With a different amazing dumpling restaurant on just about every street in the neighborhood, Manhattan's Chinatown is a great place to host a culinary expedition, and its high density of top-tier dumpling spots makes it easy to get from one to the next. Hence, the team at Viewing NYC thought it would be a great idea to try 10 of the best.
We did some research and chose the 10 spots to visit, all within the borders of Manhattan's Chinatown. Most of the dumpling joints have appeared on various top-ten lists around the web, others have amazing reviews on places like Eater, Zagat, The Infatuation, and Yelp, some were passed to us from word of mouth.
This past Saturday, October 3rd, 2015, we hosted the inaugural Viewing NYC Chinatown Dumpling Crawl so we could try all 10 dumplings spots, back-to-back-to-back, in one afternoon.
We only ordered the standard pork and chive fried dumplings at each restaurant.
Soup dumplings are amazing, and boiled/steamed dumplings have their place too, but it's unfair to compare them against each other. To make the ratings as accurate as we could, we needed to be very consistent with what we ordered.
We chose establishments which have the typical Chinatown "hole-in-the-wall" feel offering quick food at affordable prices. We wanted places where it was less of a restaurant and more of a grab-and-go joint.
At every restaurant we ordered enough freshly fried dumplings so that each participant got 2 dumplings: one to eat "naked" (i.e. sans sauce), and one to eat with the restaurant's provided dipping sauce, vinegar etc…
We did not call ahead for pickup orders because fried dumplings are so quickly made, and degrade quickly if allowed to sit for even a few minutes. We wanted them as fresh as possible.
After trying each of the dumplings, we rated the "naked" and sauced dumplings separately, and provided an area for tasters to write comments.
The Dumpling Restaurants & Crawl Order
- Tasty Dumpling 2. Fried Dumpling 3. Noodle Village 4. Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles 5. Jin Mei Dumpling House 6. Fuzhou Wei Zhong Wei 7. Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle 8. China North Dumpling 9. C & L Dumpling House 10. Vanessa’s Dumpling House
More on each of these below… or TL;DR
The Prosperity Dumpling Controversy
In late August, one of the top seeded restaurants that used to be on this crawl — Prosperity Dumpling — was shuttered by the NYC Department of Health for multiple violations. The restaurant was still closed on the date of the crawl, so they are notably absent from this list, replaced with another dumpling spot.
The route was a mere 1.5 miles, zig zagging from West Chinatown in a funky U until we hit the south side of the LES/Chinatown border.
We had a good mix of people in the crawl representing a broad array of culinary interests. We had some Yelp Elites, some who eat only Michelin rated food, some hardcore dumpling fiends, some who couldn't use chopsticks, and people representing multiple countries over multiple continents.
All-in-all a good mix of tastes that led to a varied representation in the averaged ratings. Dumplings were scored and ranked based on a simple average of the 20 crawlers who submitted ratings 1-10.
Presented in ascending order of average rating.
Bottom Tier: 10th Place
Vanessa's Dumpling House
Overall Average: 5.03
Somebody had to come in last place, and with an average score of 5.03/10, it's Vanessa's Dumpling House on Eldridge.
Many crawlers pegged Vanessa's as a frontrunner going into the event, which surprises me. Vanessa's is by far the most corporate of them all, had the longest lines, and had the most non-Asian diners in there picking up 4 dumpling for $1.
Looked very pretty, but not very tasty. Very uniformly shaped, well cooked outside, not very tasty on inside
Nice crisp, and aesthetically pleasing, dumpling. But not very flavorful. Just okay.
Highly commercialized and very bland, wouldn't come back here.
Probably least flavor and most oily. Wasn't my favorite by a long shot.
Actually disappointed, was barely edible compared to some of the other dumpling places. The ingredients didn't seem fresh...
Having this the last stop on the crawl made me realize that I don't need to go here anymore, my eyes were opened to so many more authentic tasting dumplings. And way cheaper!
Each dumpling looked identical in size, shape and cooking that it looked almost mechanic, and tasted as such too. There was no love put into these dumplings and it showed. We heard a stranger describing Vanessa's as dumplings for white people and thought that was a crude way to say it, but somehow spot-on.
Bottom Tier: 9th Place
Overall Average: 5.10
Fried Dumpling on Mosco has offered 5 fried dumplings for $1 forever, never raising prices or changing the recipe, making them a Chinatown favorite.
