The fancy food courts that have popped up in recent years around Manhattan, and certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn, tend to be, well, agnostic about food. Vendors often overlap and places like DeKalb Market Hall and Gotham Market West offer a grabbag of cuisines, so you can have your pizza and eat your rice rolls, too. While Koreatown’s Food Gallery 32 focuses on Korean cuisine, with some vendors serving other East Asian cuisines, it’s an outlier. (There are, of course, the various Chinese food courts of Flushing and Sunset Park.) The restaurateur Chi Zhang, of the now growing Shanghainese spot Yaso, saw this an opportunity. Today, he and his Yaso team open 8SIA, what he calls “an Asian-themed food mall” in midtown east.
Occupying 2,400 square feet over a couple stories, the mall is home to a location of Yaso Noodle Bar, the sushi and rice-bowl specialist Rice-On!, the Southeast Asian Curry42, boba spot Debutea Mini, and Hong Kong egg-bubble-waffle specialist Bee Pattern. There’s a 35-seat area for eating on the second floor, which is also where you’ll be able to get your egg bubble waffles.
While this is the second location of Yaso Noodle Bar, which opened recently in Greenwich Village, these vendors are refreshingly new to the food-hall scene. They’re all operated, Zhang says, by people he’s met during his time in the business. “They say they want to learn the business model of Yaso. So I came up with this idea,” he explains, “to put everyone together, to show them how they can do the Yaso model, which is fast-casual Shanghainese, and create something cool.”
The Rice-On! stall is operated by SUteiShi chef Tony Ni, who serves rolls like the Mount Fuji with mango and crunchy, spicy tuna alongside bowls. Curry42 is a first-time venture from Chian Tia Pua, whose business Zhang says they’re incubating. “He wants to open a restaurant badly. There is a language barrier, and we help him,” he says. At the stall, you’ll find Thai green curry and panang red curry served as bowls. At Yaso, they’re bringing dishes like dry noodles with ribs and spicy seared pork dumplings.
Those are the three savory options. Practically speaking, he didn’t want any of the vendors to compete with each other. Debutea Mini is a sip-sized version of Debutea, the downtown bubble-tea shop, and serves specialties like taro boba tea with brown sugar boba as well as cheese tea, topped with salty whipped cream cheese. Finally, Bee Pattern is another spin-off, in this case of Flushing’s 520 Desserts. “I knew the owners through a friend. His best selling product is the egg waffle with ice cream,” Zhang says. They’ll serve specialties like the ostrich egg bubble waffle with zabajone gelato and fresh honeycomb.
If all goes according to plan, this is just phase one of 8SIA. Zhang and co. are currently negotiating with their landlord on a space next door, and if they sign the lease it’ll mean another seven-to-eight vendors. The restaurateur also floats other possibilities, including tea-tasting and soup-dumpling classes.
8SIA, 220 East 42nd St., nr 2nd. St.; 917-261-6970