America’s 10 Best Chinese Restaurants
September 15, 2015
These restaurants really go above and beyond typical Chinese food
America’s 10 Best Chinese Restaurants
If there’s one style of food where we tend to think, “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” it’s Chinese food. To some, this conclusion might seem obvious, and it is perhaps not without some justification. After all, many Chinese restaurants are surprisingly similar, right down to their dish names and descriptions. But in certain parts of the country, you can find Chinese food that’s legitimately spectacular. So to honor these restaurants, we’ve rounded up the 10 best Chinese restaurants in the country.
#10 Din Tai Fung Dumpling House, Los Angeles
Din Tai Fung Dumpling House is a popular Taiwan-based chain of dumpling shops that got its start in 1958. Today there are locations throughout Asia, and six in the United States: three in the Los Angeles area (Arcadia, Glendale, and Costa Mesa), and two in Seattle (in Bellevue and the University District).
As the name might suggest, Din Tai Fung sells a variety of dumplings, with fillings including pork, pork and crab, fish, chicken, and vegetable; pork buns; soup dumplings; and shao mai. But there are also a wide variety of appetizers (fried pork chop, pork rice bun, soy noodle salad); soups (braised beef, chicken, wonton, hot and sour); noodles (with minced pork sauce, spicy sauce, pickled mustard seed, and shredded pork); wontons with sauce; fried noodles (with pork, chicken, or shrimp); fried rice; greens; and desserts including red bean buns.
If you’re looking for authentic dumplings, Din Tai Fung is the place to go. If you need any more prodding, the New York Times named the Taiwan flagship one of the 10 best restaurants in the world in 1993, and its Honk Kong branches have been awarded Michelin stars.
#9 San Tung, San Francisco
This perennially packed restaurant serves an array of dough-based items like dumplings and fresh-cut noodles (try the shrimp and leek dumplings or dry black bean sauce noodles), but the dish that has people lined up out the door every night are the dry-fried chicken wings. With a sticky-sweet exterior, they’re about as far from Buffalo as you can get and come slicked with spicy garlic sauce bolstered by even more red chile heat. Forego the rice and snag some garlic string beans to balance out all that heat.
The no-frills dining room doesn’t give the impression that this restaurant is any more special than the many others in San Francisco, but one taste of menu items including shrimp and leek dumplings, hot and sour soup, and dry fry beef will have you sold.
#8 RedFarm, New York
Dim sum master chef Joe Ng and Chinese food expert Ed Schoenfeld have elevated Chinese food to a new level in the West Village and on the Upper West Side. RedFarm offers innovative Chinese cuisine incorporating a farm-to-table mindset, one that you certainly don’t encounter often in Chinese restaurants.
The West Village location only has 42 seats, most of which are at two large communal tables, and reservations for both locations are only taken for parties of eight or more. Once the food starts coming out, you’ll see what all the fuss is about. Starters include Kumamoto oysters with Meyer lemon-yuzu ice, barbecued Flack Foot Berkshire pork belly with grilled jalapeños, a Katz’s pastrami egg roll, and barbecue duck lettuce wraps. Dim sum includes pan-fried lamb dumpling “shooters,” pan-fried pork buns, crispy oxtail dumplings, crispy duck and crab dumplings, and pork and crab soup dumplings. Mains include lobster with chopped pork and egg, crispy skin smoked chicken with garlic, wide rice noodles with barbecued duck breast, Dungeness and rock crabmeat long life noodles, Nueske’s bacon and egg fried rice, and udon noodles with grilled short ribs.
Not only is RedFarm’s food creative and delicious, it fuses the traditional and contemporary in a seamless and brilliant way.
#7 Mission Chinese, San Francisco
Chef Danny Bowien’s San Francisco landmark is still going strong, and very well just might be the most famous Chinese restaurant in America today, commanding hours-long waits that are only somewhat assuaged by kegs of free beer for those who decide to stick around. Thankfully, you can order takeout, so it’s possible to enjoy quirky, non-traditional dishes like kung pao pastrami, barbecued pig ear terrine, and an upmarket twist on beef with broccoli that incorporates tender brisket and smoked oyster sauce without being crushed by hipsters. The New York location, which was shuttered by the city’s Department of Health in October 2013, re-opened with much fanfare in a new location last December. Some may think that Bowien is just a flash in the pan (his follow-up restaurant, Mission Cantina, opened to poor reviews), but we think that his star is only continuing to rise.
#6 Peter Chang’s China Café, Frederiksberg, Maryland
Yelp/ Xida C.
