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Aug 12, 2007 01:27 PM

Best Chinatown restaurants?

I am new to Boston and am a bit overwhelmed by all the options in Chinatown. What's good? What's not? and are there other, better, places to get Chinese food in Boston?

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  1. First things first: there really aren't many decent Boston Chinese restaurants outside of Chinatown.

    Here's my take on Chinatown options. For dim sum, there are four especially good options: Hei La Moon, China Pearl, Chau Chow City, and Emperor's (aka Empire) Garden; different posters here will put them in different orders of preference. For garden-variety Chinese, King Fung Garden, Hong Kong Eatery, and Pearl Villa are especially good and Grand Chau Chow is at least OK. For vegetarian, Buddha's Delight is pretty much the only game in the area, and generally good. For seafood, Peach Farm, East Ocean City, and New Jumbo Seafood are your best bets. For Taiwanese, Taiwan Cafe is very good. Two weak spots to avoid are Moon Villa and Ocean Wealth, and Imperial Seafood is meh.

    For other cuisines, these are especially good: Ginza for Japanese sushi, Shabu-Zen for Japanese shabu shabu hot pot, Penang for Mayasian, and Pho Pasteur, Xinh Xinh, and Pho Hoa for Vietnamese. I was not very taken with Apollo or Suishaya for sushi or Kaze for shabu shabu hot pot.

    6 Replies
      1. re: galangatron

        Is that new shanghai & wings kitchen before their respective ownership changes, after their changes or both?

        I've not had a chance to go to either since they've changed hands, but I know they're both radically different (NS is now sichuan and Wings is now cantonese)

        1. re: jgg13

          Just had some Sichuan stuff tonight at New Shanghai. They really knocked it out of the park. Dry cooked sichuan fish, sichuan dumplings, dan dan noodles, and twice cooked pork belly. They really went heavy with the mala but it was so good I could hardly complain. Not a place to hit if you're trying to stay on track with a diet, though.

          1. re: muscles_marinara

            I haven't been to NS for a few years, but back then I thought it was pretty good though a bit pricey for what you get. I still prefer the suburban places for Sichuan, though.

      2. re: bachslunch

        That's an excellent list; I'd add the standard caveat for the OP that it's worth doing a little more research here about the specific places recommended to suss out their strengths and weaknesses since most of them have extensive menus, only some of which they do really well. Taiwan Cafe is an exception in that regard - the kitchen stands behind the entire menu.

        I would disagree with the suggestion that there aren't many good Chinese restaurants outside of Chinatown - in particular, good Szechuan is *only* available outside Chinatown, unless I'm forgetting something. To be specific: Sichuan Garden in Brookline and Zoe's in Cambridge for Szechuan; Wang's Fast Food (Somerville) and Qingdao Garden (Cambridge) for dumplings; there are lots of other examples out there.

        1. re: MichaelB

          MichaelB, you're right that there are some good Chinese places in the Greater Boston area outside of Chinatown, but the OP said "in Boston," which I took literally. Shanghai Gate (which qualifies by about 50 yards) is in Allston and does that area's cuisine well, and I've also seen some positive feedback about Victoria Seafood in Allston, but that's about it. Wisteria House on Newbury Street just closed this weekend, but will reopen in Allston and East Cambridge later this year.

          You can go to Cambridge and hit Mary Chung, MuLan, Qingdao Garden, or (for more Americanized stuff) Changsho. Or hit Shangri-La in Belmont for Taiwanese. They're all varying degrees of very good, but they're not in Boston proper.

      3. It depends on the regional cuisine. For Sichuan food you'll need to head out to the burbs. I like Sichuan Gourmet in Framingham. Shanghai Gate in Allston serves very good Shanghainese. Qingdao and Wang's in North Cambridge and Somerville for homey Shandong cooking, along they also serve a few dishes from Sichuan. Fuloon in Malden has excellent Shandong and Sichuan dishes too.

        Chinatown is largely Cantonese, New Jumbo, Peach Farm and New Lucky House are probably as good as it gets in the area depending on what type of dishes you get. The Best Little Restaurant (fka Ho Yuen Ting)is largely Cantonese but serves also dishes from Chaozhou/Teochew, a border city in Canton next to Fujian.

        For more low end casual rice plates and noodles, HK Eatery (get the wonton soup noodles and the claypot rice dishes), China Pearl Best Cafe (roast meats), Rainbow Cafe (oyster pancake, cuttlefish balls) are good choices.