But with an average score that places them second to last, the surprisingly low result from the long-time Chinatown legend disappointed all.
Dumplings seemed smaller in size than the first stop and much more greasy. Sauce was more seasoned though!
Needs more meat. Nice thinner skin though.
More messy, worse presentation, but tasty. Inconsistent with level of fried exterior. Sauce almost 100% vinegar
Northern Style - they do one thing and they do it well!
Less filling, and much less chive and pork taste. Noodle covering too chewy. However very authentic ambience.
Just... No. Tough exterior, skimping out on meat, and dry dry dry. No good
Thinner skin, but quite tough. not juicy, smaller dumpling. flavor is ok. sauce is watery, doesn't enhance much.
Nothing special about these fried dumplings from Fried Dumplings, but that doesn't mean they weren't tasty.
Poor quality casing; chewy. Not fresh, definitely frozen beforehand. Limited flavor with boring sauce.
Love that this place has only one dumpling offered on its menu. Do one thing and do it right.
Despite its lower score, many crawlers liked the simplicity of Fried Dumpling and rated the dumplings high. The inconsistency in our order however pulled enough negative ratings to drop Fried Dumpling in the charts severely.
Bottom Tier: 8th Place
Jin Mei Dumpling House
Overall Average: 6.35
Jin Mei Dumpling House has been around for a couple of years now and offers 5 pork and chive dumplings for $1 out of a tiny shop on Henry.
The dumpling house was impressively run by a single woman, the owner who handmade and cooked each dumpling herself, so our order took a bit of time to come out, but they were all fresh and hot.
Excellent dumpling execution
Standard fare for dumplings, not particularly memorable/outstanding but gets the job done
Very gingery, yum!
Flavorful filling, and the casing was moderate at best. The oil was sweet and flavorful. The sauce was too gingery.
Similar to tasty dumpling, but less doughy & smaller. flavor is ok, not juicy. skin is still on doughy side. just ok, sauce is meh.
Nice amount of dough. Kinda mediocre?
Classic style heavy on chives, roughly hand made, heavy ginger, fried ok, sauce nothin special.
Very nice traditional dumpling. Classic
The dumplings were OK, pretty bland but still good.
Most flavorful dumplings. Great ginger and chive tastes in the meat and sauce. Standard and good dumplings but not particularly exceptional.
Stuffed the most out of all the places
Many crawlers thought that Jin Mei made the dumplings more like the ones you find in China, more authentic to what a dumpling should be with a higher chive-to-pork ratio and fresh ginger. Many crawlers also thought that Jin Mei made them a bit on the cheaper side, and not as much meat-flavor as there should be. When all was said and done, Jin Mei was third from last in 8th place.
Bottom Tier: 7th Place
China North Dumpling
Overall Average: 6.42
China North Dumpling on Essex serves up 12 fried pork and chive dumplings for $3, making it one of the less expensive places to fill your belly on the list.
Not the greatest flavor and a little too greasy.
Meh...noodle dry. Good standard dumplings, can't quite compete with the others
Plain, juicy fatty meat, overly greasy, not he best but not he worst, plain sauces
Fresh-fried and crispy but not as flavorful as others.
Meat already had been marinated and its flavor could hold its own w/o help of sauce. Texture was excellent,. Meat to skin ratio on point
Great value prop and delicious tasting overall.
Limited flavor, with a poor quality casing. Filling was alright, and the dumpling was over-cooked.
Best dump for a buck
Doughy, deep fried, more vegetable in the filling vs others (ie. less meat), overall meh.
Again, inconstancy killed the rating here. We got some that were well cooked, some overcooked, some too greasy, some dried out. China North pulled down some great scores, but unfortunately the good dumpling ratings were not enough to overpower the bad, and China North scored 7th place overall.
Middle Tier: 6th Place
C & L Dumpling House
Overall Average: 6.65
C & L Dumpling House offers up 4 pork and chive dumplings for $1.25 placing it in the middle of the pack when it comes to pricing. (Side note: Can you believe $1.25 is the middle of the pack! Gotta love Chinatown!)
The outer shell here was well toasted and the meat was excellent. There was great fat content in the dough, and both sauces were amazing.
The sauce here is amazing!! Dumps are standard fare, but the sweet chili sauce puts it over the top
Doughy, medium thickness skin. filling & flavor ok. best chili sauce.
Tasty crispy dough outing and solid dumpling over all.
