Food courts are pretty commonplace out in Flushing, but it's hard to remember the last time Manhattan's smaller, more historic Chinatown became home to one of these communal, often slightly chaotic venues. So the new Mott Street Eatery, even though there are really only four vendors currently in operation there, is exciting news.
Mott Street Eatery takes over the old Joy Luck Palace space, located just north of Canal Street in one of the neighborhood's most tourist-clogged stretches (yes, thankfully, when you walk around here it definitely feels like they're back), but the patron base skewed heavily local when I visited this past Saturday afternoon.
The layout is pretty basic, with open vendor booths running up either side of the moderately large space, rows of communal tables filling the center, and a stage in the rear set before a huge digital screen, a holdover from the room's banquet hall days.
While several stalls are occupied by outfits more involved with merchandise and odd-lot packaged goods, there are four main food vendors up and running at this point, with room for a few more. The biggest and busiest by far belongs to an outfit called 89 Eatery at 98 Food Court, which sells a lengthy menu of Cantonese dim sum classics (dumplings, buns, rice rolls, turnip cake, steamed chicken feet) as well as bowls of variously flavored congee and noodle soup, and a whole BBQ section with all of the expected hacked-up meats.
I ate two things from 89 Eatery, and they were both very solid. An order of Shrimp Dumplings gets you four fat shumai, and they are exactly as sweetish and snappy as you want, and my Two Choice of Meat rice platter was loaded with some nicely fatty duck and tender slices of roast pig. I forgot to ask for chili oil or any sort of sauce, but each dish stood up fine on its own.
Shifting gears a bit, Kwan Burger and Pizza specializes in exactly that, with the latter prepared as tricked-out flatbread, topped with things like Pepperoni, Ricotta Cheese, or Peking Duck. The burgers come as standard beef patties, less standard chicken patties, or highly unusual lobster patties, which is what I ate. Considering the relatively low price ($12) and conspicuous amount of grain involved, I was happily surprised by how much it tasted like the crustacean. Messy as hell too, thanks to a lot of lively "special sauce" and melted cheese.
There's a sushi stall from a chef named Jiro, who told me he worked at Tokyo Bay in Tribeca for 18 years before that restaurant closed early in the pandemic. It's called Domo Sushi, and offers everything from a 14-piece $100 omakase to a three-for-$16 maki roll afternoon special. Zhen PIn Cafe is the other active food spot right now, with bubble tea, yogurt drinks, and bakery buns like Pineapple (with or without butter), Black Bean, Coconut Cream, and Sweet Beef.
Zhen Pin Cafe also operates the somewhat confusing iCook AI Kitchen, which was described as a kind of completely autonomous robot kitchen, where raw ingredients are dumped in one end of a hulking stainless steel contraption and a prepared platter of food comes out the other. "No labor, just machines," I was told, and yet also this was the only stall with a tip jar? Anyway, it appeared to still be in testing mode, but the sample they handed me of machine-cooked Garlic Bok Choy was decent enough.
The Mott Street Eatery is located at 98 Mott Street, between Canal and Hester Streets, and is currently open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (@mott.street.eatery)