        Taiwan cafe can be uneven, but generally serves pretty good homey Taiwanese.

        New Shanghai is excellent for Shanghainese, especially the appetizers and small plates. Wing's is also Shanghainese, but the cooking is less refined and more homey. These can be good places to bring vegetarian friends, as the cuisine specializes in a bunch of gluten/tofu dishes that are vegetarian.

        Potluck Cafe does a good job in general with Foochow cuisine.

        Stick to the Shandong dishes at King Fung e.g. peking duck, potstickers, scallion pancakes.

        Shabu-Zen and Kaze, although seemingly Japanese on the exterior, are actually Chinese hot pot places rather than true shabu shabu restaurants. I think they're decent, but don't come close to Little Q in Quincy.

        1. Limster was pretty encyclopedic as usual, the only additions I would make is Szechuan Garden in Brookline for pretty respectable Szechuan food, MuLan in Kendall Square, don't know the region, but it rocks, and last and near (geographically) and dear to my heart, Shangri-La in Belmont for superb Taiwanese food.

          Oh, and the best chinese bakery, heck a notable bakery by any standard, Yi Soon in Brighton.

          6 Replies
          1. re: StriperGuy

            Mulan's is a Taiwanese place. I liked it better than Taiwan Cafe, but I haven't been there in a long while, nor Szechuan Garden, hence I didn't mention it. Ditto Anise, which i didn't like very much but it's a long time ago. Hoping that folks will also chime in on Zoe's in Somerville (which I hear has gone downhill but haven't experienced myself lately) and Chilli Garden in Medford (which I've never been to).

            Was hoping that you'd mention the tea-smoked duck at Shangri-La. :)

            1. re: limster

              Turned a friend on to that duck a few weeks ago. Blew him away. So yummy.

              1. re: limster

                Nice list, limster. Zoe's does well with the Sichuan part of their menu, especially the whole cooked fish. The rest of the menu can be spotty and I'm not sure that I'd go there instead of Sichuan Garden or Sichuan Gourmet in the 'burbs.

                1. re: gini

                  If you're in Boston proper and you want Sichuan, it would just be a mistake to drive to Zoe's and not drive to Chili Garden.

              2. re: StriperGuy

                Don't forget Sichuan Gourmet in Framingham (I've been to the one in Billerica once and was not nearly as impressed.) With only one exception, the food has always been outstanding, and the managers have always seen to it that we get plenty of flower-pepper and Yibin pickle. (The one exception to that was when we ordered on a slow night when none of the people we knew were working, and we got Americanized food with hardly a hint of pepper or pickle. Still good, just not spicy.)

                We are truly blessed to have this place. It's good enough to save me a trip to Flushing. Now if only we'd get some authentic Hunan restaurants within a few hundred miles of Boston...

                ~ Kiran

                1. Things have changed a bit in Chinatown. Wing's Kitchen is gone, though someone has opened a new, bad, restaurant using the same name. Winsor Dim Sum Cafe is still producing excellent food, with no use of sneeze carts, you order off the menu. We now have Sichuan food at the restaurant still known in English as "New Shanghai" whose Chinese name is now 京川酒家 (Jing Chuan Restaurant.) I've been there once since the change in ownership and was *extremely* impressed. Sadly, at 9:30 on Saturday they were basically empty, and AFAICT we were the only people who were eating Sichuan food. This place deserves to be packed to the rafters at 10PM--we really need a Sichuan restaurant that doesn't close at 9:30 on weeknights. Their Sichuan double cooked pork belly was loaded with black bean salty goodness as well as a fair amount of huajiao oil, and the gan guo fish fillets were at least as good as Lao Sichuan Framingham (the only other place I know that makes them) and probably better--MUCH more garlic, enormous amounts of huajiao (enough huajiao even for me) with just the right amount of lajiao.

                  I've also had some very good food at the so-called Gourmet Dumpling House, whose real name is 南北風味 (South-North Special/Local Flavor.) I haven't been disappointed with anything i've had there, though I've not investigated a huge portion of their menu. Despite the name, they also do well at Sichuan-ish food. In particular they make an excellent double cooked pork (until I tried and their water-cooked beef is quite good (better than many Sichuan restaurants.) They also made me some dry style chow fun with black bean sauce (not on the menu) and did an excellent job with it, though not as well as the original Hollywood East.