Too much breading
Biggest dumplings of crawl, sauce good, long preparation time, average flavor
Noodle probably the weakest, but filling with most flavor with strong chive and ginger taste. Sauce did not add much to flavor.
C & L had a thick, well fried casing that most tasters liked. A few crawlers thought it was too much dough, but for the most part, the casing and chili sauce at C & L helped it rise to the middle tier above its competitors.
Middle Tier: 5th Place
Overall Average: 6.90
Tasty Dumpling on Mulberry sits directly across from Columbus Park and was our first spot on the list, serving up 5 dumplings for $1.
Great amount of chive and pork fat with crisp outside. I want more.
The crispness of the dumplings and the dough to meat ratio was spot on. I felt as if the vinegar really added to the flavor of the meat. Great taste overall.
Tasty Dumpling delivers on the taste, but sauce definitely helps complete the tasty factor.
It's the winner. Calling it. I'm also extremely hungry.
The crispy dough outing was perf, but still didn't make these the winning dumplings.
Dumplings have good juice factor, but flavor was lacking. Skin texture was more doughy then desired. When sauced in vinegar dumpling jumps a point. Pretty decent.
Thick skin with great flavor; crispy bottom. Very fresh tasting chives, great flavor in pork, and very flavorful oil. Mediocre sauce, though.
The dumping dough was crispy and chewy in perfect ratio. And the filling was delicious too. Significantly better plain.
Fresh pork, high pork to chive ratio, nice crispy exterior. Sauce too vinegary
Super fresh and delicious! Great balance of pork and chive.
The crispness is nicely balanced by the smooth dough!
Good portion, skin too doughy/thick, juicy (a bit too oily). flavor is good. sauce is too watery, doesn't enhance much.
Because this was the first spot on the list, many reviewers were cognizant of the fact that hunger could affect ratings, so several people went back and changed Tasty Dumpling with a higher rating after visiting a few spots.
Most crawlers thought the ratios of these dumplings (meat to chives, filling to dough, fat to meat) was just right. Nobody mentioned any cooking issues, major breakage or anything else bad, making Tasty Dumpling strong enough to be in the top half of the results.
Middle Tier: 4th Place
Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles
Overall Average: 7.20
Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles on Doyers Street has been around for about 6 years now and serves up one of the more expensive dumplings on the crawl with 10 for $6.25.
It should be noted that this dumpling was slightly different than the rest because their Fried Pork Veg. Dumpling contains boiled cabbage instead of chives, leading to a more juicy interior filling. As a group, we decided the difference was not significant enough to disqualify it from the crawl, so here we are!
The flavor of these dumplings is out of this world. The vinegar sauce was practically perfect and the softness was ideal.
OMG these dumplings, with their ginger spice and extra soupiness, were super delicious and flavorful. Definitely a top choice!
Nice well-rounded flavor
Cabbage and pork dumpling, ginger, sweeter and well cooked, juicy, flavorful bite sized
Well-flavored oil and overall flavor. Nice sauce too!
Great skin that was very thin. Filling was great, and had an excellent sweet sauce.
The ruffles tasted good! Ideal balance of crispness and dough-iness.
Cabbage dumplings were excellent! Gingery, skin was not too doughy, wasn't too greasy.
Very good. best skin so far. flavor is good. juicy, decent size, though smaller than some (could be due to the thinness of the skin). Sauce is very good, sweet & sour taste.
Like the cabbage in this one
Ehhh it was okay. Good pan fried markings
Beautifully crafted dumplings. Lots of pork fat that stays on your lips with excellent noodle. Sauce with vinegars with sweet ginger taste.
The Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles dumpling was loved by most, with a good combination of pork filling, cabbage, ginger and spices, well cooked with a non-greasy exterior and excellent pairing with a crafted vinegar dipping sauce to compliment.
Upper Tier: 3rd Place
Overall Average: 7.38
Noodle Village on Mott was the most expensive dumpling house on the crawl at 6 for $5.75. The settings is more of a restaurant than the other spots, and it was packed with the lunch crowd when we arrived. We had to wait a good bit for the order to come up, and given all of this, we didn't have high hopes for the dumplings going in. So how did they fare?
Excellent sauce, ginger sweet. High chive content, well fried on outside, took longer to prepare, but very tasty and worth it.
Girth, sheer girth. And deliciousness. Huge dumplings and amazing taste. The garlic / vinegar stop was INSANE and easily my favorite so far.
