88 Palace, NYC
Cuisine: Chinese, Dim Sum
Price: $10 total per person
Small plates $2.00, Medium $2.75, Large $3.25 (weekend prices)
Address: 88 E Broadway, NYC 10002
The only times I had been on East Broadway were during my college days when I would take the $20 round trip Chinatown bus to visit the sparkling metropolis of NYC. The Chinatown buses all drop their passengers off underneath the Manhattan Bridge, and I would end up hailing a cab from there because I had no clue how to get anywhere or where I was exactly.
To me, East Broadway is deep Chinatown. Rarely will you find any tourists here, nor any street peddlers loitering around the sidewalks whispering quietly to passerbys, “Handbag, handbag, Louis Vuitton handbag.” There aren’t any funny signs with mistranslated English worlds primarily because there aren’t any English words printed at all here. The area around East Broadway is local territory, and unless I were feeling very brave, I would not venture here without a native Chinese speaker. Luckily, my parents were the ones who brought me here, so I just went with it.
For other Chinatown spots, check out this Chinatown Food Crawl!
88 Palace is located on 88 East Broadway underneath the Manhattan Bridge. The restaurant is located on the second floor of the East Broadway Mall, which is akin to an indoor flea market. The mall is dilapidated and dingy, which is reminiscent of some of the shopping centers in Hong Kong. I mean that as objectively as possible… maybe the word “authentic” would be most appropriate to describe the venue. In the center of the mall, here is a narrow escalator that leads up to a massive banquet hall that is decorated in the typical Chinese fashion: grandiose multi-tiered chandeliers hang from the ceilings and golden phoenixes and dragons emerge from the red cloth walls.
According to some regulars, the restaurant has been around for 15+ years (and the decor appears to have been unchanged since inception), although when we arrived the banner said the restaurant was celebrating 8 years in business. 88 Palace has undergone frequent management changes, so perhaps the sign was referring to the current regime. The “double eight” in the current name is used in Chinese culture to reference “eternal prosperity” as the Cantonese word for “eight” (baat) sounds similar to the word for “fortune” (faat). Additionally, there is a visual resemblance between “88” and the character 囍 which means “double joy.”
88 Palace serves up traditional dim sum with women pushing carts all around the dining room. There is even a separate cooking station “Dai Pai Dong” serving typical custom-ordered Hong Kong street food stall dishes.
Compared to other Manhattan yum cha spots, Ping’s is the closest in price and food quality, although 88 Palace may be slightly better (plus the cart experience versus servers carrying trays). However, you can still tell 88 Palace is fare is of fairly cheap quality when you see the minuscule amount of stuffing in the roast pork buns or meat filling in the Lo Mai Gai (lotus wrapped sticky rice). Overall impression: Not the best but decent quality for the price.
Yum cha, which literally translates to “drinking tea” in Cantonese, refers to a dining experience that includes drinking Chinese tea and eating dim sum, which is a varied range of traditional small dishes (essentially Chinese tapas). Yum cha is basically how Chinese people do brunch, as dim sum is usually served in the morning to early afternoon.
Guk Pou (Pu’er / Bolay tea with Chrysanthemum flowers)
My favorite tea to drink for yum cha is Guk Pou, which is a mixture of Bolay tea and Chrysanthemum flowers — “Bolay tea” also known as “Pu’er” (pu-erh) is a strong dark tea known for its medicinal qualities, and is often served with dim sum to help cut the greasiness. The house tea that is usually served depends on the restaurant, but you can always request what type of tea you want when you sit down.
Har gau (steamed shrimp dumpling)
Shrimp dumplings are usually my benchmark from judging dim sum restaurant; the har gau here is better quality than Ping’s but Red Egg’s is still the best
Har cheong (steamed rice noodle roll with shrimp)
One of my must-order dishes
Gow Choi Gau (shrimp and chive dumpling, plus I think there was some pork)
The dumplings are first steamed, and then pan-fried… the gow choi gau is quite yummy here
San Jook Ngau Yook Kau (steamed beef meatball)
Pai Gwat (steamed spareribs in a black bean sauce served with taro)
Normally, the spareribs are cut into small bit-sized cubes but 88 Palace left them in large chunks… this is just indication of cooking laziness / cheapness
Lo Mai Gai (glutinous rice with chicken, mushrooms, Chinese sausage, scallions, dried shrimp in a lotus leaf wrap)
Also an indication of cheap quality: barely any meat filling within the rice ball… 88 Palace definitely skimped on this *sigh*
Yeung Ke Ji (eggplant stuffed with fish paste)
Lots of online menus say this is shrimp paste, but my dad insists it’s really fish (or at least primarily fish and some shrimp)
Fung Zau “Phoenix Claw” (chicken feet)
Now we get to the weirder stuff only Chinese people will eat: chicken feet! In Chinese, it is more elegantly referred to as “Phoenix Claws.” The chicken feet is usually steamed and then stewed in black bean and sugar sauce. It is difficult to eat because of all the tiny bones and you are essentially just eating the slow roasted skin… but I love it! This is one of my favorite dim sum dishes
Ngau Ja cart (Beef Tripe Stew with Daikon)
This is another dish most non-Chinese would not normally try — I call it “beef tripe stew” to not scare people off, but essentially it is “beef innards stew.” It contains more than just tripe (which is stomach), but also contains pieces of intestines and lung, which are all stewed together with garlic, ginger, bean paste, daikon, and garnished with scallions.
Gok Char Siu Bao (baked BBQ pork buns)
Roast pork buns can be baked or steamed; I usually prefer the latter as the former usually has a glaze I find too sweet, but most people enjoy that part the most. 88 Palace definitely skimped again on the meat filling though… the ratio of BBQ pork to bread is minuscule.
Lai Wong Bao (steamed custard bun)
This is my favorite of all Chinese baked goods; the sweet, crumbly custard within a fluffy white bun is so delicious!
Jin Deui (sesame seed ball filled with lotus paste)