Best Chinese Restaurants in the U.S.
With this expansion, Chinese kitchens have pushed well beyond General Tso’s chicken, introducing creations like Mission Chinese Food’s fiery kung pao pastrami as well as more regional dishes, from western-style cumin lamb with hand-ripped noodles to Sichuanese pepper frog legs. The result is a reinvigorated debate over what makes for authentic Chinese food, plus plenty of tantalizing, adventurous eating.
You’ll find restaurants setting the bar higher in immigrant enclaves like New York City’s Flushing neighborhood and California’s San Gabriel Valley, but also in Vermont, Chicago, and Salt Lake City. Some are family-owned, hole-in-the-wall joints, while others have spawned celebrity chefs like Peter Chang, originally from Hubei Province.
Hunan Taste in Maryland is on the stylish end of the spectrum, with traditional design elements (calligraphy, red walls) and dishes to satisfy all comers. Choose from a Chinese menu that includes tea tree mushroom casserole and stir-fried leeks with dried bean curd, or go for the comfort of the American menu’s sweet-and-sour spareribs. It’s not unusual for Chinese restaurants to have differing menus or special unlisted preparations available on request.
“There are so many cool dishes that aren’t being put out front; experimenting can be intimidating, but it’s worth it,” says Scott Drewno, executive chef of The Source, Wolfgang Puck’s contemporary Asian restaurant in D.C. Drewno says he fell in love with Chinese food at age 21, while working with Puck in Vegas. Now he has put his own spin on Chinese: sesame-miso cones filled with ahi tuna; pork belly dumplings with black vinegar and chili oil; and lacquered duck with sweet-and-sour huckleberries.
The Source hosts a great-value Saturday dim sum brunch and special events; you can learn to make the dumplings yourself as part of a class timed to Chinese New Year (typically late January or early February). Dumplings are considered symbols of luck, wealth, and prosperity—a key part of the holiday feasting.
Here’s a first bit of good fortune: our short list of the best Chinese restaurants across the U.S. See how many you’ve tried, and share your favorites in the comments below.
Lao Sze Chuan, Chicago
Awards continue to rack up for Lao Sze Chuan, one of the first area Chinese restaurants to earn three forks from the Chicago Tribune, and a designated “Bib Gourmand” in the 2012 and 2013 Michelin Guide. Owner Tony Hu, dubbed the Mayor of Chinatown, has seven Chinese restaurants, with four more slated to open by the end of this year. Yet people continue to wait in line for a table at this Sichuan spot, known for its extraordinary spiciness and fearless dishes like sour pickle and pork stomach soup and Peking-style duck tongue (milder options are also available). tonygourmetgroup.com
Gourmet Dumpling House, Boston
Expect to be one of only a handful of English-speaking diners at this small, family-owned restaurant in Boston’s Chinatown. Though the menu leans toward Taiwanese and coastal cuisines—the soup dumplings filled with pork, crabmeat and a delicate broth and the scallion pancakes are not to be missed—you’ll also find skillfully executed Sichuan dishes, like the sliced fish, revered for it’s perfect balance of heat and tenderness.
Peter Chang Café, Richmond, VA
A native of Hubei Province, Peter Chang got his start at a no-frills restaurant inside a strip mall in Fairfax, VA, in 2005. Eight restaurants in nearly as many states, a cultlike following, and countless awards later, Chang opened his namesake restaurant in Richmond. The bold, exotic flavors will leave your tongue numb, especially if you opt for the Hot & Numbing Hot Pot, a combo of seafood, chicken, beef, and veggies submerged in a fiery red sauce. The oversize portions are meant to be shared and arrive on an as-ready basis. peterchangrva.com
Ping Pang Pong, Las Vegas
At Ping Pang Pong, housed inside the off-strip Gold Coast Hotel & Casino, you’ll find regional specialties from across China, from dim sum served on pushcarts (Cantonese) to salt-and-pepper frog legs (Sichuan) and double-braised scallop hot pot (found throughout China). The night market fried rice is another standout, a satisfying mix of tender beef tossed with chiles, bean sprouts, and tomatoes. No matter which region they’re from, Chinese in Vegas can likely find their hometown specialties here.
Xi’an Famous Foods, New York City
This no-frills noodle house, with locations in Flushing, Chinatown, and the East Village, is a rare local restaurant devoted to the cuisine of Xian, where Middle Eastern and Chinese flavors meet. It’s become famous indeed for inexpensive and flavor-packed food: stewed pork and cumin-infused lamb burgers run just $2 a pop; spicy cumin lamb with hand-ripped noodles, potent and rich lamb pao mo soup, and hand-pulled biang biang noodles are always crowd-pleasers, too. xianfoods.com
Shandong, Portland, OR
Perhaps best known for the made-in-house noodles—Judy’s noodles, sautéed with spinach, jalapeños, shiitakes, and green onions in a garlic wine sauce, is their most popular dish—Shandong is a frequent reader’s choice winner in Portland. The restaurant is sleek and modern (a step up from many) and serves some of the best northern Chinese food in the state; don’t miss the hot and sour soup and the Chilean rock crab and shiitake dumpling, so plump and juicy. shandongportland.com
Din Tai Fung Dumpling House
With its flagship restaurant in Taiwan—selected as one of the top 10 restaurants in the world by The New York Times—this Shanghai-style small-plates chain has branched out to Los Angeles and Seattle. The juicy pork dumplings in paper-thin wrappers, simultaneously delicate and intense, are so melt-in-your-mouth delicious that the Arcadia location in Los Angeles opened a second restaurant down the street just to handle the demand. Perhaps best known for its stellar customer service and spotless interiors, Din Tai Fung almost always has a long wait, but those five-spice fried pork chops are worth every minute. dintaifungusa.com
The Source, Washington, D.C.
