The longer I live in New York City, the less meaning the word ‘dollar’ has in my world. After all, one of the most painful lessons we learn when we move to the city occurs during our first trip to McDonald’s, when the dollar menu is discovered conspicuously absent. Another comes during our inaugural trip to a New York City dollar store, where even the RC Cola is $1.79.

Chive and Pork Fried Dumplings

However, as I said in my first ever  Sunday in Chinatown piece, Chinatown is an anomaly.  And so it is here. The legend of the dollar dumpling is one that has been passed down from entry-level professional to entry-level professional for eons. Though endangered, it can still be found if you know where to look. And we do. We picked our five favorite spots, and want nothing more than to share them with you.

1. Vanessa’s Dumplings  [Map]
118 Eldridge Street
New York, NY 10002

Perhaps the most well-known of the dollar dumpling spots in Chinatown is Vanessa’s, whose popularity has allowed it to sprout several locations around New York City, including a brand new one on Bedford avenue in Williamsburg.

Pros: Unlike the other four ‘restaurants‘ on the list, Vanessa’s is actually a restaurant. It’s the kind of place you can take your non-adventurous friends without forfeiting your dinner recommendation privileges for the rest of your days. It’s also very busy, which means your dumplings will always be fresh and hot.

Cons: Because it’s so busy, you’ll rarely find a table, and even if you do, you’ll likely need to weaponize your small plastic fork against others to keep it. Finally, Vanessa’s offers only four pork and chive fried dumplings for a dollar, the most expensive dumplings on our list, if you can believe it.

2. Prosperity Dumpling [Map]
46 Eldridge Street #1
New York, NY 10002

Just down the street from Vanessa’s is Prosperity, the smallest of our dollar dumpling destinations, and the one with which I have the longest, most storied history.

Pros: Quick and fresh, Prosperity’s dumplings come in two styles – fried and boiled (the latter a rarity on the list). It’s also a quick one-block walk to the park on Chrystie street, a people-watching haven.

Cons: It’s tiny (and we mean tiny),  sitting maybe five people, and holding perhaps eight or nine altogether. If the weather’s bad, you may be waiting outside for a while.

3. Fried Dumpling [Map]
106 Mosco Street
New York, NY 10013

Nearly hidden in a small alley between Mott Street and Mulberry Street is Fried Dumpling, the most creatively named pick on the list.

Pros: It’s literally in the center of old Chinatown, where any other dumpling dish you’d find will be four to five times the price.

Cons: As Foursquare tips suggest, its chefs can be a bit hostile to customers. They also mix the most watered down dumpling sauce in Chinatown… dangerous business if I have something to say about it.

4. Jin Mei Dumpling [Map]
25B Henry Street
New York, NY 10002

Resting on a quiet street in the deep south of Chinatown, Jin Mei is a welcome relief from the never-ending madness on Canal Street.

Pros: The least busiest of the list. You’ll have your dumplings thirty seconds after you walk in the door, and you’ll be eating them at your own table in another fifteen.

Cons: Because there’s never a line out the door, the dumplings may sit for awhile in the fryer before you eat them. Finally, the only other business of note on the block is an internet cafe that looks like the kind of place you’d never walk out of if you were foolish enough to walk in.

5. Fried Dumplings (Inexpensive Delicacies Company) [Map]
99 Allen Street
New York, NY 10002

A stone’s throw from the F train stop on Delancey street, Fried Dumplings (owned by the wonderfully titled Inexpensive Delicacies Company) is a distant, plural cousin to Fried Dumpling.

Pros: It’s busy enough that you’ll always enjoy fresh dumplings, but quiet enough that you’ll likely land yourself a rickety metal stool. Truly a perfect medium.

Cons: It’s not technically in Chinatown, or, if it is, it’s about as far away as you can be from the real action.

Preparing dumplings at Vanessa’s

I owe much and more to Chinatown. Were it not for the dollar dumpling spots you see above, I’d likely be a very discontent New Yorker cooking Barilla pasta every night in the tiny galley kitchen of my East Harlem apartment.  While each spot’s dumplings will have slight variation, they really all taste pretty much the same if we’re being honest with ourselves. So, grab a crisp George Washington and go give any of them a try.    With a bit of sriracha and a dash of dumpling sauce, you’ll be eating like a king for less than the cost of the subway fare that got you there.

Just missing the cut – Tasty Dumpling on Mulberry Street ($1.25 for an order). Shame on you, Tasty Dumpling.

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Read more from the  Sunday in Chinatown column.