The restaurants that make Canal Street one of NYC’s most vital dining neighborhoods
Canal Street is synonymous with Manhattan’s Chinatown. Making your way along this main artery that runs through one of the country’s oldest neighborhoods can feel head-spinning sometimes. Lifelong residents and tourists often find themselves elbow-to-elbow while passing fruit vendors, souvenir shops, jewelry stores, people selling knockoff designer bags — and, of course, restaurants.
Just two years ago, however, this thoroughfare became eerily quiet. A combination of the pandemic and anti-Asian racism hit Chinatown hard. The streets in this neighborhood, where generations of Chinese families settled, could have been mistaken for a ghost town at times. Restaurants, old and new, closed one by one, and there was no Lunar New Year parade. But a surge of support also swelled: New Yorkers began to realize that one of the most vibrant sections of the city would not survive without people dining in restaurants, shopping at independent businesses, or simply showing up; they seemed to say that Chinatown wasn’t going anywhere.
In our own celebration and support of the area, the Eater NY team made it a point to visit every restaurant along Canal Street. Many of the establishments, big and small, rarely get covered even though they’re vital to Chinatown. Our goal was simple: Dive deep into Canal Street and share a tiny bit of the stories that make this area a vital part of NYC.
This fairly straightforward, sleek-looking coffee shop is always bustling with Dimes Square types that are fashionably dressed. Whether you’re about to hop on the adjacent F train or you’re lingering for a meetup of some kind, it’s an ideal spot to see and be seen while noshing on one of the vegetarian-friendly breakfast offerings — like the standout “hangover wrap” (egg, avocado, home fries, salsa verde) — with a latte in tow. — Emma Orlow
Ming’s Caffe feels like a neighborhood diner that’s a mashup between a cha chaan teng (a casual Hong Kong-style cafe) and bodega. Photos of the menu adorn the walls, a white board with handwritten specials hangs near the cash register, and a handful of rickety tables are scattered in the shoebox-sized dining room. A selection of dim sum, heaping plates of noodles, or even a cup of black coffee lure a mix of diners: senior citizens who may sip tea for hours, construction workers stop in for a quick bite, and younger artist types come here for the affordable menu. It’s the type of spot that’s become increasingly rare in Chinatown. — Bao Ong
While Shan Fu, which opened in 2010, may appear as another bodega, it’s also one of the city’s best juice spots. The menu is filled with both ready-made juice options and those made-to-order. In the warm-weather months there’s no better move than to order a large one of their refreshing, slushie-style blended fruit juices — in flavors like cantaloupe, honeydew, or watermelon — served in a deli takeout container, punctured by a boba-like wide, colorful straw. Customers can also request custom combinations of flavors. The slushies from Shan Fu, no matter the flavor, should be enjoyed chilled and perhaps while people-watching in Seward Park across the street. (Note: Shan Fu is listed as temporarily closed on Google.) — Emma Orlow
Fast casual spots that stock their fridges with halal meat are becoming commonplace on the Lower East side, and Holy Cow is a good example of the trend. Owner Kaveh Tabatabaie sources his beef and chicken from Hal & Al in Elmont, Long Island, and offers a limited menu of cheeseburgers, chopped cheese on a hamburger bun, fried chicken sandwiches, fries, milkshakes, and hot dogs that are especially short, bulbous, and delicious. — Robert Sietsema
Mel offers sweet and savory pastries.
