Posted on 27 January 2010.
There’s not too much you can do with a dollar these days, but one threadbare George Washington will go the distance in Brooklyn’s Chinatown, on the southwest side of Sunset Park. The N train is best way to get there–ride it, as locals say, until you see blue sky–aka the Eighth Ave. stop. That’s become a nickname for this area, and the inspiration for Blue Sky Delicious Corporation (whose tasty steam cakes and fluffy frosted treats you can find at 4518 8th Ave.). Then make your way north, past the well-stocked fish shops clustered around 58th Street, fresh tofu vendors (keep an eye out for a huge stockpot in a cart) and sidewalk cobblers.
One of the best ways to enjoy explore the neighborhood is to arrive hungry, and snack your way home. Seventy cents is the going rate for oyster cakes from Red Apple Fast Food (4817 8th Ave.). Oysters, scallions, rice, flour and pork mingle in these thick disks of briny fried deliciousness topped with a few crisp peanuts. The best way to get your hands on one is to hang around making bivalve motions until they emerge piping hot from the kitchen.
The 70-cent pumpkin steamed buns from Noodle Station on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 52nd Street are another under-the-radar treat. Slightly sweet, these are an unusual alternative to the shop’s savory chicken bun and the sugary red bean. This bakery has a range of bready sweets, as well as toast sandwiches and noodle soups.
No list would be complete without mentioning Ba Xuyen, makers of Sunset Park’s best bánh mì. In this unadorned shop, crisp baguettes filled with pate, ham, butter, pickled carrot and diakon (the classic) or BBQ pork will reward the trip, all for under $5. Add to it a thick taro milkshake, and finish with a much-needed cup of fierce Vietnamese coffee.
Serious noodle lovers should head to Lan Zhou for a bowl of hand pulled beef noodles or noodles with dumplings (about $5). Wong Wong Noodle Shop offers “peel” noodles (flat, hand-cut strips) in addition to the stretched. Then there are the meaty concoctions at Yun Nan Flavor Snack (best name ever). The man behind the counter in the tiny shop will tell you proudly that the flavors of the Yunnan Province in Southwest China set these rice-noodle soups ($4.25-5.50) apart. (For more food destinations, see Brooklyn Based’s Grocery Guy Field Trip.)
When it comes to shopping, it’s easy to wax poetic about the condiments, the custard cakes, the pieces and parts of fish, beast and fowl at Hong Kong Market, right off the Eighth Avenue N stop. But it’s also a great place to go searching for lovely blue-and-white patterned soup bowls ($3.50 per), cooking implements, multi-colored sponges, and other home necessities. You can find an even wider array of kitchen products at Eversun Kitchen Products, which has every kind of rice cooker, tong or spider strainer you could desire.
Competing 99-cent stores dot Eighth Avenue and wares spill onto the sidewalk–a rainbow of plastic bins, bowls and plates, cleaning supplies, hair ties, clips, gels, decorations and a few inexplicable but enticing objects all at cut-rate prices. Brokelyn has recession-appropriate list of dos and don’ts when shopping at these bargain basements.
The cobbler stationed daily outside Happy House Seafood Restaurant (5014 8th Ave.) will resole your shoes in about 10 minutes, for about $10. In warmer weather you can just sit in stockinged feet and wait–during the winter months it’s advisable to bring an extra pair of shoes in hand. He can re-stitch and polish, too. He’s not the only cobbler who sets up a cart along this stretch, but the crowd around his stand speaks to his popularity.
After you’ve filled your belly and fixed your shoes, there’s the nightlife. For a taste of times past, when the neighborhood was populated by Northern Europeans, Irish and Poles, head to the Soccer Tavern for a pint before you hop back on the N train. If you prefer to get your sing on, 100FUN (932 60th St.) offers private rooms, food (including BBQ) and drinks. The Chinese song catalog is large, the English less organized, but they have the jams if you’re willing to take the time to page through. A four-person room runs $40 per hour, one that fits 30 goes for $100. The newer Crown KTV (848 64th St.) has similar offerings, and just got a license to serve hard alcohol. They’ve apparently run with it–you can score a room with Hennessey bottle service for a mere $400, which trust us, will do wonders for your Cher impersonation.
This article first appeared in Brooklyn Based.