggies that are bred in the FVG and how the proscuitto is cured. Our small group happily wrapped our proscuitto around the mozzarella and…silence. We were too busy enjoying the salty snack to utter a word.

Di Palio Fine Foods

Is this Italy? Nope, it’s NYC!

Di Palio Fine Foods

Cows and sheeps milk cheese to sample at Di Palio Fine Foods

When in Italy, or in this case Little Italy, you can never have too much Italian cheese so we moved on down the street to Di Palo Fine Foods. Tip: I learned they ship in the US! Established around 1910 when Little Italy’s population was its highest, this shop is an absolute dream for anyone that loves authentic Italian foods. I saw all the items I’d find on the shelves of the little Italian co-ops at home.

Grandma's pie

Grandma’s pie

I think eating Italian pizza has ruined me for nearly any other pizza (I make exceptions for Chicago deep dish), but the Grandma’s pie we tried next was admittedly pretty delicious. Nice thin crust, not too much sauce, fresh mozzarella and sprinkled with pesto – yes, this would make my cut as an admitted Italian food snob. Sorry, no Olive Garden for this gal. That is NOT Italian food.

Ferrara Bakery & Cafe

Look at all those delicious pastry! And Liz recommends the espresso here.

The cannoli is actually from southern Italy and though we can pretty easily find them in markets around us, I never turn a cannoli down. Admittedly, the cannoli from Ferrara Bakery was a little on the too sweet side for me, but still nice.

Our 3 Thai dishes to try

Our 3 Thai dishes to try

We left the little neighborhood that is now much smaller than Little Italy was back in its heyday and crossed into Chinatown. Though our first stop was actually for Thai food at the oldest run family and operated restaurant in New York City, Pongrsi Thai Restaurant. We sat down to an assortment of family-style Thai dishes to share amongst the group and sipped hot tea. Between the spice and the tea, it was perfect for warming up! And though not as tasty as the Thai dishes Tim and I learned to make at our Thai cooking class on Koh Phangan, it came pretty darn close.

Columbus Park

Columbus Park is situated in the heart of one of the oldest residential areas in Manhattan

As we left the restaurant, we wandered through Columbus Park, where men were playing Chinese checkers even on such a cold day. The park interestingly has had a number of other names and is situated right in the heart of one of the oldest residential areas in all of Manhattan.

Tenement building Chinatown NYCHere you can also see some of the best examples of the tenement apartments that were typical for immigrants to live in. Liz is again very knowledgeable about the history and describes what the living conditions were like in these multi-family dwellings.

Tasty Dumpling NYC

The tasty pork and chive dumplings at Tasty Dumpling

But back to the food, our next stop was for some of the tastiest pork and chive dumplings I’ve ever tried at, ironically, Tasty Dumpling. I think I just drooled a little thinking about them!

Nom Wah Tea Parlor

Nom Wah Tea Parlor is the oldest dim sum restaurant in Chinatown

Nom Wah Tea Parlor

Now, that’s an egg roll!

Our final tasting was, though tough choice, my favorite of the day. Did you know egg rolls were once made with egg in them and Nom Wah Tea Parlor, the oldest Dim Sum restaurant in Chinatown, still makes them that way. I devoured mine…and then my mom’s since she was full and offering hers up.

Though our tastings were officially done, Liz offered up her recommendations for tea, where to buy souvenirs, and some shops to visit. She was a fantastic guide and I would have ended up wandering aimlessly without her expert guidance.

Know Before You Go

  • Ahoy New York Food Tours are approximately 3 hours and start at 10:30am.
  • Tickets are $49 per adult and tickets must be reserved in advance.
  • Note that vegetarian options are available. Just be sure to note that in advance when booking.

For more delicious food tours I highly recommend, check out Eating London, Urban Adventure’s Cicchetti Tour of Venice, and a food tour of Montreal by moped.

Disclosure: Thank you to Ahoy New York Food Tours for hosting us on the Chinatown and Little Italy Tour in order to bring you this story. As always, all opinions are entirely our own.

Jennifer Dombrowski

Jennifer Dombrowski is a location independent globe trotter who is based in Prata di Pordenone, Italy. She works as a social media and communications strategist and is an award-winning travel writer. She is also a travel correspondent on Traveling on the American Forces Radio Network. Jdomb's Travels was named one of the top travel blogs to watch by the Huffington Post and has been featured by top publications such as CNN, Buzzfeed , and The Telegraph. Her iPhoneograpy has also been featured on publications such as USA Today and Travel + Leisure. Google+

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17 comments

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  1. Devlin @ Marginal Boundaries

    Mmm so many delicious treats, I’d love some more authentic Chinese food. All we have in Cancun is your run of the mill takeout, not bad but not great.

    [Reply]

  2. Val-This Way To Paradise

    I can’t even hope to get decent Chinese food here in Mexico. That looks so good. All of it. I just ate lunch and now I’m hungry again!!

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  3. Derek

    I’m rather embarrassed to admit that despite being born in NYC and having made several trips there over the last few years, I’ve only been to Chinatown once and never even realized that Little Italy was so close. Of course I’ve had more than my fill of Asian food these last eight months but I would do just about anything for some gourmet cheese and fine meats right about now — two things that can be hard to find here in SEA!

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  4. jenny@atasteoftravel

    I think I’m addicted to food tours! I love learning little bits of history of the area as well as being taken to the best food places! This looks like a fabulous tour to do when we are next in NY! The egg roll looks delicious!

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  5. Raul (@ilivetotravel)

    I need to make some time to just play in NYC and this type of tour sounds perfect!

    [Reply]

  6. Heather

    I wish I’d done more tours like this when I lived in the city. They are such a fun – and tasty! – way to learn more about the different neighborhoods.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    I used to avoid any sort of tour like it was the plague. But small group tours really are a fantastic way to actually learn about neighborhoods. Food tours are quickly becoming a favorite of mine!

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  7. Heather

    This post made me hungry for dim sum. I’ve been to Ferrara many times — love that place!

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Me too! Just thinking about the yummy dumplings has me craving dim sum. Do you have any favorites in Chinatown or Little Italy?

    [Reply]

  8. Linda Bibb

    You hit my hot button: Thai food! My anthropology professor took me to a little hole-in-the-wall Thai place in Chinatown and I still drool when I think of it. I think the best ethnic food in America is found in their little enclaves. Glad you enjoyed Little Italy.

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    I could seriously eat Pad Thai and curry every day!

    [Reply]

  9. Cathy Sweeney

    Gosh, I wish I could find a really good cannoli near my house. I love them! Looks like you had a great tour and some delicious eats. Grandma’s Pie would be a must for me. Nice mention of Chicago deep dish — no matter how much I like other pizzas, it stays in my heart. :)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    I bet, Cathy! As good as the pizza is here in Italy, we still miss a good Chicago deep dish. Chicago deep dish is in our near future. We’ll be visiting with Tim’s family probably around September this year.

    [Reply]

  10. Chanel @ La Viajera Morena

    This post made me drool. Looks like I will be making a trip back downtown before the week is over. Thanks for the suggestions! :)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Have some dumplings and an egg roll for me, Chanel!

    [Reply]

  11. Abby

    I love that tour combo! Chinatown is so great. It makes me a little sad that Little Italy was pushed out and is now so small. Although Arthur Avenue is still thriving. Worth a trip to the Bronx next time!

    [Reply]

  12. Marina K. Villatoro

    I get up in NYC and still can’t get over how diverse it is. It is amazing how you can find a completely different culture just by visiting different neighborhoods. Plus you get a taste of traditional dishes from all over the world. I love it!

    [Reply]

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