Walk west to east along Canal Street and you’ll no doubt encounter a half-dozen or more bakeries, most serving egg tarts, sponge bread, pineapple buns, and other Chinese fare. Of a different sort, and anchoring this street’s eastern dead end, is Mel. This corner bakery is one of the newest businesses on this list, but it’s already found fans in the neighborhood: A few doors down at Ling Kee Beef Jerky, one of the owners can sometimes be seen eating its blueberry muffins, and Cervo’s, across the street, is one of few places you can find a loaf of the bakery’s sourdough after 3 p.m. The following is more than deserved: All of Mel’s baked goods are made using local heirloom grains, which might sound like a lot of fuss until you spend a few minutes talking with owner Nora Allen, who occasionally emerges from the bakery’s basement with a tray of chocolate croissants in hand, usually wearing a pair of slip-on rainbow Crocs. While some chefs closely guard their trade secrets, Allen is taking a different approach: All of her suppliers are listed online, while several of her loaves are named after friends in the industry, whose baking formulas she’s used. “I’m proud of who we work with,” she says. “I want everyone to know.” — Luke Fortney
Cervos, open since 2017, is a gem of a Spanish Portuguese seafood restaurant, a wood-paneled space where patrons cram themselves in as tightly as a tin of Iberian sardines. It serves up the type of non-exorbitant and strongly flavored small plates that seem harder to come by in an increasingly unaffordable city. One could grab a bar seat — right in front of the chefs — and concoct a short tasting menu out of shrimp heads, fried oysters, golden rice with rock shrimp, and Manila clams with vinho verde. Cervo’s is also a casual vermouth and sherry bar, a place to stop by for a first date or an after-work rendezvous to sip something bitter and slurp down some oysters. It’s also a completely different culinary experience for those who want a one-plate meal, like a lamb burger with a few anchovies on top to jack up the funk even further. Restaurateurs Nialls Fallon, Nick Perkins, and Leah Campbell, the folks behind the Fly and Hart’s in Brooklyn, are reasonably new entrants to Canal Street, but the focus on maritime fare — is there any part of New York with more fish markets? — puts the space in conversation with the great Cantonese seafood spots nearby. — Ryan Sutton
The thin, square sheets of jerky — from pork and beef to shrimp and spicy chicken — are nothing like the chewy sticks of Slim Jims stocked at every gas station. Ling Kee, a tiny shop located off trendy Dimes Square, is one of the few family-owned shops specializing in Malaysian-style jerky. There’s often an employee near the window grilling the meats, which turn out tender with hints of sweetness and smokiness. — Bao Ong
When Dimes debuted near the corner of Essex and Canal in 2014, it marked a turning point for the neighborhood as new businesses from non-Chinatown residents trickled in. While the corner had previously been known for its secondhand electronics and cut-rate appliances, suddenly there were models, artists, and businesspeople hanging in front of the narrow storefront, which peddled then-faddish avocado toasts, breakfast tacos, and acai bowls. In addition, Jerseyite owners Alissa Wagner and Sabrina De Sousa made their own cosmetics, which were for sale on the shelves of the tiny restaurant. Eventually, the place moved across the street, formulated a more expansive menu, and added a separate grocery and lunch counter, leading this stretch of Canal Street to be waggishly known as Dimes Square. — Robert Sietsema
This minimalist space — opened in September 2021 — has only two seats and sells three or four homestyle Korean dishes at a time, concocted to order by Jee Young Kim. Dining here feels like having your own private chef. Kim aims high with a wagyu bowl ($39), but the regular bibimbap is also remarkable. Korean sodas and a variety of candy line the shelves, and there’s also a handful of dalgona cookies each day for Squid Game fans. — Robert Sietsema
A small mascot, appearing to be a mix between a bear and a pine cone, beckons customers inside Round K By Sol, the latest location of a cafe that previously operated on Allen Street nearby. This Korean coffee shop is small enough that the aroma of whatever is cooking in the kitchen — from breakfast items like scrambled eggs to fried chicken — wafts through the entire space. Colorful drinks made with ube, melted butter, and the coffee shop’s own roasted beans are popular, often paired with a plate of fluffy scrambled eggs, prepared using the milk steamer attached to its espresso machine. — Luke Fortney
The key to any bakery dining strategy is to get there early. But at Anpanman, “early” means — on some days — beating the sunrise to scoop up a warm, fluffy pineapple bun. The Chinese bakery, a Canal Street fixture that opens at 5 a.m. six days per week, can usually be identified by the small crowd of early morning workers that gather around the cafe’s front sidewalk, snacking on ham-and-egg rolls and savory pork buns. Don’t miss the flaky, dense coconut tarts in the front pastry case, or the puffy red bean and pineapple buns kept warm in a covered rack at the back of the shop. Wash down the baked goods with the cafe’s hot, sweet-and-tart honey lemon drink. Cash only. — Erika Adams
Owned by Greek restaurateur Teddy Vasilopoulos, Two Bridge’s Diner is a tiny, well-worn spot where customers will find a lengthy menu of diner classics — pancakes, tuna melts, meat loaf – mixed together with platters of souvlaki and pitas topped with falafel. — Erika Adams
