Unlike the neighborhoods of Flushing, Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, which represent a more varied cuisine of Chinese Food given the heritage of their residents for the last 20-30 years, the Upper West Side had a much more predictable style of Chinese dining options until recently.
For most of my youth, the restaurants that provided our many takeout and delivery meals came from places with some variation of the words Garden, Empire, and Szechuan. They included pretty standard fare that could be recognized across the country as “Chinese” but would much more accurately be described as Chinese-American. And while that was just fine for most people, we’ve been lucky to see a change of offerings in the area that reflect the more wide variety of options that you might expect from such a vast country with such a large population of humans.
Between the continuing growth of the Asian community in the area that’s mostly due to the Universities sitting just above the boundaries of the Upper West Side, and the demands of the more foodie-prone residents, we can now enjoy excellent dim sum, super spicy dried hot pot, and a whole lot more delicious offal than we could before.
Here are the best Chinese restaurants on the Upper West Side!
258 West 109th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam)
One of the more recent additions to the neighborhood takes its place just one block south of the new Asian market H Mart which provides residents a plethora of supplies to make authentic Asian dishes from the comforts of their own kitchen. But when a night out calls, Atlas is a great place to let others cook for you and serve you in their beautifully designed space that has been home to a couple of other restaurants and even a nail salon a couple of decades ago. And as relaxing as a spa may be for those who can afford it, the ambiance at Atlas provides a similarly soothing Zen for an evening of excellent dining.
The menu here offers everything from those Americanized Chinese comforts like Kung Pao Chicken to the more exciting dishes like Braised Frogs with Chopped Red Chili. But if you want my suggestion, start with the Hunan specialties as the province is where the chef is from and the Hunan fried rice will make you question all other kinds of fried rice you’ve ever shoveled into your mouth before. This is not just a dish to soak up other sauces, but a spicy and flavorful one that can stand proudly on its own. The best part about Atlas Kitchen is while it may be an elevated affair from the takeout joints that used to be rampant in the area the prices are very reasonable for the kind of quality you get.
380 Amsterdam Avenue (corner of 78th Street)
Jong Fong is a New York City dim sum institution. The original restaurant can still be found in Manhattan’s Chinatown and has been serving dumpling-lovers since 1978. Lucky for us, they decided to expand to our area, so we don’t have to fight those Chinatown crowds for some tasting little bites of love. And even more lucky for us–they’ve added lunch service to the operation so that we can experience the joys of their grub before the sun goes down. Although there are certainly some differences between the two restaurants, the quality of the food remains top-notch and here you can pair your edible treasures with some premium cocktails. As with most dim sum places, this spot is best with a group so you can share a variety of things to excite your tastebuds.
2170 Broadway (between 76th and 77th Streets)
Another restaurant that started downtown before moving north, RedFarm has now included an expansion overseas as it recently opened an outpost in London. This experience is much further from any kind of traditional Chinese dining experience you may have had. And the items that you have seen on menus since you were a kid should probably be avoided here. With prices much higher than most of their counterparts, I wouldn’t advise you spend $16 on an order of subpar soup dumplings when the less familiar items are really where the party is at.
My favorites are the Crispy Duck and Crab Dumplings, the Pac Man Shrimp Dumplings, and if you’re looking for some Jewish friendly eats, I highly recommend the Pastrami Egg Rolls–perfect for any Christmas traditions that don’t require the actual celebration of Christmas. The vibe here is very hip, and you’re more likely to be served by a hipster with a stache than someone who’s one their second language. The drinks are another highlight here, which is no surprise in such a scene, but the exciting part is that they have some really lovely drinks for those forgoing the alcohol, which is an oft-forgotten group of diners.
Xi’an Famous Foods
2675 Broadway (between 101st and 102nd Streets)
Anyone who’s been in the know about quality Chinese food in NYC has made the trip to Flushing, Queens to visit the beloved underground market known as the Golden Shopping Mall which is certainly a far cry from the shopping malls that my sister and I would run off to in Midtown or even across the river in Newport, NJ. But this mall has been the starting point for many of the city’s most cherished eateries, including Xi’an Famous Foods. The father and son team brought their beloved Xi’an favorites to the US for the first time, sharing the combination of Middle Eastern and Chinese spices that are prevalent in the city because of its location along the Silk Road. Since 2005, the restaurant has become a favorite of all kinds of eaters and has expanded to 15 locations throughout 3 boroughs including this spot on the Upper West Side. There are plenty of dishes for you to try, but my favorites time and again include their Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger, Concubine Chicken Hand-Ripped Noodles, and the Spicy & Sour Lamb Dumplings.
108 Food Dried Hot Pot
2794 Broadway (corner of 108th Street)
And for yet another completely different style of Chinese food on the Upper West Side, another newer addition is 108 Food Dried Hot Pot. This is a casual eatery more in the line of Xi’an Famous Foods, where you order and pay at the counter and find your own seating. The specialty of the food here, however, is very different. This cuisine comes to us from Chong Qing, which is a city in the Schezuan province, which means if you love spice this is a place for you. They have some standard items like chow mein and fried rice, but you would be doing yourself a disservice by not getting the dried hot pot. If it’s in the name of the restaurant, there’s a very good chance that’s what you should order at said restaurant. And this is no exception.
The supremely friendly faces will guide you through the process and even make suggestions if you ask for them. You can certainly keep it 100% vegetarian if you’d like, but if you choose to add meat/seafood, then they’ll prepare two bowls for you where they weigh out the vegetables and proteins separately as you’ll be charged by the pound. Once you’ve selected from the wide range of beautiful ingredients on offer they’ll ask for your spice level, which ranges from no spice to 4-peppers hot. When it’s served they’ll provide rice–and if you’re dining with others then you can choose to share one bowl–you just inform them how many portions you need when you’re ordering. The food is packed with flavor and freshness with just the perfect amount of heat per your own direction and all at a very affordable price tag where it’s easy to spend between $15-20 to leave you full and delighted.
One cannot speak of Chinese food on the Upper West Side without acknowledging a longstanding legend in its field; Shun Lee West. Legend has it that the East Side original was where the Chinese-American staple, General Tso’s Chicken first debuted in NYC. So that gives you an idea of the kind of dishes being served here. The food’s nothing amazing, but the space itself and the performative dishes are really where you get your money’s worth at this very classic fancy restaurant. And in keeping with the spirit of UWS old-timers, the other honorable mention is La Dinastia, which is one of the few remaining Cuban-Chinese fusion joints. If you are looking for a great deal on some classics, with a side of platanos–this is the place for you. It’s not necessarily exciting, but it’s definitely reliable.