The famously peripatetic chef Peter Chang, known for his superior Szechuan cuisine and a propensity to disappear… er… move about in the American southeast, has been a little easier to find over the past five years since forming a business partnership with Gen Lee, a semi-retired Chinese chef. Indeed, the question has gone from, “Where is Peter Chang?” to “Which of his seven Virginia restaurants is the chef cooking at on any given day?” The quality is good at all of them, and the menus are almost identical. Peter Chang's China Cafe in Fredericksburg, neither the oldest nor the newest of his establishments, is a good place to start — but any of Chang's locations (also including Williamsburg, Charlottesville, Short Pump [Richmond], Arlington, and Virginia Beach, and Rockville), all in Virginia, will provide a similarly satisfying (and spicy) experience. Try Chang's famous scallion bubble pancakes with curry sauce, and/or the Sichuan-style dry-fried eggplant, spicy dan dan noodles, fried boneless whole fish with pine nuts, pigs’ feet stir-fried with dried chiles and Sichuan peppercorns, and most anything on the “Chefs’ Specialties” section of the menu.
#5 Yank Sing, San Francisco
Yank Sing, the popular dim sum restaurant in San Francisco’s financial district, was founded by Alice Chan in 1958. There are now two San Francisco locations of this third-generation family-run restaurant, both creating almost 100 items a day to be rolled into the dining rooms for diners to choose from. Both locations are excellent, but some of our Chinese friends prefer this one, where on weekends, the crowd spills out into the Rincon Atrium. Any conversation about San Francisco's best dim sum is dangerous, but you can easily make a case that this is the city’s best. Either way, complementing the merits of Yank Sing's xiao long bao (soup dumplings) is well-tread ground. Thin dumpling skin, pursed plump dumplings, a dash of vinegar, perfection.
#4 Grand Sichuan, New York
Chinese cooking in New York City was better and more diverse 25 years ago than it is today — many of the great older chefs who immigrated to America during the Cold War have retired, and the demand is now too high in China itself to encourage anyone to leave. That said, chef–restaurateur Xiaotu "John" Zhang's Grand Sichuan restaurants — of which the Ninth Avenue branch is considered the best example — are a bright spot on the local food scene.
The cooking holds true to ancient roots but embraces the evolution of modern cuisine, redefining the familiar "take-out" that New Yorkers have come to love (and depend on) while suggesting a more vibrant future for Chinese food in America. In addition to all the standards you'd expect, done well, the menu offers more uncommon fare — for instance, crab and pork soup dumplings, sliced conch with "wild pepper" sauce, eel with garlic sauce, shredded duck with bitter melon, and ox tongue and tripe in hot sauce.
#3 Xi’An Famous Foods, New York
With eight no-frills locations in New York, including outposts in Flushing, Chinatown, Greenpoint, Midtown Manhattan, and the East Village, Xi’an is one of the only places in the country to get your fix of the traditional foods of the western Chinese city of the same name.
You’ll be glad you did: Go for any of the hand-pulled noodle dishes, like the spicy and tingly beef, or try the spicy cumin lamb or stewed pork “burgers,” which are more like chopped spiced meat on buns. Other intensely flavorful options include a soup with diced pork belly and hand-stretched and ripped noodles in a sour and spicy broth; lamb face salad with lamb face meat and tendons, cucumbers, scallions, and cilantro with a spicy dressing; homemade soft tofu in a spicy sauce; and lamb offal soup (with liver, stomach, and heart). If you’re feeling adventurous, Xi’an is for you.
The flavors will be unlike any you’ve had. We suggest you heed their warning and don’t take your order to go; those fresh noodles demand to be eaten immediately, before they begin to stick together.
#2 Koi Palace, Daly City, Calif.
The secret to this perpetually-crowded Hong Kong-style restaurant’s success? Sending their staff to Asia on occasion to learn about the newest dining trends, and then incorporating them into the menu back home. This sprawling Daly City, California restaurant and event space opened in 1996 and has been one of the Bay Area’s top Chinese spots since day one. World-class dim sum is the name of the game during lunchtime, but once dinner rolls around Koi Palace becomes a seafood destination, with entire menu sections dedicated to abalone, crab, shrimp, and lobster. While these preparations are spot-on authentic, there’s plenty of room to be daring: goose intestine chow fun, anyone? We’ll stick with the whole suckling pig, selling for $190, or their legendary Shanghai crab dumplings.
#1 Lao Sze Chuan, Chicago
If you live near Chicago and haven’t been to Lao Sze Chuan, here’s a word of advice: Go. Now. You can consider yourself fortunate to be living in a city that’s home to a Chinese restaurant of this caliber, run by Tony Hu, dubbed the mayor of Chinatown and proprietor of a handful of restaurants throughout the city. The Chinatown original is the best though, and folks line up every night to get in. Lao Sze Chuan’s Szechuan fare is spicy and intensely flavorful, and it’s racked up accolades including three forks from the Chicago Tribune and a designated ‘bib gourmand’ in the Michelin Guide. Classics like mapo tofu, cumin lamb, dry chili chicken, and twice-cooked pork are flawless, and the house specialties — like Tony’s Three Chili Chicken: sweet, crispy, moist, and not too spicy — will keep you coming back again and again.