                  In the suburbs we now have Lao Sichuan in Brookline, which is excellent. Fuloon struck me as mediocre and very overpriced, and i haven't been back. We also have the under-new-ownership Thailand Cafe (I'm told its new name is Thai Chuan, but i haven't been there since i started learning to read) which probably continues to serve bad "Thai" food, but now also serves very good Sichuan food. And I've recently discovered 石庫門 (Shanghai Gate) which I really enjoy, but I have to admit to not having tried the actual Shanghai portion of their menu.

                  Chilli Garden in Medford has impressed me several times; I suspect their chef has changed since my drab experience in early 2006. I find their menu to be much more diverse than the other Sichuan places. But they don't really use enough huajiao for me even when i order 加麻. I don't go to Zoe's very often but have certainly been happy with the food I've gotten there a couple of times in the past year or so. I recently went to Wang's again and can't recommend it when there's so much better now. I *still* haven't been to MuLan--thanks for the reminder. And I expect Mary Chung's continues to define the apex of mediocrity, but I haven't been *there* since before this thread began.

                  As for Hunan, there's now a decent Hunan place in Flushing, 湘水山庄 (Hunan House), but if you want great Hunan you still have to go to 鴻福湘園 (Hunan Taste) in Catonsville. And Grace Garden's eclectic style of family cooking still has no rivals that I've found.

                  Chilli Garden
                  41 Riverside Ave, Medford, MA 02155

                  Gourmet Dumpling House
                  52 Beach St, Boston, MA 02111

                  Winsor Dim Sum Cafe
                  10 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: KWagle

                    KWagle, this is a great round-up both inside and outside of Chinatown.

                    I might just add that inside Chinatown, Taiwan Cafe is still (easily) my favorite restaurant in Chinatown. Phenomenal thousand year egg with tofu, three cup chicken, pan fried cod filet with soy sprinkles and vegetarian dumplings, among other dishes.

                    Similarly, there are more excellent, authentic Taiwanese restaurants around, including Jo Jo Taipei and Blue Asia Cafe in Allston, and Mulan in Cambridge. Shangri-la in Belmont and Chung Shin Yuan in Newton are particularly good for weekend brunch.

                    I have to disagree about Wang's. I think a few dishes (scallion pancakes, Szechuan Bone-in Chicken) have gone downhill since their halcyon days, but the dumplings are as good as ever and they continue to have interesting specials. Qingdao Garden also has terrific dumplings and a very broad and deep menu.

                    But finally, I have to disagree most about Fuloon. From your review, you obviously know Chinese food well. Then you have to get back to Fuloon, because it sounds like you had an anomalous experience. Fuloon has only gotten stronger since it opened and defines the apex of Chinese food in the Greater-Boston area. There are some individual dishes at other restaurants that are as good, but I can't think of any other Chinese restaurant with so many terrific dishes, representative of so many different styles.

                    And, as an aside, if you like Hunan food, try the excellent Dong Ting Spring in Las Vegas.

                    Chung Shin Yuan
                    183 California St, Newtonville, MA 02458

                    Qingdao Garden Restaurant
                    2382 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02140

                    JoJo Tai Pei Restaurant
                    103 Brighton Ave, Boston, MA 02134

                    Blue Asia Cafe
                    113 Brighton Ave, Boston, MA 02134

                    1. re: lipoff

                      I just had a scallion pancake stuffed with roast beef slices and scallions at Taiwan Cafe that was amazing. I wish I'd noticed it before. Pork and taro with fermented tofu sauce was actually even better than usual today, with long strips of pork belly interlaced with the taro. Must remain awake...

                      1. re: nsenada

                        Okay, time to go back. Maybe tonight after midnight. The pancake stuffed with beef meat and scallions was something I enjoyed at Wisteria at the Super 88 food court. It was a rolled up thing but they called it a spin. Never had fermented tofu, is it the stuff some people call stinky?

                        1. re: KWagle

                          This one's also rolled up, then sliced. I would love to get one unsliced, and eat it like a giant greasy rollup - that's what Foumami should be offering. The fermented tofu sauce is a sweet, bean-pasty, slightly alcoholic five spice flavored sauce, not really as challenging as I imagine stinky tofu tastes.

                          225 Franklin St, Boston, MA 02110

                          1. re: nsenada

                            Learn to read and write, then you can ask them to not slice it. :-) Seriously, this should not be a hard problem to solve.

