Photo: Hunan Taste
Just how all-American is Chinese food?We’ve been placing delivery orders since the 1920s, and there are now more than 41,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S., nearly three times the number of McDonald’s, according to Chinese Restaurant News.
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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 tantalising, adventurous eating.
You’ll find restaurants setting the bar higher in immigrant enclaves like New York City’s Flushing neighbourhood 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 chilli 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 favourites in the comments below.
See the best Chinese restaurants >
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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.
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 flavours 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
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.
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 flavours meet.
It's become famous indeed for inexpensive and flavour-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
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
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
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 favourite 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
Within a charming row house, A Single Pebble is helmed by Chiuho Duval, a Taiwan-native who emphasises 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 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.
Other signature dishes: shark-fin soup served in fresh coconuts and roasted suckling pig, harmoniously crispy and tender. koipalace.com
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