25 Pell St
(between Doyers St & Mott St)
New York, NY 10013
If you live in NYC and like Chinese food at all, chances are you have heard of Joe’s Shanghai, a restaurant in Manhattan Chinatown that is known for its soup dumplings. Joe’s Shanghai has over 2,200 reviews on Yelp and a solid 4-star rating. Its sister restaurant, Joe’s Ginger, only has 247 reviews and a 3-star rating. This isn’t because the food is any worse. This is because the people who go to Joe’s Ginger aren’t the people active on social media. (Case in point. Joe’s Shanghai has a Facebook page and Joe’s Ginger doesn’t.)
Joe, presumably the owner, has smartly branded his soup dumplings across two very different consumer groups by offering the same product in two separate restaurants (that happen to be right next to each other). The tourists, the American NYC-ers, the review-chasers all know about Joe’s Shanghai. On any given weekend night, you’ll see a long line of J.Crew wearing hungry customers waiting outside of Joe’s Shanghai. Joe’s Ginger, on the other hand, almost never has a line and is usually just at capacity with Chinese diners.
This is changing as more people write blog reviews like this one. Here is a happy non-Chinese family slurping down soup dumplings at Joe’s Ginger on Friday night. Notice the tacky pinkish glow from the florescent lighting. Reminds me of all the cheap (and delicious) restaurants in China.
This is the classic Pork Soup Dumplings ($4.95 for 8). The ideal soup dumpling has thin, yet chewy skin. It should be just thick enough so it doesn’t break with the weight of the pork and soup. The soup should be fragrant, hot, and light. Joe’s does a decent job, probably one of the best soup dumplings in Manhattan, but is far from great compared to the ones in China. The skin is a bit thicker than ideal. The soup is also too heavy and greasy. Still tastes delicious enough that I keep coming back.
LAW likes the Crab Meat with Pork Soup Dumplings ($6.95) more than the plain pork ones. I’m coming around to it so haven’t quite made my decision… the crab ones give a nice kick of seafood flavor. It helps cut the fattiness of the pork and soup. Tastes more umami.
Every time I come, I also order at least one dish of “seasonal vegetables” – which is whatever they have that is fresh. We had the Chinese Watercress and Garlic ($12 ish), which is always delicious. Simple, stir-fried wilted watercress with large cloves of garlic.
LAW’s other favorite thing to order at Joe’s is the Crispy Shredded Beef ($12.95). This is a guilty pleasure because we all know that there is probably 10% beef in this dish. The shredded beef is battered and fried until it is crispy like fries and then coated with a greasy sweet and sour sauce. Tastes great with rice.
H.W. requested Mapo Tofu ($8.95). I normally wouldn’t order it at a Shanghainese restaurant because Shanghainese food is not meant to be spicy. Alas, the H.W. was craving it so we got it. Despite the color, and as expected, the tofu wasn’t spicy at all. It wasn’t bad. It was flavorful and still tasted great with rice. But being a Sichuan girl at heart, it annoys me a little that they bother calling it Mapo Tofu when they know they’re just serving up some brown sauce tofu. “Mapo” literally translates to “numbing grandmother.” All Sichuan grandmothers make the spiciest, tastiest, numbing tofu!
Anyway, next time you want soup dumplings, go to Joe’s Ginger. Avoid the lines and be amazed when you see the exact same menu as Joe’s Shanghai at Joe’s Ginger. Get the dumplings. Get some veggies. Get the crispy fried beef. Get a bowl of rice. Skip the tofu.