two side by side images, the left displaying a minimalistic salon with two orange chairs and plants, and the right image showing bottles with white bottle caps of an unsweetened soy drink called Fong On

Grandlife guide

Get Lost in Chinatown

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It’s borderline impossible to list all of the reasons why you should get completely lost in New York City’s one and only Chinatown. With many a “best-of” guide already in existence for egg tarts, dumplings, and bubble tea, we’re going with our favorite under-the-radar spots. Spoiler alert: we’ve got you covered in the fashion, beauty, books, coffee, and food departments, from a very Instagram-friendly, family-run tofu shop to a supremely cool private hair studio that’s newish to the neighborhood. 

Fong On 

Don’t be fooled by its sleek, sun-drenched, and very Instagrammable interior—Fong On is the oldest family-run tofu and soy milk shop in Manhattan. It originally opened as Fong Inn Foo in 1933, where the Eng family made tofu and soy milk from scratch, but the no-frills Mott Street location shuttered in 2017 due to rent hikes. Thankfully in 2019, Paul Eng, the youngest grandson of one of the founding partners, brought the beloved downtown institution back to life at 81 Division Street. Back again are the family biz staples (with wallet-friendly prices!) like the 16-ounce bottles of soy milk and the classic tofu pudding with your choice of ginger, brown sugar, or almond syrup. Feel free to sweeten things up with a slew of toppings like taro balls, rainbow jelly, red beans, and aloe. If you’re the savory type, then it’s all about Fong On’s silky tofu pudding topped with dried shrimp, fried shallots, pickled radish, scallions, sesame oil, and chili sauce. Tip: Save some room for the sticky ’n’ sweet rice cakes. They’re soy amazing. (Sorry, had to.)

81 Division Street, New York; T. (917) 261-7222

 

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Yu and Me Books

A perfect day in Chinatown should always involve cozying up on a bench in Columbus Park with a caffeinated beverage and a great book. Well, meet the recently opened Yu and Me Books, a charming bookstore-café that perfectly lines the park. Yu and Me Books is the first female Asian-American-owned bookstore in New York City, and owner Lucy Yu has stocked its shelves with works from a range of exceptional authors, often focusing on immigrant stories. Be sure to check out Yu and Me’s event calendar—authors including Ocean Vuong and John Cho have previously stopped by for book signings at this aptly buzzed-about neighborhood newbie. 

44 Mulberry Street, New York; T. (646) 559-1165

 

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Spring Cafe 

For a taste of Chinatown’s vegan scene, check out the newish kid on the block, Spring Cafe, serving up mostly-nutritious yumminess in a casual atmosphere. The space is teeny-tiny but the menu is extensive with inventive twists on café staples like juices, smoothies, salads, soups, plant-based burgers (so good: the Hawaiian vegan burger with pineapple and agave mustard sauce), and sandwiches (also so good: the hashbrown and vegan cheese on organic multigrain). Craving something with a kick? Order the spicy Zhajiang Noodles with braised vegan pork and tofu, veggies, and chili oil. If you’re in the mood for something less substantial but just as tasty, opt for the bao buns, the taro spring rolls, and/or a side of seriously delectable sweet potato fries. We highly suggest gulping everything down with the psychotically refreshing pineapple iced green tea. 

153d Centre Street, New York; T. (212) 226-9669

 

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Shapes New York 

Shapes New York is our kind of hair salon. It’s stylish, relaxing, and intimate. In other words, it strays seriously away from the pretentious, stressful, and soulless energy often found in a slew of the city’s overpriced salons and cookie-cutter hair factories. Stylist MJ Kim, who’s been in the hair scene for over a decade and has amassed a dedicated clientele, opened this private hair studio in the summer of 2020. With an inconspicuous facade that’s tucked away on a rather residential block, stepping into this hidden gem feels like an extension of Kim’s (impeccably designed with good-vibes-only) home. There’s always killer tunes filling the small, bright studio, with Kim’s turntables, speakers, and an extensive vinyl collection on display. At Shapes New York, which offers crazy, sexy, cool cuts ‘n’ coloring as well as beard trims, perms, and keratin treatments, clients can expect a truly fantastic experience. Don’t believe us? Just check out the Google reviews, which, spoiler alert, all give Shapes New York five stars. Translation: There’s no risk of leaving here in tears via a botched bob. In fact, if you’re anything like us, you’ll likely never want to leave/want to record swap and become BFF with the superstar behind the scissors. 

56 Henry Street, New York; T. (626) 494-5212 

 

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Eckhaus Latta

Where have all the cool kids gone? Answer: They haven’t stopped combing the racks at fashion brand Eckhaus Latta’s first retail store, which initially got the downtown fashion world in a downright tizzy after opening its doors on East Broadway in 2018. Discreetly located in a second-floor suite above a small shopping mall and nestled under the Manhattan Bridge, the 300-square-foot space exudes a barebones studio apartment vibe, with white plaster walls, garments hanging from industrial metal pipes, and a fitting room veiled by a grey vinyl curtain. Design duo Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta’s head-turning, sartorial-slaying garments are the focus, and really liven up the sparse space. An additional lively element occurs when the store briefly trembles as subway trains race across the Manhattan Bridge.  

75 East Broadway #206, New York; T. (212) 796-2400

 

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Aujla’s Indian Coffee House 

Located a few steps away from Seward Park and next door to the Bode Flagship Store is Bode Tailor Shop which offers, you guessed it, full-service tailoring and alterations in a quaint and charmingly homey environment. Also offered: Cardamom-infused coffee, teas, sandwiches, and Indian bites, including reasonably priced samosa, jalebi, and dal, as well as seasonal hot lunches, like Chana Masala with warm Roti. That’s all thanks to Aujla’s Indian Coffee House, owned by Aaron Aujla of design studio Green River Project, which shares the digs with Bode Tailor Shop. (The tailor shop is owned by Aujla’s wife, Emily Adams Bode Aujla, designer of her eponymous namesake brand, Bode.) Fifty-Six Hester Street was home to neighborhood staple, Classic Coffee Shop, for over forty years until closing its doors in 2021, and Aujla’s Indian Coffee House has managed to keep a bit of its neighborhood-y spirit alive—Aujla’s uses the coffeemaker they inherited from the previous longtime tenant to give their customers their caffeine X cardamom fix.

56 Hester Street, New York; T. (332) 215-9319

 

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Oo35mm 

This glorious cosmetics boutique has made skincare shelfie dreams come true since 2009, long before the skincare YouTuber craze. Need a hydrating, antioxidant-rich sheet mask? A ginseng-infused toner? You’ll find whatever you’re looking for here—that is, if you don’t walk past the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it staircase that leads you into this vibrant alcove. Inside, the shelves are stocked with skincare goodies from predominantly K-Beauty and J-Beauty brands including Hado Labo, COSRX, and Pyunkang Yul. Oo35mm also offers a wide range of makeup, beauty tools, hair and body care products, and fun gifts. But don’t you worry about becoming overwhelmed when eyeing the shelves overflowing with sunscreens and serums and essences, oh my!—the friendly employees really know their skincare and they often provide free samples post-purchase. Win, win. 

81 Mott Street, Floor 2, New York; T. (718) 496-8163

WORDS: Alex Catarinella

FEATURED IMAGERY: @shapesnewyork; @eckhaus_latta

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