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Visiting New York City Chinatown - A Budget Traveler's Survival Guide
If you are planning to visit New York City on a budget then Manhattan's Chinatown is the place to start. It is the best place to find affordable NYC Chinatown hotels near subway stations, shopping trips and NYC attractions that are surrounded by classic Chinese restaurants serving cheap food for big appetites.
NYC Chinatown is where I grew up. So I know the neighborhood inside out. I know where to get a meal for 2 for $5US. As well as which hotels are right in Chinatown that are affordable so you can explore the city and its full glory.
It is a city I am glad to promote to budget travelers and always point out that yes NYC hotels can be expensive. But many affordable hotels can be found in New York City's Chinatown. And who doesn't like Chinese food? NYC's Chinatown is one of the few affordable places left in the city where a family can still eat out at a restaurant and have enough money to put into their kids college fund.
New York City has a reputation as one of the most expensive cities in the US for eating and hotel rooms. If you are planning to visit New York City on a budget, don't lose hope. NYC is a big city to live it up. It is absolutely possible to eat the best meals and find affordable family friendly hotels in Chinatown NYC.
Where ever I travel for work in a major city I always seek out a Chinatown. In Thailand for example I always pay a visit to Bangkok's Chinatown at least twice a week to eat dim sum and have tea. And it's fun and great but in reality nothing will ever take the place of New York City's Chinatown.
In this hub I'll show you where to eat like a local and save money on Chinese food as where you can find budget hotels in Manhattan's Chinatown!
A Short History of New York City Chinatown
Chinatown is one of the oldest neighborhoods in New York City since it is a part of lower east side of Manhattan. The ethnic Chinese who mainly spoke Cantonese dialect, came over to New York City in the 1800's to work long hours with little pay on menial jobs. Many even came over from the West coast for a better opportunity in life. Most were bachelors as females were not allowed to enter the United States then.
As a handful of Chinese grew successful and their businesses flourished, it attracted even more Chinese migrants.Chinatown slowly began to grow with tenements and businesses run by family associations often sponsoring their relatives abroad and assimilate them to a new life in the US.
Today it's basically the same and one of the prime reason why Chinatown has expanded and grown so fast out of all the ethnic neighborhoods in New York.
Mott Street, named after a prominent business owner Joseph Mott in the late 1800's is Chinatown's most well known street. Mott Street is where any tour of Chinatown should begin. It is also a great place for families to enjoy a Chinese feast at very affordable prices.
Where to Stay in New York City Chinatown
Clean and comfortable hotels in New York's Chinatown typically cost around $150 per night. Okay, it's not cheap but if you think about staying uptown or further downtown you will be paying twice as much and more. So $150 per night is a cheap hotel price compared to other hotels located all over Manhattan. But consider the money you will save eating in a Chinese restaurant.
A solo traveler staying at a hotel in Chinatown can expect to pay about $5 for a meal including a soda or water at a nearby Chinese restaurant. A family of 4 ordering 4 or 5 dishes dishes served family style in a restaurant can expect to pay around $40 not including drinks (water is free though) and tips. If that same family of 4 were to have a meal at Times Square they can expect to pay twice as much.
Here are 3 popular affordable clean hotels in NYC's Chinatown:
If you find that these hotels cost too much consider using the services of hotel reservation agencies such as CheapOstay.com or Agoda.com. Both websites are worldwide hotel wholesalers who specialize in selling unpublished discounted hotel room rates.
This is a great spot to begin exploring Chinatown. There are also many great places to find bargains on Chinese meals and snacks.
This is a huge park where you can have lunch. There are many benches to sit on or you can have a picnic right on the park's field.
This is a good restaurant for affordable Chinese dim sum
New York City's street addresses are well organized, so businesses and local attractions are easy to find. In Chinatown there are many people who can speak English. There are also many NYC police officers and traffic police who can assist you if you are lost.
Here's a tip: All shops and restaurants and shops are numbered. One side of the street the buildings are odd numbered and opposite streets the buildings are even numbered. In the picture below you can see 2 Mott Street which is the Citibank Building. So all buildings on that side of the street are even numbered.
