I had the pleasure of spending a few days for work down near the convention center for the past two weeks. I can say that I have tried about all there is at The Reading Terminal More importantly, I started to venture down to Race St to try some of the interesting spots in Chinatown only to be overwhelmed with choices. I almost stopped at the very gaudy Tin Joy something but decided against it. I tried to find Vietnam but was short for time and gave up. I ended up at (the very safe looking) Ny Michaels on 12th st. Good, but simple. My adventurous side craves more.
Is there a website that breaks down what's there? With so many options/eateries/restuarants, where do you even start. I know this is vague, but I'd like to learn what is worth stopping in at. I have a few more days to explore so let the games begin.
I don't know about a website, but here are some of our favorites:
On 11th Street, north of Race (between Race and Vine) is Lee How Fook. Very popular and deservedly so - nothing exotic, but everything is fresh, well-cooked and delicious.
Next door is Vietnam, one of our best Vietnamese restaurants.
On Race between 9th and 10th is another favorite, Shiao Lan Kung.
And on 9th Street, a few door north of Race, is our favorite place for dim sum, Lakeside Deli. There's no lake and no deli and it looks like a dump, but it is amazing. All the dim sum is on the menu. It is freshly made and served to you; no carts. Read the review on the door to get suggestions as to what to order. (The meat-and-peanut dumplings are a must.) Ridiculously inexpensive.
Don't miss this place.
I'm sure others will add their favorites.
For some non-cantonese or southern asian dishes you can try:
4 Rivers (Near the - a sichuan <which meas four rivers> restaurant - a little greasy, but judging by all the mainland chinese and taiwanese that go there it shouldn't be too bad.
Empress Garden (next to chinatown gate)- lighter homestyle cooking- a hodge-podge of mandrin and taiwanese.
I suspect both owners are originally from taiwan and so you'll find things like 3 cup chicken and beef noodle soup (more taiwanese style) that are pretty good.
There's a sichuan restaurant (chong qing) on arch street it was really good when it first opened, but it hasn't been doing well- last time I went the garlic paste was very bitter- which implies it wasn't fresh. I think that restaurant location is cursed. It's changed hands a least 3 times in last couple years.
Empress Garden has the same name as a well-known restaurant in Taiwan, and I believe claims to be the American branch of that restaurant.
Chongqing Garden has been inconsistent in the past it's true, but recently I've had a string of very good dinners there. Most recently had fish head soup (sha guo yu tou), homestyle eggplant, pork and pickle soup (suan cai du pian tang), chicken with green peppers (qing jiao ji ding), and pork with cilantro (xiang cai rou si). 'Sha guo' is the sand pot type of hot pot that was discussed recently on the board. The pork and pickle soup is the best version in Chinatown, more complex than Szechuan Tasty House's, has hot green peppers, ginger, and sichuan pepper. Their 'du' (pig...stomach, I think) is the tenderest and has by far the best flavor out of Tasty House and Four Rivers. (The 'pickle' is actually pickled, i.e. preserved, vegetables, not the deli kind of pickle.) The pork with cilantro is excellent; julienned pork with cilantro, dark red peppers, ginger - not as numbingly hot as the usual Sichuan selections, but really good mix of flavors.
The only part of Chungking Garden I am somewhat hesitant to recommend (besides the 'american' section of the menu, oh and I wasn't wowed by the duck tongue) is the small dishes on display in the entrance area. Most of the time they're a nice start to a meal, but on one occasion the doufu rou (tofu skin? not sure) tasted like it had been left out too long. I have always liked the pig ear, the seaweed(?), and the vegetable mix that looks like sauerkraut.
For my money, it's Four Rivers that has gone downhill. Just compare their ma po dou fu or suan cai du pian tang to STH or CKG.