photo credit: Reema Desai

Tony Cheng's Seafood Restaurant image

Tony Cheng's Seafood Restaurant



$$$$Perfect For:Classic EstablishmentFine Dining
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Dining at Tony Cheng's is like taking a trip to the museum. The giant red restaurant with its traditional shingled roof and a sign that reads Seafood Restaurant in gold letters, takes you back to the days of old-school Chinatown dining. But like most Smithsonian  restaurants, it’s hard to find a meal to get excited about, even when you order the best stuff on the menu.  

Everything, the furniture and even the staff, feels like they've been part of the Chinese restaurant since it opened in the 1980s. The felt seats are so sunken in that you’ll plunge down on contact just like the lobsters when they’re dropped in the tank in the center of the room. On the wall are photos of Tony’s friends, big shot political dignitaries like Jimmy Carter and Marion Berry. And to the delight of every midwestern family stopping by during their first visit to DC, there are gilded arches and Buddha head statues adorning the walls.

Rest assured though, that unlike the Walgreens down the street sporting Chinese characters, Tony Cheng’s isn't putting on a show for the neighborhood or the tourists. The restaurant consistently attracts a local crowd expertly ordering rounds of roast pork belly, sweet and sour cabbage, and bean cake soup. That said, navigating a menu with over 200 options alongside waiters looking like they want to tell you to hurry up in Cantonese, English, and Mandarin requires some skilled maneuvering. 

The restaurant's name is your guide, so stick to the seafood like the slightly sweet black garlic scallop and shrimp and the crispy crab wontons, which are a firework of flavor thanks to a mixture of green onions and garlic. Some other menu picks, like the hot and sour soup, General Tso's chicken, and beef brisket, will leave you searching for extra salt and pepper packets. You’re better going to any of the carry-out shops down the street.

Like the Washington Monument or the Capitol, Tony Cheng’s is a spot you want to see, whether it's the first time or the 100th. It’s a living monument to what Chinatown used to be, even if the hit-or-miss menu leaves much to be desired.

Food Rundown

Tony Cheng's Seafood Restaurant image

photo credit: Reema Desai

Black Garlic Scallop and Shrimp

This is the dish we never skip. The umami-packed, savory yet slightly sweet black garlic, combined with charred scallops and shrimp, is exactly the flavorful combo we're looking for, especially when paired with white rice.

Crab Rangoon

Skip the crab rangoon. The creamed crab is under seasoned, and the sweet and sour sauce is too acidic.

star-shaped crab wontons with sweet and sour sauce

photo credit: Nina Palazzolo

Crab Wontons

Opt for the crab wontons, instead. They’re a flavor upgrade, thanks to the chopped green onions and garlic the crab is mixed with. You might want to pop a whole crispy golden shell in your mouth, but take it slow, so you don't scorch the roof with each blistering bite.

fried chicken covered in sauce

photo credit: Nina Palazzolo

General Tso's Chicken

The General Tso Chicken isn’t bad, but it's not good. The meat has this odd combination of seeming undercooked and dry at the same time. You’re better off grabbing some to-go from Reren down the block.

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