Mott StreetClick thumbnail to view full-size
Restaurants for Cheap Eats in NYC Chinatown
Starting from 2 Mott Street make your way 1 block north to Mosco Street. You can't miss Mosco Street since it is the only sloping street in Chinatown. Right in the middle of Mosco Street a tiny restaurant called simply Fried Dumpling Restaurant. In the afternoon you will often find a line outside with customers eagerly waiting for their fried dumpling fix. It is a real hole in the wall with a 4 seats but they serve some very tasty Shanghai fried dumplings. $1 dollar will get you 5 pieces of scrumptious dough filled morsels filled with pork, chives and spices.
Down on Mulberry Street, just a 5 minutes walk nearby is a competing dumpling shop called Tasty Dumplings. This popular restaurant also serves up plenty of traditional Chinese food like cold and hot noodles, wontons and yes of course dumplings! The dumplings here cost $1.25 for 5 pieces which most people don't mind paying that extra .25 cents.
Both dumpling restaurants have drab décor and limited seating. But if the weather is nice and sunny you can always dine al fresco at Columbus Park right across the street. There is plenty of park benches and seats to spread out and enjoy your Chinese dumplings.
Chinese Dumpling WarsClick thumbnail to view full-size
BBQ Char Siu over Rice for $3.75
The Secrets for Finding Cheaper Meals in NYC Chinatown
The surest way to save money anywhere you travel to is to eat like the locals do. In NYC Chinatown locals head to the meat markets for savory char siu (BBQ pork loin), ducks and chickens over rice. And the smorgasborg doesn't end there. You can also find cooked foods such as sweet and sour pork, fried fish, tofus and even sauteed vegetables. Some meat markets even serve Japanese sushi and sashimi at very affordable prices.
You can expect an individual meal per person to not exceed $4 per person while shopping for food at a meat market in Chinatown. Portions here are quite huge and they are served on a take away Styrofoam box. A BBQ Char Siu over rice with some vegetables bought at Mulberry Meat Market weighs a total of about 2lbs. That is a lot of food for $3.75!
There are quite a lot of meat markets spread throughout Chinatown and the one I like the best is Mulberry Meat Market on 89 Mulberry Street. There are English signs though you'll probably end up pointing at what you want to eat.
Okay, so it is an actual meat market where local Chinese by raw meats and vegetables. And there is no tables and seating. That's no problem at all (unless it's raining or freezing cold). Because Columbus Park is a 5 minute walk south with plenty of park benches to dine. No matter what, these are the best deals for food in Chinatown bar none.
And since there are so many good hotels in NYC near Chinatown you can always take your meals back to your room.
Vietnamese Bahn Mi Sandwich
Lots of Southeast Asians call New York City's Chinatown their home and have brought with them their own rightfully established culinary contributions. This is especially true of the Vietnamese. There are many Vietnamese restaurants in Chinatown and all offer some very affordable dining options.
One specific well known Vietnamese classic that is making a strong emergence in New York City's food scene is the Bahn Mi sandwich. I love this sandwich and all its simplicity. A Bahn Mi is grilled chopped pork along with several slices of pork cold cuts, topped with pickled carrot and radish slaw with strips of cucumbers all stuffed into a fresh baguette.
I like mine spicy so the crisp cucumbers helps cut down the heat. There are many restaurants in New York City's Chinatown only selling Bahn Mi sandwiches but my favorite spot to grab one is on the corner of Mott Street and Broome Street called Saigon.
Saigon's Bahn Mi is called the house special and it only cost $4.50 for a foot long sandwich. And they do sell other variations of Vietnamese inspired sandwiches such as grilled chicken, pork or vegetarian
You'll also find other Vietnamese specialties such as spring rolls, sticky rice and sweets.
Seating at Saigon is limited but it's not too hard at all to walk the streets of NYC's Chinatown while munching on a Bahn Mi sandwich.
New York deemed as one of the greatest cities in the world. And yes it can be quite expensive when it comes to finding affordable hotels in the Big Apple. You can find special unpublished hotel discounts for New York City on CheapOstay.com and they are a good hotel reservation agency that can help you find an affordable hotel in Chinatown.
As for eating well you've seen here that there are plenty of places in Chinatown where you can find cheap places to eat whether you are visiting solo or as a family in New York City.