                            1. re: nsenada

                              Jo Jo Taipei also does a nice version of this - I forget what they call it.

                              JoJo Tai Pei Restaurant
                              103 Brighton Ave, Boston, MA 02134

                            2. re: KWagle

                              the scallion pancake with roast beef is also done well at Ck Shangahai in Wellesley; try it

                        2. re: KWagle

                          Sichuan Gourmet has a Brookline branch; i think that they are all equally good.

                          I like C K Shanghai in Wellesley though I know the chef and get him to make authentic dishes that are not on the menu.

                          I prefer my dumplings from Wang's - being one of the many who has learned a lot from StriperGuy, MC, et al.

                          Sichuan Gourmet
                          1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                          1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                            Lao Sichuan is the Chinese name for Sichuan Gourmet, I believe.

                            Sichuan Gourmet
                            502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

                            1. re: justbeingpolite

                              Yes, I think that's correct. KWagle seems to prefer using the Chinese names for several local restaurants rather than the names by which the rest of us might know them. My own big question is what is "the original Hollywood East" - that's not a restaurant name I recognize at all.

                              1. re: Allstonian

                                Hollywood East is in Wheaton, MD. Their original locations are now closed and they've moved to the mall still doing good to great work, especially dim sum, which they do every day, and an amazing "spicy salted" (辣盐) deep fried tofu--the only tofu dish I truly enjoy.

                                As door nomenclature, in many cases (as you can see above) the English name is simply wrong. It's often just the name of a previous restaurant that occupied the same building (the excellent Sichuan places "Hong Kong Palace" "Thailand Cafe" and "New Shanghai" provide lovely examples) and in the case of "Wing's Kitchen" a slap in the face of one of Boston's best cooks. In most other cases, it sheds no light on what you might expect to eat there.

                                As for Lao Sichuan in particular (whose English name *is* a good representation of the restaurant) I often forget to include it's American name, and long ago decided to use the other precisely because its American name is so generic. I wouldn't want anyone to get it mixed up with that place in Brookline that doesn't know what huajiao is, for example. (Though to be fair, I downloaded a Chinese language menu from them several years ago, but I'm not sure they had one when we went there. And a late afternoon lunch might not be when their best waiters are around.)

                                I've always enjoyed "Taiwan Cafe" and Qingdao Garden as well, though I haven't been there in years. They've both been consistently good. Wang's wasn't *bad* so much as mediocre--and there' s lot of great competition now. As for Fuloon, I may have to give them another try. Any specific recommendations?

                                The scene in DC and in NYC has also changed a lot in the past few years--almost entirely for the better--but that's a topic adequately documented elsewhere.

                                ~ Kiran <>

                                1. re: KWagle

                                  Lots and lots of things are good at Fuloon.

                                  I happen to have just been on Sunday, and three of us started with three appetizers:

                                  cong1 you2 bing3 (Scallion Pancakes)
                                  liang2 ban4 dou4 fu (Cold Bean Curd)
                                  hong2 you2 chao1 shou3 (Wonton with Special Hot Sauce)

                                  Each was terrific. You won't find the hong2 you2 chao1 shou3 under appetizers though --- look for "Mandarin Dim Sum" at the very back of the menu. The sauce in which the wontons are bathed is deliciously complex. It's heat pairs well with the refreshing cold tofu. Their scallion pancake is among the very best. Pro tip --- if you like spice, dip the scallion pancake in the sauce with the wontons, not that the vinegar that comes with the scallion pancakes isn't wonderful.

                                  We also had three entrées:

                                  jiang4 bao4 ya1 pian4 (Jiang Pao Duck)
                                  guo1 kao3 niu2 rou4 (Wok Baked Beef)
                                  kong1 xin1 cai4 (Sautéed Water Spinach)

                                  jiang4 bao4 ya1 is hard to describe if you've never had it before, but it's a really terrific example of Shandong cuisine made here with excellent skill. Duck is one of my favorites, and Fuloon does a number of excellent duck preparations. But this is my favorite duck prep anywhere. The guo1 kao3 niu2 is Cantonese, and my favorite of the "Wok Baked Series" at Fuloon. At its best (and it was at its best on Sunday) the beef gets this beautiful caramelization while retaining this tender texture. kong1 xin1 cai4 was not on the menu, but they had it and that's the vegetable that we all felt like.

