Where/what to eat in Chinatown (Chicago)?
April 26, 2012 12:21 AM   Subscribe

Where/what to eat in Chinatown (Chicago)?

My sister is coming to visit me in Chicago in two weeks and we're planning a trip to Chinatown for dinner. Both of us have had pretty limited exposure to Chinese food, and we have no idea where to begin. Recommendations for specific restaurants would be great, as well as general ideas about what to try off the menu (any menu). We're pretty open to all foods and flavors, but I get freaked out about ordering something off the menu if I don't know how to eat it or what exactly it is in advance (like a plate of mysterious shellfish, for instance). Doesn't have to be super safe/beginner-y because we both like to try new things, but if it's something best experienced with someone who knows what they're doing, that might not be us. I like spicy food, but spiciness warnings would be appreciated. Also, we're looking for pretty mid-range, sit-down prices, though if you know a great cheap spot that's fun too.

Bonus question: Things to do in Chinatown before/after dinner?

posted by stoneandstar to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: By the "freaked out" thing, I don't mean that I won't try it, I just like to be prepared first-- so complicated foods are fine!
posted by stoneandstar at 12:38 AM on April 26, 2012

Go to Joy Yee's. Everything is delicious!
posted by Arbac at 1:16 AM on April 26, 2012

Best answer: Lao Sze Chuan

This is a great place to take guests. They have a huuuge menu with everything from "challenging" dishes made with scary animal parts to ones you'll recognize from your standard Chinese take-out, to dishes somewhere inbetween. All are very well executed. I usually order the following:

Tony's 3 Chili Chicken - Not to be confused with the DRY Chili Chicken. Hot, but not too crazy. Deep fried spicy and slightly sweet chicken. SO GOOD. Addictive and not to be missed. Now that I brought it up, I want to eat some right now.
Chengdu Dumplings
Mayonnaise Shrimp - I know, sounds gross, but it isn't. Delicious, but verrry rich. Share this dish.

People also generally praise their pork and tofu dishes and those involving black bean sauce. They also have hot pot, but I've yet to try it.

Lao Hunan

A new restaurant with the same owner as Lao Sze Chuan. The spicy stuff is volcano hot (though I've heard they've toned it down a bit since I went and you might have to ask for it to get the extra, extra spicy). Like its sibling restaurant, lots of variety and everything is delicious.

The two must-order dishes are the Dry Chili Fish Fillet and Green Chilis With Black Bean Sauce. And oh yeah, and it is MAO-THEMED. There are ironic propaganda murals on the walls and the servers wear Red Army uniforms.
posted by thewrongparty at 2:54 AM on April 26, 2012

Best answer: thewrongparty is absolutely correct about Lao Sze Chuan and Tony Hu. Everything that man touches is gold. I haven't been to Lao Hunan yet, but I'm sure it's great. Lao Sze Chuan is the best, though. Can't go wrong. At all these places, the general idea is to order a few things and share.

At Lao Sze Chuan, you MUST order the Mongolian lamb. THIS IS NOT UP FOR DEBATE. I have been eating there pretty steadily for the nearly 8 years I've lived in Chicago, and it's my favorite thing on the menu. Three cup chicken is also good (a little hard to eat since it's on the bone), but sweet and sticky. I also like the pan fried pork, and some other thing with eggplant and spicy pork. I don't think I've ever actually read the menu. It has about 500 items on it, all cryptic and strange-sounding. Your best bet is either to go in with recommendations, or look at other tables for something good, point, and say you want what that guy has.

If you want duck, Lao Beijing has the best Peking duck I've had in Chicago outside of Sun Wah (which is freaking delicious, but way the hell on the north side).

If you go to Lao Shanghai, get the drunken chicken.

Not a big fan of hot pots. If you want hot water with low-grade cuts of meat floating in it, go to Tank Noodle and get pho. (Hint: don't do this.) Bring on the haters.

