For over three years I have been lucky enough to work within walking distance of Chinatown. I’ve done my fair share of exploration and feel like I have a handle on most of the options. Every now and then I find something really unexpected. On this occasion, I was wandering around the streets of Chinatown deciding what I should have for lunch and when I decided to try something new on a hunch. Inside of an unassuming bubble tea shop on Bayard Street there are signs advertising some non-bubble tea offerings. Who would dare eat lunch at a bubble tea shop? This guy.

The shop itself was quite small and has many bubble tea options displayed on the four TV screens hung above the counter. The shop was decorated with bright, poppy colors with a heavy usage of Asian-styled illustrations. This shop seemed to get a ton of traffic and filled up pretty quickly. We must have gotten really lucky to arrive with no line.

It’s staffed by three young Asian girls all wearing hip, jaunty hats. I think they always wear funky, cool hats as part of their uniform – kinda like how a mustaches and beanies are the unofficial hipster barista uniform. The shop was decorated with, how do I say this, “very Asian” photos and drawings. The photos were covered in hand drawn notes and scribbles and were in fact photos of the girls behind the counter out partying with their friends.

The place

Now, back to the reason I came here, the food. After looking over the menu I decided on Fried Yam which is really what we usually call sweet potato fries. They were coated in some sort of tempura-like breading and had an incredible texture. They were nice and crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. They came piping hot and were really addicting. I bet they’d be delicious with some sort of aioli dipping sauce too, though they definitely don’t need one.

Fried Yam

The Fried Yam may have been great, but it’s the Popcorn Chicken that really blew me away. This was one of those Chinatown gems hiding in plain sight. My hunch was right. The chicken was very crispy on the outside and extremely moist on the inside. I ordered them with the garlic seasoning which was actually quite strong and definitely added another level of deliciousness. It was also quite an impressive portion for only $3. I definitely want to come back and try their basil flavoring next time.

Popcorn Chicken with Garlic

The food served at this bubble tea house is some of the more exciting cheap food I’ve come across in quite some time. If you’re in the area and are craving something salty, savory and filling, give ViVi Bubble Tea a shot. You won’t regret it.

Got another Chinatown hidden gem I should know about? Let me know in the comments below.

ViVi Bubble Tea
49 Bayard St. #1 New York, NY 10013

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