Much larger dumplings...possibly overfilled. Less fat and chive ratio compared to others. Sauce wonderful combination of vinegar, sugar, spice and literally everything nice that could exist in this world.
So much filling! Great ratio of pork/chive to dough.
Large and in charge, these fried dumplings were delicious! And that garlic soy sauce was the bomb.
More filling and lather than the others, delicious. Second best dough
Great filling. Delicious combo of solid filling and thin skin. But at $1 per dumpling I'll have to skip in lieu of cheaper options.
The dumplings were packed, juicy and flavorful. The only reason why it did not get full marks was that it does not fulfill the most important criteria for dumplings. Value. By definition, dumplings have got to be cheap eats. Flavor/texture profiles are on point but disqualified by price.
This was amazing dumpling surprisingly. It's expensive, but huge! Each dumpling larger than a golf ball. The sauce was gingery and amazing. The dumpling was a little sweet which is a little different from the traditional savory dumpling.
Full bodied and robust flavor
My dumplings were a little burnt on the edges which gave them a great crispy quality. The sauce was to die for!
Good skin quality with moderate thickness. flavorful, and solid quality.
Hearty filling & dough (almost like a bun instead of a dumpling). skin is thicker, more doughy. good flavor & juice. sauce is good, sweeter. quite good.
These dumplings were massive in size, like golfballs full of delicious fillings and flavors. They were also about 5 times more expensive than most of the dumplings on this list. While not 5 times better, they were better in flavor than 7 other dumpling spots and nab a well-earned place in the upper tier.
All crawlers loved the sauce here. It had the second highest rating difference between naked and sauced, propelling it to third by a slim margin. The Noodle Village sauce was one of the only ones that had little bits of real garlic and ginger in it, and it was combined well with vinegar, soy sauce and a bit of sugar giving a sweet, savory addition that complimented the dumpling perfectly.
Upper Tier: 2nd Place
Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle
Overall Average: 7.71
Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle on East Broadway is one of the more popular dumpling places for people in the know, and it did not disappoint on dumpling crawl day.
Dumplings slightly oily but the sauce is amazing: garlic, ginger and soy sauce compliment the dumplings perfectly.
Super gingery and meaty. Great sauce.
Used to be my favorite, still good but not as good as the rest. Oily. Exterior, not crispy, amazing sauce though. Good meat flavor inside, juicy and salty
A sauce to warm your soul.
Love the flavor of this dumpling, hints of cumin perhaps? Just the right amount of grease to pair with a beer. Also like the skin of the dumpling, right thickness.
Best sauce so far -- it had a ginger tang to it that I liked.
Good skin - one of the best in the list. filling is smaller, less chives, a little too salty, juicy.
Liked pre-marinated meat flavor but the dumpling was a bit dry.
Nice flavor and freshly folded in front of you.
Solid but not my favorite of the crawl.
So-so casing. Nothing to write home about, but there was a good, solid filling with good flavor. Oil was okay, but the sauce was excellent.
Very delicious dumplings with a great pork mix. The sauce was absurdly tasty.
I can't do this anymore. I love them all...
Again with the sauce! Most of the crawlers enjoyed the dipping sauce so much that they rated it almost a full point higher with a difference of 0.89 on average, the highest margin of all restaurants.
Overall, crawlers thought Lam Zhou was a solid dumpling, with good pork, fresh ingredients, a good balance of flavor components and nicely cooked. Armed with the lowest standard deviation of all places, Lam Zhou dumplings were solid enough to land them firmly in the #2 spot with an overall rating of 7.71.
Upper Tier: 1st Place and WINNER of the 2015 Viewing NYC Dumpling Crawl
Fuzhou Wei Zhong Wei
Overall Average: 8.00
Fuzhou Wei Zhong Wei is probably the only dumpling house on this list the vast majority of people have never heard of or been to. Even seasoned Chinatown diners such as myself and a few others on the crawl had never heard of Fuzhou Wei Zhong Wei. I am so happy we found this hidden gem for this crawl, and that we had some Chinese speaking crawlers with us!
The first thing you need to know is that Fuzhou Wei Zhong Wei is tucked away in the basement of a Chinese business mall sitting directly under the Manhattan Bridge. You enter the East Broadway Mall and pass by businesses selling Chinese herbal remedies and cell phone parts, clothing, suitcases and other wares. You travel downstairs into the basement and pass offices for real estate and travel agents, duck around the corner and see a bright red sign with only a handful of words with English characters in them, including the pinyin for it's Chinese name: "Fuzhou Wei Zhong Wei."
