Youngmi Mayer's Day Off in NYC's Chinatown Feels Like Home
The comedian dishes on her favorite spicy noodles and where to find rare potato chip flavors.
Chinatown is Youngmi Mayer's safe place in New York City. The comedian and Feeling Asian podcaster moved to the neighborhood in 2020, during the first summer of the pandemic, and quickly felt at home.
Mayer doesn't hesitate when she refers to Chinatown as her favorite neighborhood in the city. "A big part of the reason that I moved to this neighborhood was because I was living in another part of Manhattan and I felt unsafe," she said in a recent interview with Thrillist. "I was living with a lot of tension that I wasn't even aware of until I came to Chinatown."
Chinatown came to her rescue, and welcomed her into its vibrant community. In our new series "Ride With Me," Mayer leads us in a discovery of her own Chinatown, bustling with dainty coffee shops, authentic Chinese supermarkets, and very, very spicy noodles.
By the way, she knows everyone by name. Mayer's Chinatown feels like a small suburban neighborhood. Oddly enough, the pandemic played a major role in welcoming her to the area. "All the people that work in those restaurants, we've just been sort of friends for years," she said. "But during the pandemic, I feel like we really formed these lifelong strong friendships."
Pumpkin spice lattes made with real pumpkin, rare grilled shrimp-flavored Lay's chips, and big dishes of hand-pulled noodles are only some of Mayer's favorite things about Chinatown. Check it out—and don't forget to take notes.
Places to Eat & Drink
Dreamers Coffee House
Hidden away in a very quiet part of Chinatown, Dreamers Coffee House is a tiny nook offering creative craft drinks and small bites. It's one of those places where you can recharge your batteries in peace.
A proud pumpkin spice latte hater, Mayer admits she cannot resist Dreamers' real pumpkin spice latte. "During the winter, Sandy was making her own pumpkin spice mix with real pumpkins and that was so delicious," said Mayer. "I was drinking that every day."
Mayer is absolutely aware that everyone knows this place, but she can't avoid talking about it. It's just too good. A classic Chinatown eatery, Spicy Village is small—and it does tend to get busy.
Mayer's been coming since 2012, and ate their famous hand-pulled noodles throughout her pregnancy. She's even taken her young son to Spicy Village to get him a bowl of tomato and egg noodles.
Don't miss out on Mayer's personal favorite. The Big Tray of Chicken is simply that—a chicken-based mala soup with chicken, served in a big tray.
Chinatown Supermarket of Manhattan
Nothing is really special about Lay's potato chips, unless we're talking about flavors that are hard to find. The Chinatown Supermarket of Manhattan offers a selection of imported Lay's chips, with flavors ranging from lobster to grilled shrimp. No wonder it's Mayer's go-to snack.
Right inside the entrance, you're greeted with a live seafood section, followed by a huge produce area and pantry items on the upper level.
"The reason I started going there so often is because when I first moved to Chinatown, I would go to H Mart and all these Korean markets to get Korean pantry items," Mayer said. "But then I realized that most of those things can actually be found in the Chinatown Supermarket."
Mayer regularly dreams about the food at Bacaro. Their duck ragù dish? A must-order. The steak? Also incredible.
Located on a popular stretch of Division Street, Bacaro delights with both its food and its ambiance. An old-school chandelier hangs from the ceiling at the entrance, setting the tone for a romantic dinner.
Mayer usually comes here to sip on a nice glass of wine, snack on a meat and cheese plate, and hang out with the staff. After years of stopping by, she eventually learned how to recreate some of their dishes. "They serve the steak with these smashed whole mini-potatoes with rosemary, and I learned how to make it at home," she said, proudly.