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China Boy--Stunning Find in D.C. Chinatown

As I have posted on several of the boards, Chinese food in Chinatowns lags badly behind Chinese food in suburban areas having a significant Chinese population (e.g., San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles). This is due to the fact that Chinatown restaurants typically have a tourist and lunch crowd which lowers the authenticity and hence the quality of the food. This trend is particularly the case in Washington DC given the large lunch crowd and the relatively small local Chinese population in Chinatown. Having run out of dining alternatives in D.C. Chinatown, I spied a restaurant called China Boy on 6th St. between H and I Streets in Chinatown, in the basement of what appears to be a residential building. At first I thought it was the remnants of a deceased restaurant and didn't even stop. However, going back this afternoon I spotted an "open" sign in the window and took a closer look. Even walking through the door I was still skeptical that there was an operating restaurant there because it there did not appear to be any kind of business open there, just supplies stacked against the wall in a small hallway. However making a right turn, there indeed was a small restaurant. I'm not sure what their business plan is--there were only two tables (one large and one small), and the menu on the wall only had four categories of food--chow fun, noodle soup, fried rice and rice noodle rolls. (Maybe they make it on take out, or maybe they wholesale some of their stuff.) However, the food there is terriffic. The beef rice noodle rolls (cheung fun) are excellent as is the beef noodle soup. I've only seen a brief mention of China Boy on this board, but despite its improbable setting I have to say it's rocketed to the top of my list of Chinatown eateries. Previous poster indicates that China Boy closes rather early, probably a wise decision based on the surroundings. Street address is 817 Sixth St.

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    1. Chinaboy does more business selling its noodles to grocery stores and resturants. For exmple you can find their rice noodled packaged and sold at Kam Sam in Annandale. It is a real good place in chinatown. Their rice noodle soup (broad noodles) with different topics (they have some solid organs) is excellent.

      I think full kee and chinaboy are the only decent chinese resturants left in chinatown, unfortunately.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Soup

        Jackey Cafe is also in the running. Only been there twice, but it does appear solid. You can ask for the regular menu at lunch; most of their customers only get the limited lunch special menu..

        1. re: Steve

          I have a rough theory that if a Chinese restaurant inaptly describes its menu items, the food might be pretty good. Before you laugh there may be some rationale involved. Inapt (or inept) descriptions indicate a lack of familiarity with the language showing that the operators are more recent immigrants who might be more in tune with current food trends in the homeland, as opposed to somebody who has gotten used to dumbing down the food for the lunch or tourist crowd. On this basis I would refer you to Jackey Cafe's "Crab Meat and Fish Stew" soup. Sounds great for a seafood lover, except that I've never seen that particular soup anywhere else, while Crab Meat and Fish Maw soup is a standard in authentic Chinese restaurants. For the uninitiated, fish maw is basically fish intestines that have been dried and then puffed up with air. Hardly any flavor, but very appetizing for those who enjoy texture in their food. Anyway, Jackey's "fish stew" is in fact "fish maw," which is fine with me, and their version was average. But I wonder how many unsuspecting souls have ordered this dish and gotten the shock of their life? And under my theory, the rest of the menu could be pretty good.

          1. re: Chandavkl

            I think your theory is spot on. This is not to say that slicker, more westernized Chinese places also cannot put out a good meal, but the simple places as you describe are often a very good bet, especially if they haven't been there long.

        2. re: Soup

          Yes, I wonder why better places like Great Wall and Chopsticks don't make it, while other less deserving places just roll along.

        3. that is where i buy fresh rice noodle sheets.

          (if it is the place where you walk a few steps downstairs off the street....)

          1. They close at 4:30, and they make most of their profits on selling noodles to other Chinese restaurants. I tried the chow fun and rice noodle rolls yesterday -- the noodles are, indeed, good, and freshly made, but all in all it was nothing special. Perhaps a good choice if you're hankering for chow fun, but not a destination spot. I'll try the noodle soup soon -- perhaps that's more of a draw.

            3 Replies
            1. re: MartyL

              I was there yesterday as well.

