There is rarely a Saturday morning in New York when dim sum seems like a subpar idea. In fact, almost every morning in New York seems like a great one for dim sum, and so when my cousins suggest we trek to Chinatown, I rarely refuse. While there are countless places to indulge in the perfection that is dumplings for breakfast, Golden Unicorn has been a part of New York City’s dim sum scene since the late 80’s and garnered international acclaim, among Chinese and western patrons alike.
Golden Unicorn is located at 18 East Broadway, at the corner of East Broadway and Catherine Street. Note that at this particular section of Manhattan, Broadway and East Broadway are, in fact, two separate streets. Golden Unicorn, like much of lower Manhattan and particularly Chinatown, is difficult to access but is an acceptable walking distance from the Canal Street stop on the N, Q, R, J, Z, and 6 trains, as well as the Grand Street stop on the B and D trains. Golden Unicorn is a multi-floor establishment, so be sure to find the entrance on East Broadway and not the nearby entrance to a Cathay Bank.
Because its fame extends to many tourists, Golden Unicorn typically has an incredible line on the weekends, so send your morning people to take a number while you struggle to pull on pants. Like many of the traditional dim sum houses in Hong Kong and China, Golden Unicorn has no qualms seating small parties together with strangers, such as a party of three at the same table as a separate party of two. Separate parties will, of course, have separate checks, and it is a great way to meet new people, make new friends, and get recommendations for new foods to try. However, if you are uncomfortable eating with other people, try to have at least four people in your party. Traditional Cantonese dim sum is almost completely dairy-free, and is a great group activity, so you will most likely be able to coerce at least three other people to come with you.
Unlike many Chinatown restaurants, which have switched to ordering off menus or paper checklists, Golden Unicorn has retained the traditional dim sum style of pushcarts. Women with carts come around and you pick what you want from the stacks of baskets, and they will stamp your ticket.
The range of selection is amazing, and besides the traditional shrimp balls, shu mai, cha siu baos, and sesame lotus balls, they also have more original concoctions, with interesting combinations of seafood, vegetables, meat, and bean curds. They do a great job with the traditional spare ribs, and bean curd rolls.
If you are nervous about trying dim sum, don’t worry about asking questions. The thing about dim sum is that it’s all wrapped up in some sort of fried wrapper, steamed noodle, or baked bun, and it can be difficult to discern the contents until biting into it. The best way to tell is to ask a waiter (usually a frazzled looking man in a dinner jacket and a nametag), of course, and to look at the colors behind the wrapper. At Golden Unicorn, the servers are very helpful in describing their dishes, and can even be helpful in picking out vegetarian dishes if that is of concern to you. We have never encountered peanuts at Golden Unicorn, but if you are worried, it is best to check with a waiter, as at all restaurants.
Besides picking out delectable little morsels not unlike tapas or English afternoon tea, we also like to order noodles at dim sum. Golden Unicorn does an exceptional beef chow fun that is less greasy and more meaty than your average take-out dive. The noodles remain firm but soft, and the beef is sliced thin enough to actually bite. We could always do without the copious amount of bean sprouts, but they do add a signature crunch to the dish. Noodles, as you can probably tell, are a big deal to us at Brunch with Bear, and we love nothing more than a great plate of beef chow fun with our dim sum!
Because of its upscale reputation, Golden Unicorn can be more expensive than a more neighborhood-y dim sum restaurant, but the quality and atmosphere are definitely authentic. Most individual baskets are between two and six dollars, so Golden Unicorn can be a great place to really indulge in your favorite items. If you feel like splurging, it can also be a great place to be adventurous and surprise your taste buds in a safe, allergy-friendly environment!
If we could eat dim sum every weekend, then our lifestyle would be ideal. Bear loves dim sum, particularly because dumplings and buns are the perfect Bear-sized and bite-sized meal! Golden Unicorn is a popular destination, but also one that lives up to the hype. If you are, like we are, always craving dim sum, Golden Unicorn will not disappoint!