                                  There are also many more terrific vegetable dishes. My favorite is the dou4 jiao1 bai2 cai4 (Mandarin Cabbage with Chili Pepper). The gan1 bian1 si4 ji4 dou4 (Kan Shue String Beans) a complex and almost smoky rendition of this classic. And I prefer Si4 chuan1 dou4 hua1 (Bean Curd with Special Sauce) to ma2 po2 dou4 fu, due to the ethereally soft texture of the former, although their version of the latter is excellent as well.

                                  There are many more great dishes on their menu, but my other favorite entrée is the qing1 zheng1 quan2 yu2 (Steamed Whole Fish).

                                  Fuloon also does a number of excellent Sichuan dishes. ge1 le4 shan1 la zi ji1 (Hot Diced Chicken Szechuan Style) can be one of my favorites. The worst I can say about Fuloon is that this dish is sometimes a little inconsistent. Other Sichuan dishes at Fuloon can be quite good as well. There aren't as many Sichuan dishes on their menu as at Sichuan Gourmet (Lao Sichuan) but what is there is done at a very high level.

                                  I don't want to distract things too much by turning the attention back to Wang's. But I think they are much more than mediocre. Their dumplings alone catapult them to the highest level. So too with their noodle soups, other pastries, noodles, and also every cold dish (leng3 cai4) has been excellent. Their white board is filled with a variety of authentic Chinese specials which I translated on another post (

                                  Sichuan Gourmet
                                  1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                                  1. re: lipoff

                                    I believe that one of the dishes (of three or four) I tried at Fuloon was the wok-baked beef; it was served in a cast-iron skillet. I wasn't particularly impressed by it. We did have some kind of duck dish that seemed to be related to Peking duck, served with shredded veggies and pancakes, which I found to be okay but felt was overpriced.

                                    As for Wang's, I've never been as impressed by their dumplings as everyone else seems to be; I found them overly doughy and didn't like the cellophane noodles that make them fall apart. Tonight my friends ordered some random dumplings at "Golden Garden" (which is actually Golden Mountain, 金山饭店) which turned out to be quite good.

                                    But I have to say that some of Wang's' specials you list, in particular the cumin lamb amd pork, the spicy meat balls, the spicy pickled cabbage with pork (which we had a non-spicy version of tonight) and the pork and fennel dumplings--do sound intriguing, enough so that I might make a trip up there sometime late in the month (when my Somerville foodie friends return.) The last time I was at Wangs I gave that board only a cursory look, since in the past it's been mostly stuff that's on the paper menu (and they claimed that was still true.) Thanks for translating that.

                                  2. re: KWagle

                                    Has anyone eaten recently (last six months) at Qingdao Garden? The last two meals we had there were rather bad. The flavors were muted (in a couple of cases to the point of nonexistence), and the meat tough. Ditto for Zoe's, although they started the downhill slide earlier.

                                    Qingdao Garden Restaurant
                                    2382 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02140

                                    1. re: FoodDabbler

                                      As far as Zoe goes, over the last few years I wouldn't say they've gone downhill so much as they're just wildly inconsistent.

                                      1. re: FoodDabbler

                                        Had a great meal at Qingdao a few weeks ago.

                                        1. re: FoodDabbler

                                          I had an excellent meal at Qingdao Garden recently. Dumplings were as good as ever, they have a number of rotating specials, and the friendly chef/owner is definitely around. They are a humble restaurant, and I wouldn't be floored to hear that sometimes the meat is tough, but our meal on Sunday was all-around excellent.

                                          Zoe's had a period a few years ago when I thought they had slid (when they had two restaurants), but have regained their former glories. But I totally agree about them being inconsistent. As I understand it, there are four different chefs at Zoe's and it's not so much overall quality that varies, but actually the way individual dishes are made that varies among them. I actually rather enjoy this, because three out of the four distinctly different variations of guai4 wei4 ji1 (strange flavor chicken) are excellent. One is not. This adds excitement! Most of the chefs are there together on weekends, and that's when I would choose to go to Zoe's for the best meal.

                                          Qingdao Garden Restaurant
                                          2382 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02140

                                          1. re: lipoff

                                            As I was reading about the "four different versions" I was going to bring up the strange flavored chicken as an example.

                              2. New fav for dim sum is Bubor in Chinatown, No carts. Delicious.