Beverage chain Möge Tee has over 380 worldwide locations — several in NYC alone — for good reason. Though Möge has more traditional fruit and milk bubble teas, it sets itself apart with cheese foam drinks, which are seen less in New York. Fresh, organic teas in flavors like dragon fruit, mango, or avocado come finished with a foam garnish that creates a more savory effect than boba. — Emma Orlow
The stretch of Canal Street located by the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge can feel, at times, like a thoroughfare, demarcating the two sides of Canal Street. But it’s here that you’ll find an under-the-radar restaurant where all the dishes are entirely vegan. According to its menu, the name of the restaurant references the Buddhist monk, Ji Gong — fitting as Jisu neighbors Mahayana, a local Buddhist temple. Restaurants like Jisu are a part of a long lineage of meat-free Chinese cooking, dating back to ancient recipes. Flip through the extensive menu at Jisu and you’ll find dishes like mock duck, vegan “fish” hot pot, and mapo tofu, as well as some unusual desserts like macarons. With just a few tables inside, Jisu also doubles as a market for frozen imitation meats used in the restaurant or for home cooking. — Emma Orlow
A branch of international hot pot chain Da Long Yi is one of Canal Street’s few upstairs food businesses, looming over the onramp of the Manhattan Bridge from this dining room above a bank. The restaurant, which has more than 200 locations globally, gained a following for its oily, deep-red broths, bobbing with sichuan peppercorns and whole chile peppers. — Luke Fortney
Of the dozens of Cantonese, Hong Kong, Fujianese, and Korean bakeries in the vicinity, this one manages to stand out, principally by being more modern. Expect multiple forms of sponge cake, custard pies a little more delicate than usual, opulently decorated pastries, and the hot dog bun to be a meal in itself — if you don’t mind eating franks at room temperature. — Robert Sietsema
The baked waffles served at this miniature street cart go by many names: egg puffs, eggettes, pancake balls, and — in the streets of Hong Kong, where they’re more commonly found — gai daan jai, meaning “egg waffle” in Cantonese. Here, the griddled balls of dough are referred to simply as “mini cakes,” and rather than served as a complete waffle, they’re divided into individual balls, tossed into a plastic container, and served with a squiggle of condensed milk, caramel, or chocolate (one waffle is about $2). — Luke Fortney
Tai Pan started with a single Flushing bakery in 1990, before expanding with a handful of offshoots across the city. Only the original and this outpost in Manhattan’s Chinatown remain, kept afloat by a quick-moving crowd of taxi drivers and locals. Like some of the city’s best bakeries, it is partially self-service: A stack of cafeteria trays awaits at the back of the bakery, meant for piling on pastries and prepared foods with stainless steel tongs. There are fried noodle sandwiches, pork floss buns, ham-and-corn rolls, and other options worthy of a breakfast or lunch, most individually packaged and all reasonably priced — Luke Fortney
Located inside a skinny sliver of a shop, Penguin Ice Cream is a solid counter-service spot for creamy rolled ice cream concoctions, stuffed into takeout cups overflowing with fruit and candy toppings. A separate menu offers dozens of different bubble teas, juices, and slushies. — Erika Adams
Bronzed ducks hang on streetside hooks, beckoning passersby with their fatty skin and tender, gamy interiors. Cooks wield cleavers to break down supple soy sauce chickens; one could play handball with these birds if their exteriors were any bouncier. Such delicacies, served over rice, command all of $7 (cash only), while bargain-priced lo mein, studded with sweet char siu, easily feeds four with its copper-colored noodles, no thicker than angel hair. For affordable Cantonese fare, Great NY Noodletown commands a serious following among locals and gourmands, but this 40-year-old Canal Street spot often gets the job done just as well, and with quite a bit less fanfare. — Ryan Sutton
This is one of the city’s top raw fish bowl spots, a rare fast-casual venue to offer unagi and seared otoro. Sichuan salmon ($15) flaunts oily flesh, spicy mayo, and firm rice, while a shaving of katsuo panko (skipjack breadcrumbs) leaves everything a smoky, umami-rich finish. Chikarashi also happens to be a vital hub for those who crave the fruity, icy silkiness of an uncommon New York treat: Dole whip. — Ryan Sutton
A pastry case lined with sponge cakes and hot dog buns spans one wall of this Cantonese-style bakery. Beside it, a refrigerator holds a seemingly endless supply of barbecued meat and red bean buns. One could easily spend a half hour considering New Cameron Bakery’s baked goods made here, and probably much longer on the egg tarts alone. The custard pastries commonly found at dim sum parlors and cha chaan tengs are barely set in their centers and often still warm. Bite into one and its custard will give way like a six-minute soft boiled egg. — Luke Fortney
Even scanning the signs in the windows and on the sidewalk in front is a bewildering experience at this storefront well on its way to becoming a bargain food court. Poke, bubble tea, hibachi grilled meats, soups, sushi, or hand pulled noodles? Why not? — Robert Sietsema
It was Eric Sze, the chef behind Taiwanese restaurant 886 in the East Village, who first told Canal Street Market founder and lifelong Chinatown resident Philip Chong about the bouncy, chewy rice rolls at Joe’s Steam Rice Roll that had been turning heads in Flushing. Chong met the owner, Joe Rong, and struck up a partnership that would pave the way for Joe’s Steam Rice Roll’s first expansion into Manhattan, at Chong’s new Canal Street food hall — a notable departure from the small mom-and-pop stores that typically line the street — that had just opened in 2017.