Go to Joy Yee's for bubble tea (really, a fruit freeze/smoothie with tapioca) after you eat somewhere with good food. Joy Yee's sucks for everything else. Barf McGarf.

Stick with a Tony Hu-branded entity, and you're sure to have a great meal.

posted by phunniemee at 4:04 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and before/after! Walk around and go into the little shops that are crammed floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall with stuff for sale. Most of it's junk, but you'll find a lot of things with hilarious brand names, along with the occasional wtf product. Look at the ingredient list on the beauty products they have for sale (because they're not shy about saying GOAT PLACENTA, and that's funny). Also, go into the little food stores. They always smell weird and have dried crusty bits of random animals in jars that people apparently eat. Go to a candy store and get some candy. Go to Chinatown Market and look at the sad little turtles they have for sale back with the rest of the live foods. Go to one of the bakeries on the main drag (Wentworth) and get some buns (bbq pork and coconut are my favorites; red bean paste is good, too) and sesame candy. Get some Pocky somewhere. (It's not especially Chinese, but Pocky is fun and tasty, and relatively cheap in Chinatown.) Walk over to the river and hang out in the cute little park there.

If you're feeling really motivated, start your day in Pilsen with lunch at Nueva Leon, and grab something at Cafe Jumping Bean to drink while you walk east to Chinatown. You'll pass over the cute little park when you cross the 18th Street bridge.
posted by phunniemee at 4:46 AM on April 26, 2012

If I could somehow eat at Lao Sze Chuan every day, I probably would do so. And I'm vegetarian, so I can't even eat 80% of the menu! The cold szechuan noodle salad, off the dim sum menu, is a steal at like $5 for a big place of amazingly seasoned spicy noodles with the nice tingly of szechuan peppercorns.
posted by booknerd at 8:02 AM on April 26, 2012

Best answer: I can second the recommendations for Lao Sze Chuan & Lao Hunan, though the latter tends to be quite spicy (just a heads-up).

However, probably my favourite place in chinatown is the inauspiciously named Go4Food, a cantonese place with absolutely fantastic seafood - really as close to my memories of eating in HK as I could reasonably hope to get in Chicago. Just saunter in, ask what's fresh that day, and choose a preparation. It'll be delicious, and very reasonably priced (expect to pay ~$25 for a prepared lobster, maybe $15-20 for a heaping platter of delicious razor clams). The strangely named 'french beef' is also a great, and popular, choice.

Dim Sum (basically chinese small plates, with lots of dumplings and such), can be a lot of fun, but is not generally served at dinner. If you can do lunch instead, Shui Wah is probably the best option for that.

If you're hanging out in the neighborhood, you can also drop into Saint's Alp for a wide selection of bubble teas (tea with milk, sugar, your choice of flavouring, and little balls of tapioca).
posted by kickingtheground at 8:11 AM on April 26, 2012

Seven Treasures has a few really good Cantonese dishes: Anything with cuttlefish is great there, for example. It looks like nothing on the inside though, so be pre-warned.

They also do the only durian boba tea in Chinatown (or at least, they did as of this time last year), so if you're in the mood for durian, that's your place.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:42 AM on April 26, 2012

Best answer: Little Three Happiness! Any restaurant that has had a foodie message board named after it is certainly worth checking out!

This is important -- make sure you go to the right one. "Little" Three Happiness is the one on street level. "Big" Three Happiness is across the street and requires you to climb a flight of stairs to get to the dining room. They are VERY different.

LTH is not a fancy restaurant. Service is inconsistent, but the food is amazing. My personal favorite is the scrambled egg with oyster. The salt-and-pepper smelts are great, too.

Also, if you have time, talk a stroll up Wentworth and check out some of the bakeries. Mmmm, pork buns.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 8:51 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is by no means an inside baseball recommendation as its one of the largest restaurants in Chinatown, but the Phoenix's dim sum is consistently excellent
posted by rtimmel at 9:28 AM on April 26, 2012

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