In A-Wah’s Hong Kong-style wonton lo mein, the noodles are cooked al dente, and the broth is served on the side.
The amazing thing about Manhattan’s Chinatown, no matter how it ebbs and flows, no matter how many restaurants come and go: It’s always been a bastion of excellent cheap eats. That’s because every new generation of immigrants puts its imprimatur on the restaurant scene, and the layers build up. While tourists often confine themselves to the oldest part of the neighborhood and adjacent streets, the true aficionado combs the periphery to find some of the best and newest places. We’ve done so, with a special emphasis on budget dining, because, Buddha knows, we need it now more than ever.
Pork With Lichee at Best Fuzhou.
10. Fried Dumplings at Fried Dumpling — This narrow stall was the first in town to sell Northern Chinese-style pot-sticker dumplings, handmade with wads of unctuous pork flavored with scallions. It reopened recently after a hiatus, and the four-for-a-dollar dumplings are still the city’s most amazing deal. Two orders make a satisfying meal. 99 Allen Street, 212-941-9975
9. Pork With Lichee at Best Fuzhou — There are no lichees in the signature dish of Fujianese cuisine. The nuggets of pork are supposed to resemble unpeeled lichees. No matter, the dish is delectable, the painfully red meat slightly sweet and set off by crisply cooked vegetables. 71 Eldridge Street, 212-219-3328
8. Sour Beans and Minced Pork at Grand Sichuan — The original version of this sprawling but still excellent chain retains lots of vitality, including this wonderful dish from the restaurant’s hilarious Mao Tse Tung menu of home-style Hunan dishes. Savor the tartness and the heat! 125 Canal Street, 212-625-9212
Sour Beans and Minced Pork at Grand Sichuan.
Shrimp rice noodle rolls at Royal Seafood.
7. Dim Sum at Royal Seafood — OK, if I had to pick one dish from the rolling metal-clad buffet at Royal Seafood (previously Dun Huang, and before that Oriental Pearl), it would be the shrimp rice noodle rolls, enfolding some of the biggest pink crustaceans seen on this side of the earth. 103 Mott Street, 212-219-2338
6. Tingly Lamb Face Salad at Xi’an Famous Foods — The dish name in English is equivocal, but be assured it’s the lamb face that will be tingling (with Sichuan peppercorns), and not your face. And thank you, Xi’an, for bringing your sweltering (the Sichuan peppercorns again) Northern Chinese cuisine to Manhattan. 88 East Broadway (around the corner on Forsyth Street), 212-786-2068
5. Hong Kong-Style Wonton Lo Mein at A-Wah — You think Japanese are obsessive about their ramen? One glance at this presentation tells you Kongers are, too: the perfectly cooked noodles served “dry,” implanted with wontons, and squiggled with thick sweet soy sauce — and the broth must be served on the side. 5 Catherine Street, 212-925-8308
Tingly Lamb Face Salad at Xi’an Famous Foods.
Sheng Wang’s legendary Stir-Fried Peel Noodles.
4. Peking Duck at Peking Duck House — They really pour on the charm when they wheel in the duck on a trolley, and bring it over to the table so you can inspect and approve the avian. The presentation is conventional — with steamed bao, scallions, and hoisin — but somehow the skin in crispier here, and the duck more fatty. 28 Mott Street, 212-227-1810
3. Stir-Fried Peel Noodles at Sheng Wang — The premier provider of hand-pulled noodles in Chinatown has a sub-specialty in the more-rare peel noodles, made with a penknife and an outward slicing motion on a cylinder of dough. Enjoy them, not in soup, but stir-fried with baby bok choy and scrambled egg. 27 Eldridge Street, 212-925-0805
2. Soup Dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai — This Flushing transplant continues to delight with its gravy-squirting purses of porky pleasure, and mastering the art of eating them is half the fun. 9 Pell Street, 212-233-8888
Two meats over rice with fried egg and scallion-ginger relish at East Corner Wonton.
1. Duck and Roast Pork Over Rice at East Corner Wonton — Cantonese has remained the humble heart of Chinatown for at least 150 years, represented by this delightful omnibus meal: crisp-skinned duck leg plus sweet barbecued pork over broken rice, with a soy-soaked fried egg and pungent ginger-scallion relish on the side. 70 East Broadway, 212-343-9896