An AAPI-inspired food tour with Lisa Nguyen
When I started my YouTube career as a food videographer, I was traveling to capture footage of small and family-owned businesses across Wichita, Kan. As the content on my YouTube channel has continued to evolve with YouTube Shorts, I’m not only trying my hand at cooking a variety of cuisines, but I’m also lucky enough to try some of the most incredible dishes from restaurants around the world. Most recently, I visited New York City and celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by going on an all things Asian-inspired food tour.
Using Google Maps, I found five of the most popular locally-owned Asian restaurants in downtown Manhattan. Was my belly up for the challenge? 100% yes!
Stop #1: Shanghai 21 in Chinatown
We asked the server for the three most popular dishes and he came back with soup dumplings (Xiao Long Bao), Shanghai noodles and the sauteéd shredded beef, Szechuan-style.
The soup dumplings with their soy vinegar dipping sauce truly hit the spot. The amount of filling to wrapper ratio was perfect!
The Shanghai noodles were nice and chewy and I kept going back for more.
But the real crowd-pleaser was the sauteed beef. Despite being soaked in the sauce, it kept its crispy texture.
Highlight: My favorite dish here was certainly the shredded beef. Something about the variety of textures in the amazing sauce just got to me.
Stop #2: Rice Kitchen in SoHo
We got one of each tofu bites flavors, which included soy sauce-marinated mushroom, Bulgogi, sweet and spicy chicken, spicy pork and egg. Rounding out our visit was spicy pork Kimbap, and a rice bowl. After we ordered, we realized there was no seating at the store so we took our goodies to a nearby park.
Everything was almost too pretty to eat! The Kimbap were perfect little snack bites, and this was my first time trying tofu bites. I’m not sure why but I was expecting the texture of the tofu to be tough by the looks, but it was actually really soft and yet firm enough to hold everything together.
The egg crepes were new to me because I’ve never had them in these thin strips before. Combined with everything else in the rice bowl, it was a flavor and texture bomb.
Highlight: The tofu bites were true standouts. It was the first time I had them and it has me thinking about different ways to incorporate tofu into my cooking.
Stop #3: Saigon Shack in Greenwich Village
I could drink gallons of Vietnamese coffee, so naturally I ordered Cafe Sua Da to start. We also ordered spring rolls, Banh Mi and Pho.
The spring rolls had shrimp, vermicelli noodles, carrots and greens and were served with a delicious peanut hoisin dipping sauce.
We split the Pho into three bowls, which came with sliced beef, beef balls and brisket.
Finally, we had the Banh Mi which had Vietnamese ham, their house bacon, and paté. It was a solid sandwich with a very crispy baguette.
Highlight: My favorite dish here was the Banh Mi!
Stop #4: Thai Villa in Union Square
Thai Villa is a beautiful restaurant decorated with a waterfall that greets you upon entering.
For appetizers, we tried the server’s recommendation of Ray Rai Nah Phu. It’s made with rice noodles, crab meat and a delicious curry paste — a perfect start to the meal. We continued with the Chilean Sea Bass served with coconut bisque, short ribs Chu Chee and the fanciest shrimp Pad Thai I’ve ever seen.
I had a little bit of everything with the rice. The fish was flaky, and the short ribs were decadently-braised that they just came off the bone. Then we broke into the gorgeously-presented Pad Thai.
The server did a great job at suggesting dishes that complemented each other and making sure none overtook others. Everything was excellent!
Highlight: I loved the short ribs Chu Chee and how they just fell apart in my mouth!
Stop #5: Zen Ramen & Sushi in Midtown South
At our last stop, we tried three different sushi rolls: the Crunchy Roll made with shrimp tempura topped with crab meat and a sweet sauce, the Dynamite Roll with tuna, salmon, avocado, cucumber, spicy crab meat and tobiko, and the salmon roll which had a spicy salmon mix on top.
To end this epic restaurant food tour, we got the green tea tempura ice cream. A delicious way to finish off the day.
Highlight: My favorite roll here was the salmon roll as it had a good hint of spice to it.
Thanks for coming along — the next time you visit New York City, I hope you’ll give these local businesses a try!