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1st-time visit to Chicago Chinatown... must-try recommendations?

asianbun Feb 25, 2008 10:07 AM

Visiting in a week, and my bf and I are taking the train to Chinatown (not by car).
What places do i "have to" hit up? I love specialty food spots that specialize in one thing (bing, bao, soup dumplings, pancakes, etc), and for dinner, i'd love a recommendation that has great food but is not too dingy or hole-in-the-wall. (i'll do that for lunch, but not dinner!).
I'm from Chinese descent originally from Cali, so i know good Chinese food ---NYC's Chinatown is too greasy for my taste.

Reco's please!!!

  1. l
    lemiller610 Oct 31, 2009 05:08 PM

    There's a TON of good and very affordable Asian food in Uptown area, complete opposite direction of Chinatown proper. Not many Chinese-exclusive, but a lot of Vietnamese, Korean, and a few Chinese & Japanese places.

    1. m
      midwest Oct 22, 2009 10:19 PM

      I know good Chinese food, too. I grew up in restaurants, specifically in a Chinese-Korean family. Family food addicts on both coasts, as well as Chicago. Traveled throughout China, eaten a lot of amazing (and amazingly bad) Chinese food in my forty years. Here are some of my recommendations for Chicago's Chinatown:

      1) Spring World. Go for the Yunnanese specialties. Across the Bridge Noodles. Beef with Dry Mushrooms. The pick-three cold appetizer bar. Homestyle whole fish, spicy with fennel. Hard to find these regional dishes in the US.
      2) Shui Wah. Chui Chow style food. Ask if they have any sea bream in, get it if you can. Big Cabbage with Three Kinds of Egg.
      3) "Little" Three Happiness. Still the best Gan Chow Niu He in all of Chinatown, and I've actually never found a better one on either coast (though I'm sure there must be). The noodles are a bit thicker than at most places, and they cook 'em right to the edge of crispyness.
      4) Ken Kee. Get the fried mantou with the condensed milk. Closest thing I've ever had to a Chinese krispy kreme. Their basics are all really good: wonton soups, Cantonese fried noodles.
      5) Outside of Chintown proper, Ed's Potsticker House. They have a lot of the northern classics: shou zhua bing, lamb with cumin (they used to offer lamb neck bones, which was awesome, but for some reason that hasn't been available the last few times I've been), stir fried matchstick potato, yu shiang eggplant. Many of these dishes are also available at Lao Beijing.
      6) Lao Sze Chaun has been covered by others. Same with Joy Yee's. I love both. They are totally worth multiple trips, trying lots of different things.
      7) At Happy Chef's late night menu there is an unusual offering called (I think) Taiwan Trio. It's chinese chive, salted tiny fish, peanuts, and pork, wokked together with no sauce. I think I'm remembering the main components right- definitely the tiny fish and peanuts, plus some green and meat. Anyway, I've never seen this anywhere else. It's worth trying, just to break up the usual expectations in a simple stir fry.

      Hope this gets people going to Chinatown and trying things. Chicago's Chinatown is actually pretty decent in regional specialties. Take advantage!

      1 Reply
      1. re: midwest
        Pete Oldtown Oct 31, 2009 10:22 PM

        A very valuable post. Thank you.

      2. j
        jesteinf Feb 25, 2008 10:47 AM

        The definitely don't specialize in one thing, but my new favorite in Chinatown is Lao Sze Chuan. I'm not the biggest spicy food fan in the world, but even I loved all of the Szechuan dishes that I was introduced to here recently. Some of my favorites were:

        Dry chili prawns
        3-chili chicken
        Ma po tofu
        Peking pork
        Mayonnaise shrimp (which sounds ridiculous, but is actually a really nice counterpoint to all of the spicy stuff)

        17 Replies
        1. re: jesteinf
          nsxtasy Feb 25, 2008 12:40 PM

          I agree with the recommendation of Lao Sze Chuan ( www.laoszechuan.com ). However, I wouldn't exactly call it upscale; it's really your ethnic storefront type restaurant with basic decor, not fancy at all, although I wouldn't call it dingy either (fortunately, it's at the end of the Chinatown Mall so it has side windows). The food is excellent, and they also bring a nice complimentary spicy slaw with your meal. I'm not sure if LSC will meet your needs, because it sounds like it's more what you're looking for for lunch rather than dinner.

          Just to toss out an entirely different suggestion, to help figure out what you're looking for... I recently had dinner at Shanghai Terrace, which is in the Peninsula, one of our top luxury hotels off Michigan Avenue. The food was excellent (as you would expect). It was also very expensive for Chinese food, but comparable to what you would pay in a very nice upscale contemporary American restaurant (we spent around $90/person with alcohol, tax, and tip). So if you're looking for a nice, upscale Chinese restaurant, that's a good candidate; if that price level horrifies you, then it isn't. You can take a look at the menu on their website at http://chicago.peninsula.com/pch/shan...