              The beef rolls are listed as rice crepes on the menu board. They only make about four items - a soup, fried rice, the crepes, and chow foon - with three or four versions of each.

              The rice crepes wrapped around ground beef were ok, The crepes themselves were soft, sticky, and as wonderfully fresh as you could hope for. The beef, not so much. If I go back, I'd be tempted to order the shrimp or roast pork, those might be more to my liking.

              1. re: Steve

                I've had chow foon and fried rice. Not the crepes. I found the chow food a bit too oily. I really like their rice noodle soups. I've always been satisfied their topings.

                1. re: Steve

                  The ground beef in the cheung fun was much coarser than you normally find, which usually spells trouble. However China Boy's was still quite good notwithstanding the fact that the beef wasn't finely minced like it usually is in good versions of this dish.

              2. The revitalization of the DC Chinatown area has pushed out most all of the authentic Chinese restaurants. Montgomery County,MD-- Rockville/Gaithersburg is the real Chinatown now with a large number of excellent, authentic, Chinese restaurants that compare equally in quality to those in LA, NYC. My favorites: Bob's 66, Mama Wok & Terriyaki (Chinese Family Style Menu), Seven Seas.

                15 Replies
                1. re: rheelee

                  Thanks for your post, and welcome to Chowhound. You're the first person I've heard say that some of our restaurants compare equally to those in LA or NYC. Personally, I don't know, but you say it with such confidence!

                  I haven't heard about Mama Wok and Teriyaki. What do you recommend there?

                  1. re: Steve

                    Add Falls Church, VA to the locales where there are Chinese restaurants that could prosper in the San Gabriel Valley or Silicon Valley here in California. There's been a remarkable upsurge in the past few years in the quality of authentic Chinese food in what would be considered second tier cities for Chinese food. Places like Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Miami, Tampa and even Bakersfield, Modesto and Fresno now have one or more (in some cases, many more) Chinese restaurants comparable to what you used to have to go to LA, SF or NY to enjoy.

                    1. re: Chandavkl

                      I think it depends on what type of Chinese food you're looking for. I've seen a lot of good Sichuan places in the area recently, but in terms of Cantonese cuisine, we've fallen way behind. Hope Key closing was probably the death knell for good Cantonese food in the area in my book.

                      1. re: Chandavkl

                        would you give your list, please, chandavki?

                        1. re: alkapal

                          I wouldn't mind if Mark's Duck House and Vinh Ky Seafood (Arlington@Graham) were located in Los Angeles. Maybe Peking Village (though I'm not a big Sichuan fan).

                      2. re: Steve

                        Thanks, Steve. My family was in the restaurant business and we're all serious foodies. Montgomery County, MD has one of the largest growing Chinese communities in the US and it's really heightened the quality and authenticity of many of the Chinese restaurants in MoCo. Yes, I honestly can say with confidence that some of them are up to par with the ones in LA & NYC.

                        Mama Wok & Terriyaki may not sound like a serious Chinese restaurant, but look past the silly name and order from the Chef's Recommendations and Mama Wok Specialties sections. There are two locations: an older one in Rockville and a newer store in Gaithersburg. Both are about the same, the newer one in Gaithersburg has a nicer ambiance and decor. My recs are Crispy Shrimp Rolls, Eggplant with Basil, Black Pepper Steak in Hot Plate, Three Cup Chicken, Sea Bass in Fire Pot, and Beef Sauteed with Chives.

                        1. re: rheelee

                          Right now I am contemplating how I can have all of these at one meal..... I feel a Chow lunch coming on!

                            1. re: Steve

                              Make it a weekend, if you can!

                              (or a Monday - by 2/1 I should be telecommuting on Mondays...)

                            2. re: rheelee

                              Update- Mama Wok & Terriyaki (Rockville location) has changed owners recently. Unfortunately, not up to par anymore. The Gaithersburg Mama Wok is still good.

                              1. re: rheelee

                                Thanks for this update. I almost made the mistake of going to the Rockville Mama Wok on Sunday -- luckily went to A&J instead. Yummines all around!

