The Best Restaurants In Chinatown guide image


The Best Restaurants In Chinatown

The 20 greatest restaurants in Philly’s Chinatown.

There are lots of reasons to head to Chinatown—festivals near the Friendship Arch, mural tours that show the history of the neighborhood, and of course, all of the fantastic Cantonese, Fujianese, and Taiwanese restaurants in the area. With all of the classic and new spots, choosing the right place for a meal can get a little overwhelming. That's why we made this guide, full of the 20 best spots for dim sum, Peking duck, stir-fried noodles, hot pot, sizzling meat on sticks, and more.


Sang Kee Peking Duck House

Sang Kee has been serving its crispy-skinned Peking duck in Chinatown since 1980—it’s no surprise, since it’s the best in the city. The two-story, bare-bones restaurant is packed with seemingly endless rows of tables filled with couples, families, and groups of friends. Of course, they're sharing platters of the glistening duck with scallions and hoisin sauce, but the understudies here are just as impressive as the star of the show. Sang Kee also specializes in Hong Kong-style BBQ, noodle soups, and traditional Cantonese stir fry. Other must-orders include (but are definitely not limited to) the honey-coated BBQ roast pork, steamed Sang Kee-style pork dumplings, loaded Hong Kong-style wonton soup, and beef in black bean sauce.

If someone asks us where they should go for the best, spiciest Szechuan food in the city, we always tell them EMei. It’s modern and spacious inside, with huge booths that can fit up to eight people, and the menu is full of shareable dishes like spicy lamb chops, a crispy whole sea bass in a sticky glaze, and mapo tofu with crisp pea leaves. Be sure to go with people you're comfortable sweating in front of.  

Whenever we’re in the mood for something filling and delicious that doesn’t cost much more than $20, we go to Penang. It’s an excellent Malaysian spot right by the Chinatown Arch that’s great for a casual lunch or catch-up dinner with a friend who appreciates a perfect claypot curry chicken. Split that, an order of the stir-fried rice vermicelli with tofu, shrimp, and bean sprouts in spicy Thai chili sauce, and be sure to try the crispy roti canai. The thin Indian pancake comes with a side of curry chicken and potato dipping sauce, and it’s one of our single favorite dishes in Chinatown.

As far as hot pot goes, Chubby Cattle is the best in Philly. The broths are flavorful (get the tomato oxtail) and all the meat, seafood, and vegetable add-ins come in huge quantities. You order with a server for the main stuff, but there’s also a little conveyor belt that zips around the tables filled with bowls of extras in case you decide you’d like to add a handful of enoki mushrooms to your soup. This place can get incredibly busy (and doesn’t take reservations), so you should expect a long wait. Luckily, it tends to be quiet during lunch hours, so that’s our favorite time to go.

If you’re looking for the best ramen in Chinatown, you’ll find it at Terakawa. The broths are all made in-house, and come filled with things like roast pork belly, mushrooms, and soy egg. There are bigger dishes like curry platters and donburi rice bowls that are also great, as well as a long list of solid appetizers like pork buns and gyoza, if, for some unfathomable reason, you chose to go to a ramen place but aren’t in the mood for soup.

Vietnam is essentially a one-two punch. The bottom floor is a Vietnamese restaurant with incredible dishes like vermicelli rice noodle bowls, papaya salad, and lime chicken. Once you and your friends have finished arguing over who gets the last spring roll, head upstairs to Bar Saigon. The second-floor space is basically a tiki bar, with flaming punch bowls and Mai Tais in colorful glasses. Hitting both in one night is one of our favorite birthday party moves, but each place is also great on its own.

When you walk up to the counter at Ray’s Cafe & Tea House, their intricate slow-drip display might remind you of high school chemistry class. But the whole setup is essential to what makes this one of the best coffee and tea spots in the neighborhood. They offer siphon coffee and a 12-hour slow-drip cold brew, with blends like Jamaican blue moon and sumiyaki, along with teas for every occasion like oolong and red bush. While you shouldn’t go out of your way for any of the food, dishes like kung pao shrimp, beef noodle soup, and curry chicken and dumplings go great with whatever Bill Nye-inspired beverage you choose.

Nom Wah should be your go-to place for an easy dim-sum brunch or lunch—any time is a good time for their soup dumplings, crispy scallion pancakes and chewy shrimp rice rolls. You order everything by checking off boxes on a little sheet of paper, and since everything in the dim sum section is around $5, you should come here with friends and just circle the entire top half of the menu.