None of the workers spoke a word of English. All signage around the counter was entirely Chinese. We had a few Chinese-born crawlers with us who assisted in ordering, and once we figured out quantity and pricing, we ended up with 4 orders of 10 dumplings, $3.50 each. Not the cheapest dumplings on the crawl, but not the most expensive either. Still a fantastic deal.
After a little exploration in the basement, there is a menu in English on the side wall of the seating area, but without a way to communicate it easily, I would guess ordering here without somebody who knows Mandarin would involve a lot of pointing and back-and-forth.
Fuzhou Wei Zhong Wei was the most chosen preliminary pick, because as soon as word spread that it was hidden away from the general public, and catered mostly to Chinese workers in the East Broadway Mall, we (correctly) assumed it would be amazing.
So what did everybody think of the dumplings?
Delicious taste complemented by a great size and delicious sauce. Texture was great and the meat was tasty.
Best. Dumplings. Ever. Fluffy yet crispy outside, extra chives inside, and the best red chili sauce to top it off!
Perfectly fried all around :) really good balance of flavor between the dumpling and the sauce
Cool hidden setting. Deep crisping was nice but possibly made up for smaller amount of filling and less favor.
Delicious if I could only eat a single dumpling. But if I had my choice to eat a whole plate, it's still not my number one.
Best flavor, very chivy. hearty filling. skin is fully fried & doughy - a little thick. sauce is good. if the skin was thinner, or maybe if the dumpling was pan-fried, it would be better.
Great Fukienese flavor.
Amazing poofy fried exterior, moist flavorful interior, pork low, chive high, sauce so flavorful, hidden gem
Crispy with great flavor. Sweet casing, with moderate thickness. Good, meaty filling, with excellent sauce.
Lots of chives, kind of greasy.
Dumpling is completely fried--which is new... but delicious! the ambience of the place takes the cake though. The sauce was also great.
Fully fried dumplings which tasted great, but will not be good to have more than 3-5 in one sitting. Overpowered with greasiness. But the first dumpling you eat is delicious
Wow, so the crawlers were not all convinced! Most thought these were the best dumplings to ever be served, expertly fried with fantastic texture, flavor and ratios. But some thought it was a little greasy, or too heavy, or too chivy. When all the ratings were tallied and the points averaged out, Fuzhou Wei Zhong Wei came out on top, edging out Lam Zhou for the number 1 spot by 3 tenths of a point.
Congrats to Fuzhou Wei Zhong Wei, and all the places on the crawl. And congrats to the crawlers who sacrificed their bellies to successfully devour 20+ dumplings on a cold Autumn afternoon.
Thanks to Angeline Quintilla, Bessie Chu, Brent Terry, Mary Beth Martinez, and Sophie Chung for snapping additional photos!
A Note on Naked vs. Sauced
When coming up with the methodology, we thought that each restaurant's sauce would contribute greatly to the overall rating, so we wanted to try one with and one without sauces. In the end though, once all the points were tallied, the difference between the naked and sauced dumplings was really negligible, adding less than a point to each dumpling on average.
If you like dumpling sauce, use it, if you don't, skip it. You will most likely have the same relative experience. I say try a few with and a few without, then you will know for sure!
A Note on the Results
When we did our West Village Burger Crawl the results were much more consistent, with the top spot grabbing nearly unanimous votes of perfection. In this dumpling crawl, the results were across the board, even for the winner. When averaged we can get a good picture, but it is worth noting that there seem to be more variables in play here.
In the burger crawl, we only had 4 burgers split into ¼ so it was easier to get just 4 items prepared at a consistent level. On this dumpling crawl we ordered 50 dumplings at each restaurant, so naturally, some were better prepared and better cooked than others, even in the same order. This could explain some of the contradictory reviews at the same locations. The standard deviation on these ratings were 0.958 at lowest, and 2.110 at highest, showing there was a ton af variance in opinion.
In addition, many of our crawlers grew up eating homemade Chinese food and are skewed towards the more chivy, less fried variants, whereas the more popular spots in Chinatown tend to be more heavily fried and pork-heavy, leading to a bit of polarization in the reviews based on background.
While we stand by our results and our #1 pick of Fuzhou Wei Zhong Wei, you should really try a bunch for yourself to see what kind of dumpling lover you are, and use our review to help you figure out which spot is your #1.
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