On the corner of Bowery and Bayard sits one of New York City’s finest late-night eating establishments, Great New York Noodletown. While one could eat here any time of day – seriously, it’s open from 9AM to 4AM – late night is the main time to indulge in all that this amazing restaurant has to offer. It’s also when Noodletown is the most lively and crowded. Entering from the darkness of the street, head still buzzing from the drinking you’ve just completed, Great New York Noodletown is a beacon of hope for your discombobulated brain, a promise that by partaking in its delicious dishes, your hangover will be cured.
No one really knows who owns Great New York Noodletown – the restaurant has changed hands many times since its opening in 1981 – but regardless of the owner, the restaurant has stayed constant over its almost 35-year existence. Located in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood, Noodletown is a reflection of Hong Kong cuisine, a cuisine that exploded across the United States in the late eighties and early nineties as Hong Kong approached its handover of control to China. With many Hong Kong citizens not wishing to be part of the larger country, they sought immigration instead, settling across the United States and opening restaurants very similar to the cuisine of their former city.
The first thing one notices when entering Noodletown is how brightly lit the restaurant is – something we find to be very common among late night establishments. It’s almost antiseptic. But no one would confuse this place for a hospital cafeteria and a fancy restaurant this isn’t – it truly looks like the place could use a facelift – but the dinginess is part of its allure. It’s like the original owners got a deal on restaurant furniture from a diner that saw its heyday in the 1950s and never saw a need to update.
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After entering the space, you’ll need to select your seats. Most of these seats are at large round tables, and that means that if you don’t have a party large enough to fill the entire table it’s likely you’re going to be seated with other people, which is part of the fun. One of the things that makes Noodletown so special, besides the food, is the eclectic group of people the place attracts. You could be seated with some off-duty cops, locals out for the night, chefs and bartenders who’ve just gotten off work, or any other number of people that inhabit New York City. (If you have an aversion to large communal tables, we’d suggest heading home and ordering takeout instead, late night eating in public may not be for you.)
If you’ve planned ahead, and you’re looking to keep the night going, you may have even brought a bottle of wine along to share with friends and new tablemates. As the restaurant doesn’t sell alcohol beyond Tsingtao, it welcomes BYO.
Service is brusk at best and surly at worst. These servers’ entire job is moving a bunch of – usually drunk – people in and out of Noodletown as quickly as possible. You could be in and out in less than fifteen to twenty minutes if you really wanted to, but part of the appeal of Noodletown is ordering five or six dishes to share and feasting, with the entire meal probably costing you less than twenty bucks a person.
As the name of the restaurant indicates, noodles are one of the main reasons people flock to this late night eatery, with food celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain and David Chang calling the place one of their favorite late night spots. Most popular of all the dishes is the Ginger Scallion Noodles, a delicious dish with strong flavors of ginger and scallions that truly showcases the quality of the hand-pulled noodles. There are a wide variety of other noodle dishes available, but Ginger Scallion is the one people continue to come back for.
Noodles however aren’t the only food item that keeps people flocking to this late-night spot. Hanging in the window is delicious smoked duck and roast pork with extra crispy skin, just waiting to be ordered so it can be chopped and served over a bed of steamed white rice.
And if you happen to come to Noodletown during Soft Shell Crab season, you’ll be able to indulge in some of the best crabs of your life — the Salt Baked Soft Shell Crab — that have simply been wok-fried and doused in a generous amount of salt. If you’re unsure whether or not it’s Soft Shell Crab season, simply look around and see what other people are ordering – Noodletown writes specials like this on a small piece of paper and tapes it to the wall, but no one really ever checks that. Just go with the crowd.