Most of D.C.’s best Chinese places are actually out of the District—in the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland. One notable exception: Wolfgang Puck’s contemporary, three-level restaurant in Penn Quarter, a favorite of both high-profile politicos and local chefs. Turn up on Saturdays for the lounge’s dim sum brunch, a great value, or go the tasting-menu route in the formal upstairs dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows. You’re in the capable hands of Scott Drewno, whose take on Chinese includes sesame-miso cones filled with ahi tuna; suckling pig with quince-apple purée; crispy frog legs with blistered shishito peppers; and lacquered duck with sweet and sour huckleberries. wolfgangpuck.com
A Single Pebble, Burlington, VT
Within a charming row house, A Single Pebble is helmed by Chiuho Duval, a Taiwan-native who emphasizes fresh ingredients from local farmers. The family-style dishes come to the table as they’re ready. Warm up with the mock eel (crispy fish with braised shitake mushrooms and ginger) and the dry fried green beans (wok-tossed with pork, black bean and garlic) before digging into tangerine-peel chicken with broccoli. asinglepebble.com
Koi Palace, Daly City, CA
Koi Palace recalls a southern Chinese teahouse, complete with a koi pond and tanks full of enormous crab and rock cod. While it's celebrated for dim sum, we say it’s even better for those seeking seafood. The 450-seat restaurant has filled up with guests hungry for Shanghai crab dumplings and lobster, as well as jellyfish and abalone. Another signature dish: roasted suckling pig, harmoniously crispy and tender. koipalace.com
Hunan Taste, Catonsville, MD
It’s all about balance at Hunan Taste, which marries culinary traditions from Changsha, Hengyang, and Xiangtan cuisines. Choose from two menus: Chinese and American. The former doesn’t hold back, showcasing dishes like hot pots full of frogs, hen’s blood, and braised pork. The latter provides the comfort of more familiar items like sweet and sour spareribs. Tea tree mushroom casserole and stir-fried leeks with dried bean curd are two dishes not to be missed. Traditional décor, like porcelain sinks, is offset by modern touches, easily making Hunan Taste one of the most stylish spots on our list. hunantastemd.com
Han Dynasty, Philadelphia
This regional Sichuan chain has six locations, with the Old City branch as the clear fan favorite. But beware: the heat-averse have no place here, where the house-steeped chili oil reigns supreme. Adventurous eaters will love the ox tongue and tripe in said chili oil, while the dan dan noodles, topped with crumbled pork, mixed with a sesame sauce tableside, have been known to bring diners to their knees. Don’t miss the tasting menu, just $20 per person and available at your choice of spiciness (scale of 1 to 10). handynasty.net
Yangming Restaurant, Bryn Mawr, PA
When a restaurant has been voted “the best” more than 40 times—in outlets from Philadelphia Magazine to Zagat—it clearly has staying power. Indeed, for the last 20 odd years, this special-occasion dining destination has made Asian fusion magic, turning out dishes such as spicy veal ravioli with jalapeños, ginger, and garlic vinaigrette and pan-fried dumplings stuffed with wild mushrooms and blue cheese. Besides, any meal that ends with chocolate-covered fortune cookies is okay by us. yangmingrestaurant.com
Sea Harbour Restaurant, Rosemead, CA
This dim sum destination in the San Gabriel Valley is staffed entirely by Cantonese employees; but don’t worry, the picture menu, albeit tacky, helps lessen any language barrier. New exotic flavors, like steamed radish cake garnished with dried shrimp and smoky sausage, complement classics like har gow (translucent shrimp dumplings) and congee (rice porridge) with chives and shrimp. Those with a wild side should try the jellyfish, whole pigeon, and chicken feet entrées.
