Location: Chinatown (Bayard Street b/t Mott Street and Elizabeth Street)
What We Ordered: Hannah - Lychee; Jon - Red Bean
Walking through bustling streets surrounded by sounds of Cantonese and Romance languages being spoken and the mystifying smell of raw fish and baked goods, we ventured into the heart of Chinatown to visit the legendary Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.
Arriving at the shop just before 9pm, we were met with a line of locals and tourists who all had the same after dinner dessert plan. The line looped around the store and out the door, but moved relatively quickly and we had ice cream in-hand in less time than it takes for a local train to arrive at your station on a Saturday night at 2am.
Looking at the bins of ice cream labeled Black Sesame, Pandan, and Egg Custard, we were excited to see so many flavors we've never come across before. After trying several Asian-inspired flavors, we decided to order a scoop of Lychee and a scoop of Red Bean to share.
The Lychee tasted just like the dragon egg-esque fruit, with bits of actual lychee blended in to further enhance the flavor. It was appropriately named "Khaleesi Lychee," a Game of Thrones reference Hannah especially appreciated. The Red Bean was just as authentic tasting -- with pieces of red bean mixed into the milky flavor that brought back childhood memories of homemade red bean soup and popsicles for Jon.
The main differentiating factor between Chinatown Ice Cream Factory and other ice cream shops is the availability and variety of flavors from popular Asian foods. Flavors like Almond Cookie, Ginger, Green Tea, and Taro are categorized as "Regular Flavors" while Strawberry, Chocolate Chip, and Vanilla are considered "Exotic Flavors" -- reinforcing their Chinese foundation.
The inside of Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is exactly how you would imagine a store that has been in Chinatown for over 25 years to look like; small, antiquated, and just a pinch of tackiness.
As soon as we walked in, we realized that we took up 23% of the total store space available. The staff was friendly and composed despite the line that was building out the door. The menu was written on white boards that hung behind the counter and toppings were stored in tupperware carefully labeled with post-it notes. Looking up we saw ice cream cone decorations made of tissue paper hanging from the ceiling. All of this simply added to the uniqueness that is Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.
One thing is for certain, Chinatown Ice Cream Factory stays true to their culture. The place was small and crowded, but mimicked perfectly with the streets of the neighborhood, melding seamlessly into its surroundings. Chinatown Ice Cream Factory impressed us with flavors we've never seen before, and may not see anywhere else in the city. It was clear why the shop has been a staple in Chinatown for over 28 years and consistently makes the list of best ice cream in New York City year after year. They prove that great things really can come in small packages, like Tyrion Lannister or Kevin Hart.