The expansion was a proud moment from Chong, who opened Canal Street Market with a mission to spotlight NYC-based small businesses. A dozen vendors took up residence inside the food hall, which was busy from the moment that it opened, Chong recalls, until the citywide shutdown in March 2020. Throughout the pandemic, Canal Street Market has had just three steady vendors — pizza shop Enzo’s; boba tea and Korean bingsu sundae (shaved ice dessert) spot Lazy Sundaes; and Joe’s Steam Rice Roll — while navigating the rollercoaster of closings and openings the food hall faced as local regulations fluctuated. “It was the toughest thing that I’ve ever had to deal with in my life,” Chong says.
Now, Chong is focused on rebuilding the market. And Joe’s Steam Rice Roll, once again, will play a headlining role in that next step. Owner Rong is test-driving a new noodle soup shop — the chain’s first in the city — at the market, Chong says. Two other vendors, Filipino-leaning shop Kabisera and chocolatier Daniel Corpuz, will also be opening up at the market this summer. — Erika Adams
A reference to the harvest month in Guangdong, August Gatherings is perhaps the city’s most ambitious Cantonese restaurant. It melds luxury Western ingredients with classic southern Chinese dishes, so that one might find a thick layering of grated truffles on a roast duck, or an aged rib-eye deployed in a stir fry of beef, eggplant, and chayote squash. Soups are a particular specialty, and many contain a shredded firm tofu that chef Kenny Leung — who hails from the city of Guangzhou — has taken great pains to perfect. Tropical fruits also play an important role in sauces and stir fries, and many dishes employ whole fish and outsized servings of shellfish. — Robert Sietsema
As the name of this business punnily suggests, cannabis is the inspiration for this coffee shop and dessert spot located inside of a hotel; it claims to be the first cafe and lounge in the city to have this focus. The women- and Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)-run venture from chef Anwuli Obidi and co-owner Maya Hayashi showcases a swath of recipes infused with CBD (the cannabinoid derivative of the cannabis plant that won’t get you high, but purports to aid with relaxation, and some studies agree) in various coffee drinks, pastries, and tartines, with the intention of kicking your morning into high gear. — Emma Orlow
A clear bag displays a trio of vertically stacked red, white, and green spheres, each no bigger than a golf ball. This is the “seasonal raw energy bite” pack, a refined sugar-free affair teeming with goji berries, hemp seed, shredded coconut, and ashwagandha, a medicinal herb. Such indulgences, along with avocado yogurt and granola, are par for the course at this growing vegan chain, with locations around the city. Try the creamy oat milk matcha latte. — Ryan Sutton
This longtime deli does what longtime New York delis do best: It feeds and it nourishes — 24/7. In the mood for a 3 a.m. BEC or BLT? Tribeca Bagels has you covered. Hungry for tender roast chicken or other steam-table fare at lunchtime? Come here, where there’s no credit card minimum and no lengthy, fast-casual wait. Want a great Sunday morning bagel? It may not be the best one in the city, but you’ll be able to snag a nicely squishy Asiago bagel, everything bagel, or if you’re so inclined, an Instagrammable rainbow bagel. One must keep up with the times, after all. — Ryan Sutton
This concrete bunker squeezed between Church and West Broadway doesn’t look like much, but its sloppy take on stacked-up burgers with bacon and cheese is memorable, and priced a couple dollars less than similar versions around town, at $6 to $8 depending on the preparation. The onion rings with their cornmeal crunch are excellent, and the avocado milkshake is superb in its green creaminess. Related pizza and poke parlors flank this place, suggesting that the proprietor is striving to cover as many fast-food bases as possible. — Robert Sietsema
This is a good example of the quintessential New York City bodega-deli. It seems like every type of New Yorker comes through here, depending on the time of day, with hard hats flooding the place in the morning and emerging with coffee and Danish; school kids arriving for an early lunch of a bacon, egg, and cheese; Soho residents dropping in midafternoon for chips and sodas; and random dinner seekers arriving mid-evening for steam table stuff. Stopping in here is like experiencing a quick snapshot of all the people that pass through Canal Street on a daily basis — locals, tourists, workers, and New Yorkers on jury duty, to just name a few. — Robert Sietsema
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