Mandarin, Salt Lake City
This restaurant is run by Greek-American Angel Manfredini and her 84-year-old father, who work daily alongside four Chinese cooks with classic training and four Hispanic cooks, to turn out dishes from various regions in China, like beef with green beans in a black bean sauce and Peking duck. To make room for all its fans, Mandarin added 150 seats to the restaurant as well as a gluten-free menu, something you’d be hard-pressed to find at most Chinese restaurants. Though the food here tends to be more Americanized, it’s not uncommon to hear patrons assure their companions that Mandarin is “the best Chinese food I’ve ever had.” mandarinutah.com
Chiang’s Gourmet, Seattle
Despite a dodgy location and spotty service, this Taiwanese and Sichuanese restaurant made the culinary map with its homemade noodles. There’s really only one way to order here: from the Chinese or Sichuan menus, which are full of delicious oddities like cattle tendon with hot sauce, jellyfish, fried pig’s intestine, and stinky fried tofu. For something more mainstream, try the fish fillet in Sichuan garlic hot bean sauce or any of the pan-fried noodles, a specialty. Northern-style dim sum is offered on the weekends, and there’s even a vegetarian menu—a rarity at Asian restaurants. chiangsgourmet.com
Mission Chinese Food
What started as a pop-up restaurant has since evolved to two award-winning Chinese restaurants: one in San Francisco and an offshoot in Manhattan. Famous for amalgamating tradition with innovation, chef Danny Bowien (Korean by birth, raised in Oklahoma City) turns out “Americanized Oriental Food”—kung pao pastrami, ma po tofu, and salt-cod fried rice—for prices you’d expect to find at truck stops along rural interstates. Seventy-five cents of each main course goes to charity. The catch? Food this original and a no-reservations policy translate to long waits. missionchinesefood.com
Chou’s Kitchen, Chandler, AZ
Owners Tong Rizzo and Ping Chou originally hail from Liaoning in northeastern China, and that region inspires the cooking at Chou’s, about 30 minutes outside of Phoenix. Not to be missed: the spicy braised beef, a crispy, fried dish served with chili oil, toasted peanuts and cilantro. Eggplant with potatoes and jalapeño is another standout, as are the hand-rolled wrappers, used in dumplings, buns and pies. 910 N Alma School Rd., Chandler, AZ 85224
Shanghai Restaurant, Houston
This family-owned Sichuan spot (inside a nondescript shopping center) is small, loud, and in need of a facelift. But who wants to quibble about décor when there are salted spare ribs to be devoured. Round out the meal with the beef and pickled vegetable stir-fry, oysters in black bean sauce, and ginger scallion chicken. And don’t forget to BYOB. 9116 Bellaire Blvd., Ste B, Houston, TX 77036
San Tung Restaurant, San Francisco
Sweet and sticky, yet spicy with notes of garlic, ginger and Szechuan peppers, San Tung’s chicken wings are at the top of San Francisco’s best lists. Leave some room to sample the dry black bean noodles, shrimp and leek dumplings, and sizzling rice soup. You’ll have plenty of time to build an appetite; there’s almost always a line here. santungrestaurant.com
Chung King, Los Angeles
In the hierarchy of numerous authentic Chinese restaurants in SoCal’s San Gabriel Valley, Chung King is up at the top. Its success rests in dishes like the spicy and tender water-boiled fish, fried chicken with hot peppers, beef casseroles, and ma po tofu. And diners can expect that signature numbing sensation we’ve come to love from Sichuan cooking. 1000 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776
Little Village Noodle House, Honolulu
Honolulu’s Chinatown is many things: immigrant enclave, burgeoning arts center, and site of this local institution run by a husband-and-wife team since 2001. It’s stylish, with Asian lanterns and wood accents, and dishes like honey walnut shrimp, dried green beans, spicy pan-fried beef, and volcano pork chop. Try the signature Chrysanthemum honey herbal tea—if you want something stronger, you’ll need to BYOB.
Spicy & Tasty, New York City
Located in Flushing—a neighborhood of Queens and one of the country’s best for Chinese—Spicy & Tasty’s brightly lit dining room is immaculate and comfortable, minimal and efficient. The beef tendon and sliced conch, both served in a red chile sauce, have garnered rave reviews from the spice-obsessed. Lamb home-style and double-cooked pork belly are a close second, praised for their dry, balanced sauces. If you’re craving that tongue-numbing sensation from Sichuan peppercorns, be sure to order the shredded dry beef with spicy sauce. And BYOB, there’s no corkage fee.
Taipei Gourmet, Lexington, MA
This unassuming Taiwanese restaurant has garnered a devoted following of locals both for its classic dishes (think xiao long bao dumplings, bamboo sticky rice, and hot and sour soup) and bold offerings (pig intestine casserole and turnip cakes). Since Taiwanese cuisine relies heavily on seafood, you can also expect to find dishes like shrimp with vegetables and spicy fish filets. The staff’s hospitality and attention to detail rival their made-fresh-daily food, a fact frequent patrons are all too happy to share. taipei-gourmet.com
Bo Ling’s, Kansas City
Since the early 1980s, Bo Ling’s has been feeding Kansas City upscale, yet authentic Chinese food; the restaurant’s loyal supporters keep coming back (to one of their now six locations, that is) for the personal touch provided by the husband-and-wife team and their hospitable staff; not to mention the fried noodles and sizzling whole flounder. The flagship location (Plaza) remains the most popular, with dishes like hot and sour soup, Gong Bao chicken, spicy Mongolian beef, and pushcart dim sum on the weekends. bolings.com