Having lived on the cusp of Chinatown and the Lower East Side for 3+ years now, my husband and I frequent the many great dumpling stores in the area regularly. In fact, I think it's safe to say that Steve survived law school and the Bar exam due in no small part to the daily lunch of "2 orders #1" at North Dumpling on Essex. That's 10 juicy, meaty pork and chive dumplings for two bucks! I like Vanessa's but preferred it before the expansion and all the media hype. At any rate, we were feeling pretty confident that we'd tried a lot of the great dumpling places around and settled on our favorite.
So it was with some degree of surprise (and perhaps a degree of embarrassment) that I have to admit I had no idea I was living literally 1/2 a block from possibly one of the best dumpling restaurants this side of China. My friend, Justcooknyc, turned me onto the place and I"m forever indebted. It is a tiny blink-and-you'll-miss-it whole in the wall where they make noodles by hand all day long in the back of the restaurant. The dough makes a HUGE slapping noise on the stainless steel table as they stretch it out to make the noodles, which makes it a bit tough to carry on a conversation, but I found it hard to talk anyway, as I was totally hypnotized watching the noodles get made. Since my first trip about a week ago, I've now been back 5 times, and it's awesome every time.
The dumplings at Lan Zhou is definitely of the thinner variety, which I really like. If you lean towards the slightly thicker, toothsome dumpling style, I'd recommend North Dumpling. But, hey, given that they are about 30 meters from one another and you'd only be dropping one or two dollars, I say come hungry and try them both!
A quick word on the noodle soups: the noodles are fantastic. However, in my opinion the broth is a bit over salted and a bit murky tasting, kind of like they don't skim it enough in the broth making phase. The star anise flavor is quite pronounced, which I like, but the broth is lacking the clarity and clean flavors that I love in a well made noodle soup.
Lan Zhou Handmade Noodles - 144 E Broadway(between East Broadway & Pike St) New York, NY 10002(212) 566-6933