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What to eat in New York for Lunar New Year

Discover the best holiday dishes in the Big Apple’s three largest Chinatowns.

By Mark Orwoll | January 17, 2024

New York City is home to the country’s largest Chinese population, so it’s no surprise that the wealth of Chinese cuisine is equally abundant. Whether you visit Manhattan’s original Chinatown, downtown Flushing in Queens or the newest Chinese outpost in Brooklyn, you’ll find traditional dishes to help celebrate the Lunar New Year. Don’t forget to wish everyone a happy and prosperous new year: Gung Hay Fat Choy!

  • Old-school: Manhattan’s Cantonese neighborhood is picturesque, with restaurants on every corner

  • Regional showcase: Discover a wide range of Asian cuisine in Flushing, Queen’s’ vibrant Chinatown

  • Lucky Street: Eight is the luckiest number in Chinese culture, and the newest New York Chinatown is centered on Eighth Avenue in Brooklyn


With windows full of hanging Peking duck and enticing aromas of fried pork, spicy chicken and vegetable-rich noodle soup rising from mysterious basement-level eateries, Manhattan’s Chinatown ticks off all the boxes for a dining adventure.

Wealth: Dumplings

No matter if they’re fried, steamed or soupy, dumplings represent wealth and prosperity for the new year. The classic crescent-shaped version, fried and filled with meat or veggies, represent the moon promising a bright year ahead, while other dumpling shapes are said to resemble a purse. At trendy Joe’s Shanghai, ask for soup dumplings — filled with pork, crab and a hefty spoonful of broth. True, they look like a moneybag more than a purse, but wealth is wealth.

Prosperity: Spring rolls

With their crispy rice-paper wrappers and meat or vegetable fillings, spring rolls in China are said to resemble gold bars. In Manhattan’s Chinatown however, the tastiest spring rolls are often found in the plentiful Vietnamese restaurants. Vietnamese, like the Chinese, celebrate Lunar New Year with a passion. For some of the most tempting spring rolls, head to Thái Sơn. Who cares if they make theirs like triangles? “Gold bars” are just as valuable (and delicious) whatever shape they take.

Longevity: Handmade noodles

New Yorkers love to debate their favorite Chinese eateries. But when it comes to noodles, which symbolize longevity in Chinese culture, the hand-ripped ones at Xi’an Famous Foods almost always gain a consensus. The wide, chewy, artisanal wheat noodles are longer than average, so you’ll start the Lunar New Year with promises for a particularly lengthy life. Toppings range from stewed pork and cumin lamb to “spicy and tingly beef muscle.” Xi’an is a no-frills spot, but don’t be surprised if you find a line out the door.

Flushing, Queens

The subway ride from Grand Central Terminal to Flushing’s Chinatown takes about 35 minutes, but you’ll feel as if you’ve traveled worlds away. The scene here is a boisterous, youthful and very crowded alternative to its rival across the East River.

Good fortune: Congee

The creamy rice porridge called congee is popular in Hong Kong and Guangdong province, where it’s enjoyed during the holidays and signifies a happy future. At Congee Village, an atmospheric restaurant just beyond Flushing’s busy, shop-filled Main Street, the thick, aromatic soup literally bubbles with heat as it’s set before you. Some like it savory, while others enjoy sweeter versions. The sampan congee — rich with sliced beef, pork skin, scallions and peanuts — is more than enough for a hefty meal.

Unity: Hot pot

Family togetherness is crucial to Lunar New Year celebrations. Since the holiday falls annually in January or February, what better way to gather the clan than by serving a hot pot — a steaming vessel of broth to which the family adds its favorite ingredients. Walk through the pagoda-style entrance at Szechuan Opera, where you’ll find a variety of hot pots. Consider ordering the dish with napa cabbage, bean sprouts and celery cooked in hot-chili-oil broth and topped with your choice of beef, chicken, fish, tofu or pork.

Abundance: Whole fish

The best spot in Flushing to witness the breadth of Chinese cuisine is the New York Food Court at the New World Mall. Try Chinese pancakes at Mojoilla Fresh, sauteed pig kidney at Ke Lai Qin or after-meal sweets at 3 Dessert. For a more traditional Lunar New Year dish, order the braised tilapia at Flavors Fish, complete with head and tail intact. A whole fish represents the promise of abundance in the coming year.

Sunset Park, Brooklyn

This fast-growing Chinatown (the city’s newest) has an easy-going nature. You’ll feel like you’re visiting a quaint Chinese village, but make no mistake: Sunset Park, especially along Seventh and Eighth Avenues, is full of fun dining choices for Lunar New Year — or any time of year.

Luck: Eight ingredients stir-fry

Eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture, so expect plenty of good fortune when you order the Pride of Lucky Eight stir-fry at the Lucky Eight restaurant on Eighth Avenue. The mélange incorporates crunchy bamboo, baby squid, fresh scallions, slices of pork, carrots and more, served over white rice. Like it spicy? Add a drizzle of spicy chili sauce for extra zing. Despite praise from several major publications, you can still get into this unpretentious eatery without a reservation.

A sweet year ahead: Dessert tarts

Egg tarts may be more prevalent, but pineapple tarts are more traditional. Many Lunar New Year celebrants also enjoy Hong Kong-style coconut tarts at the end of a holiday meal. Combining custard powder, milk, butter, eggs, sugar and coconut in a flaky crust, these tarts are not as sweet as they look and pair perfectly with a cup of tea. Pick up a half dozen to take home with you at popular Sunset Park eatery Xin Fa Bakery. These sweet treat experts are well known for their egg tarts, too.

Prosperity and endless fortune: Mango

One of the world’s sweetest fruits looms large in Lunar New Year symbolism: the mango. By tradition, mangoes represent prosperity and fortune. At Mango Mango Dessert, choose from mango pancakes, a mango sundae, mango mousse cake and the highly recommended mango ice cream with mango juice, pomelo and red beans. The interior of the shop is sleek and bright, with lots of young folks enjoying the best meal of the day: dessert.

Explore New York’s Chinatowns during the Lunar New Year celebration and feast on the delicious (and ideally lucky) dishes that are popular during the holiday. Don’t forget, however, that the most important part of a Lunar New Year meal isn’t the food — it’s the friends and family gathered around the dining table.

Mark Orwoll is a veteran journalist and the former international editor of Travel + Leisure magazine, where he was on staff for 30 years. He lives in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley.