Backroom Cocktails and Late Night Eats in Chinatown
The Run Down
We're taking you on nighttime adventure in Chinatown where you'll grab drinks in a backroom cocktail bar and then you'll have a family style Cantonese feast. Here are the details.
1. Cocktails @ Nine Bar
2. Late Dinner @ Kam Fung
1. Nine Bar
Across the street from the iconic Chinatown Gate is Moon Palace Express, a small counter service restaurant with just a few stools lined up against their front window. During the day it’s a quick-lunch type of spot, but at night their back room opens up and Nine Bar takes over. This is your first stop of the night.
As you peer into Moon Palace’s storefront, it looks closed, but the lone red lightbulb illuminating over a mystery door is your sign to come in.
What awaits you is Chinatown’s first cocktail bar. But before it was a cocktail bar, it served as Moon Palace’s dining room for over 50 years.
After a tumultuous period navigating the pandemic, longtime owners, Jones and Jennifer Wang, had to rethink how they wanted to use their space. They handed the reigns over to their children who were raised alongside the business. Moon Palace was downsized to a primarily takeout operation, and daughter Lily Wang and partner Joe Briglio transformed the dining room into a cocktail bar from the future.
The lounge is draped in neon lights and a DJ in the back mixes chill hip-hop and R&B beats. This is part of a new generation of Chinatown with an even tighter blend of Eastern and Western culture. It’s the type of place where you can move from Japanese sake to Kentucky bourbon and where your Old Fashioned is infused with barley tea and medjool dates.
2. Kam Fung
After cocktails, we’re onto the late night dinner portion of the evening. Just a few blocks away, and right off a quiet side street, is Kam Fung, a longtime fixture in Chinatown that’s as close to home cooking as you can get.
One note before you go: their hours on Google/Yelp indicate that they’re open until 2am. That might have been the case pre-pandemic, but when we visited on a Saturday, they actually closed up right after midnight. Keep that in mind if a few drinks at Nine Bar turns into a late night marathon.
The vibe here is on the opposite end of Nine Bar. But you’re not here for the pretty decorations, you’re here for a good meal. A good sign that we were in for something special is that every other customer we saw were workers from other nearby Chinese restaurants who just got off their shift. They must know something.
Now the question is, what’s everyone ordering? If you’re looking to recreate the most traditional experience, you might be looking around at what everyone else in the dining room is ordering.
At places like Kam Fung, sometimes the ordering process can be a bit intimidating. It’s also a bit harder because part’s of Kam Fung’s menu aren’t in English. And if you’re looking to create the most authentic culinary experience, you know it’s in the non-English section of the menu.
While that may have stopped us in the past, it’s not going to tonight.
Here’s a helpful tip to unlock the full menu. So if you take a picture of the menu, you can use Google Lens to translate everything. Here’s that same menu translated to English. It’s like unlocking a new level in a video game.
With access to the full menu, we were able to try some dishes we may not have otherwise, like this clay pot rice with Chinese sausage. It’s layers of sausage, veggies and rice cooked inside this clay pot. The signature part of this dish is that the cooking process creates this super crackly and thin layer of rice all along the sides of the pot. Here’s a video tutorial that inspired our visit.
Here are a couple of other dishes we ordered to cap off the night. This salt and pepper fried smelt is on the English menu. It’s battered smelt, fried in hot oil and tossed with jalapenos for some heat.
Finally, to balance out the heavier rice and fried smelt dish, we got this giant plate of braised peapod sprouts with garlic sauce after noticing it on other tables. We actually couldn’t find it on the menu, so if you’re having a hard time ordering it, just show them this picture.