When it’s 2am and you want broiled oysters, salt and pepper wings, duck bao buns, or huge plates of noodles, David’s is your answer. It's open until 3am every day of the week, which means it has you covered for dinner, second dinner, and dinner after a few drinks. Be prepared for this place to get slammed when the bars close.

Tom’s has a long menu of things we like, including their dumplings, rice plates, and pan-fried vegetables. And unlike Dim Sum Garden, they don’t have the $15 corkage fee for bringing in booze. That means the crowds here tend to be younger and a bit rowdier than at Dim Sum Garden. They don’t take reservations, but if you have a big enough group that needs extra space for shout-talking, you can reserve their back room.

The inside of Tai Lake looks like a combination between a hotel ballroom and a YMCA rec center, and it’s a place that works for a lot of occasions—from a weekday lunch to a birthday dinner. There are a lot of big round tables, and they have a long menu of delicious food that’s served family-style. Order a couple of the standouts, like the Peking duck, salted-fish fried rice, and ginger-scallion lobster.

Ocean Harbor is one of the best and most convenient places to have dim sum in Chinatown. It’s open from 10am-9pm every day of the week, which means you can eat wonton soup and fried seafood rolls for brunch, lunch, or dinner. It can get crowded, but it’s a super-efficient operation. You pick a number, wait a few minutes, and then spend the next hour or so grabbing whatever you want off of the carts as they speed by.

Dim Sum Garden is a tightly-packed Shanghai-style spot in Chinatown known for its steamed pork soup dumplings. In many ways, it’s like every dim sum spot in the neighborhood–dumplings are the most notable things on the menu, lots of sizzling meat or fried rice options, and the entrees are under $20. But the soup dumplings are a neighborhood standout (and a must-order): you can expect a wrapper that’s soft and chewy, an ideal pork-to-broth ratio, and a satisfying whiff of steam coming off the entire platter.

If the line for a table at David’s is longer than you’re willing to wait (which is probably about 10 minutes if you’re coming from the bars), take yourself and all of your friends to Shiao Lan Kung. Like David’s, it’s open until 3am on weekends and has a long menu full of food that will soak up everything you drank earlier. But the service tends to be quicker, and while the scene isn’t quite as debaucherous, the crab lo mein and shredded-pork rice noodles more than make up for it.

Nan Zhou specializes in hand-pulled noodles, and that’s exactly what you should be ordering here. The spicy beef soup is the best—it comes in a salty broth, topped with cilantro, radish, and pickled greens. If you inexplicably want something besides noodles, you should order the scallion pancakes or coconut chicken dumplings. It can get crowded in here, but the service is super fast. You should also know that they only accept cash and Venmo.

Everything is solid at Xi'an, but the best thing is the Chinese hamburger, which comes in a few varieties (braised pork, spicy minced pork, or beef). Our favorite is the cumin beef with green pepper and chilies, but they’re all great. The rest of the menu is filled with tons of Western Chinese dishes like the excellent biang biang noodles and the spicy sour minced pork noodles, all of which go perfectly with a taro milk tea.

Far East Descendant is an industrial-chic Cantonese restaurant that specializes in small plates like dim kam mini ribs, spicy chicken bites, and shrimp toast. While sitting on their rooftop deck or in their dining room, you’ll be surrounded by colorful walls covered in tigers, dragons, and lotus art. Come here with a group of friends and go for the “Five Beast Board,” which is not a secret sequel to Fantastic Beasts.

Chinatown only has one sports bar, and that’s Bar Ly. It doesn’t look super memorable from the outside, but if you’re trying to watch a game in the area, this is where you want to be. The bartenders are friendly, it’s never super crowded, and, most importantly, there’s always a table available for the taking. On top of the almost 60 beers on tap and $4.75 Happy Hour cocktails, Bar Ly also has some solid food that ranges from tacos and nachos to wings and loaded tots.

The first thing you’ll see when you walk up to M Kee is a bunch of ducks hanging in the window. You want one of those ducks. You can order a half or whole bird, and can take it to go or eat it at one of the few tables inside. While you’re at it, order the beef with ginger and scallions, which is almost like a stew, and some fried dough to sop up the sauce. Make sure you bring cash since they don’t take cards.

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photo credit: Gab Bonghi

The Best Restaurants In Chinatown guide image