                                rheelee, any particularly good new finds on your radar screen?

                                1. re: Bonz

                                  Nothing new to report recently. I'm always on the lookout and will keep you posted.

                                  Glad to hear Boz had a good meal at A & J. I was also there last weekend. It's usually decent, but my meal was underwhelming this time. My Northern Chinese family frequently makes dumplings, noodles, and breads from scratch. Nothing compares to home made!

                                  1. re: Bonz

                                    I'm pretty sure I've asked this before and not gotten an answer (forgive me if I did get an answer and forgot). There's a Mama Wok in Reston - is it related (looks like an American-Chinese place)?

                                    1. re: Dennis S

                                      Hmmm...I've never heard of Mama Wok in Reston. Sorry, can't give a recommendation on that one.

                                2. re: rheelee

                                  Argh, I am on the bus coming down to DC and all I can think about it is the Taiwanese brunch at A and J's. I have yet to find as tasty a Taiwanese brunch in NYC even Flushing especially the rice rolls (!!!)

                                  There is some seriously good Chinese food in Rockville, and I miss it dearly.

                                  On the other hand, there is some amazing dim sum in NYC and some of the tastiest soup dumplings ever, so on the whole I'll call the slight advantage to NYC (except we have no peking duck like NoVa.) Now if only we could get some good Vietnamese food instead of this dishwater that passes for pho, I'd be all set.

                              1. re: hill food

                                hill food, it would be great if hounds updated that list of chinatown eats....the boards here have info scattered across many threads.

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  he seems to update it on a semi-annual basis, and hits the places more regularly and with a more sophisticated/educated palate than mine.

                                  there is a lot of great info that gets lost and overlooked on these boards.

                                  1. re: hill food

                                    Good resource but I don't think it's been updated since mid-2007. as I believe Great Wall is closed.

                                1. In light of Ipse Dixit's rave on another thread, and a rather stunning series of Yelp hosannas (yes, I know), I thought this thread warrants reviving. As noted below, my one experience there five years ago was mediocre, but now I'm hankering to go back to try the rice noodle soup.

                                  Any other recent takes?

                                  7 Replies
                                  1. re: Marty L.

                                    I was there a few months ago. I got a noodle dish and an order of crepes. The noodle dish was good and large (half was brought home for dinner.....something that I never do). The crepes were underseasoned.

                                    It was a good meal and I'll eat there again when I'm in the area, but I think some of the raves are a bit over the top and a little too much.

                                    A lot of the appeal is the hole in the wall nature of the place. If you served the same exact food in a "real" restaurant, I doubt there would be this kind of buzz.

                                    1. re: Marty L.

                                      If they make their rice noodles for area restaurants, which is their primary business, then I guess the noodles would be just as good at Eat First, etc.

                                      1. re: Marty L.

                                        The praise for China Boy has to be taken in context.

                                        This is DC Chinese food we are talking about here. China Boy is like an oasis in a Chinese food desert populated by places like Ming's or Full Kee serving nothing but glop.

                                        You can't demand a bottle of Perrier trekking through the Gobi desert. You get a canister of day-old well water and you're going to treasure it like it's a bottle of Château Lafite.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          +1 on the comment that we're talking about relative merits. For Californians like ipse and myself, we would probably never patronize China Boy if it were located in Los Angeles.

                                          1. re: Chandavkl

                                            All those "Chinatown" restaurants on H street range from mediocre to downright nasty. Sorry, but it's true. The whole block needs a good scrubbing and a heart transplant. I try it every so often by default (Full Kee, New Big Wong, China Boy, etc.) because I'm nearby on a regular basis, but each experience is worse than the last. I've finally given up. Why even think about going there when you can take the metro to Rockville for an astounding variety of superb Chinese food?

                                            1. re: flavrmeistr

                                              I'm thinking Joe's and Sichuan Jin River are both Metro accessable. Any others?

                                              1. re: KevinS

                                                A&J, China Bistro, Tony Lin's, Seven Seas, Bob's Noodle 66, East Pearl, Super Bowl Noodle House, Jumbo Jumbo Bubble Express...