          1. re: nsxtasy
            jesteinf Feb 25, 2008 12:43 PM

            Relative to some of the other places in Chinatown, Lao Sze Chuan is pretty upscale ;)

            1. re: jesteinf
              asianbun Mar 11, 2008 02:15 PM

              thanks everyone for the suggestions...
              however to be honest, when i got to Chinatown, it was really depressing, like entering a time warp of Chinatown circa 1960s/70s! i could not believe my eyes... coming from my hometown area of San Gabriel Valley in California (the best Chinatown in the US)... am i missing something? I finally got to the Plaza where Lao Sze Chuan was (didn't eat there) and noticed most asians frequenting Joy Yee's. Which actually looked good.

              But overall, is this it? Is there any more to Chinatown than this? What's going on?

              1. re: asianbun
                jesteinf Mar 11, 2008 02:27 PM

                Chicago's Chinatown probably isn't on par with SF/NYC, but I wouldn't dismiss it in its entirety. Lao Sze Chuan is a real gem and it's a shame that you missed it.

                1. re: asianbun
                  swsidejim Mar 12, 2008 06:23 AM

                  Lao Sze Chuan is pretty good & I have enjoyed my many visits there. I have never enjoyed Joy Yee's at all.

                  Nowdays my favorite chinese restaurants are either out in the suburbs(Fabulous Noodles, Katy's Dumplings), or on the North Side(Sun Wah BBQ)

                  1. re: swsidejim
                    asianbun Mar 12, 2008 10:33 AM

                    thank u everyone! will try Lao Sze Chuan next time and keep the suburbs in mind!!

                    1. re: asianbun
                      nsxtasy Mar 12, 2008 10:45 AM

                      FYI - Lao Sze Chuan has two locations in the suburbs as well as its original location in Chinatown.

                      1. re: nsxtasy
                        jaberwock Mar 12, 2008 12:02 PM

                        I think Tony closed the suburban locations, but there is one in Milford, Connecticut. In addition, he recently opened Lao Shanghai and Lao Beijing in Chinatown

                        1. re: jaberwock
                          swsidejim Mar 12, 2008 12:04 PM

                          Downers Grove Lao Sze Chuan is still open. It did move from Westmont a few years ago though.

                          With that said I go to Fabulous Noodles, or Katy's before I consider Lao Sze Chuan, they are all within 15 minutes of each other on a stretch of Ogden Avenue in Westmont(Katy's), Downers Grove( Lao Sze Chuan), and Lisle(Fabulous Noodles).

                          1. re: swsidejim
                            hooboy4 Mar 12, 2008 02:51 PM

                            Katy's in Westmont has the best beef noodle soup ever....the broth is to die for...the noodles are homemade...fresh cilantro in every bowl...yum....

                            and at LSC in Downers Grove....the Tony's 3 chili chicken (otherwise known as "chicken crack" is awesome...and the crispy mayonnaise shrimp is absolutely fantastic.

                            1. re: hooboy4
                              swsidejim Mar 13, 2008 05:19 AM

                              I agre the noodles and pot stickers are reason enough to go to Katy's. I have had the "chicken crack" at the Downers Grove, and Chicago locations of Lao Sze Chuan. very good, but I will still go to Fabulous Noodles over Katy's or Lao Sze Chuan when given a choice. Luckily I work close enough to all 3 that I could go every day for lunch.

                              1. re: swsidejim
                                phantomdoc May 23, 2008 09:49 PM

                                Had lunch today at L S C in Downers Grove. Lunch special MaPo Tofu, asked for Ma La. Was a large bowl of heaven for $6. Small cubes of soft tofu in a rich broth redolent of chili with mixed spices and garlic. Also had Tony's Chicken with Three Chili #429 $10 Requested medium spice. Nice small fried pieces of crispy chicken,with lots of whole red dried chilis, hot green chili chopped fine and probably powdered chili in the chicken coating. Mrs. Phantom who is not a servant to the hot pepper really loved this. They gave us both soup and eggrolls. The hot and sour was very tasty, the wonton nondescript. Forget the eggrolls. All in all a great lunch for two $20 with tax and tip. Will get to the chinatown LSC and Double Li Later next week. Report to follow.

                                1. re: phantomdoc
                                  citywayne May 24, 2008 09:30 PM

                                  What and where is Double Li? thanks.

                                  1. re: citywayne
                                    phantomdoc May 25, 2008 03:31 PM

                                    Double Li
                                    228 W Cermak Rd. Chicago, Il 60616

                                    1. re: phantomdoc
                                      citywayne May 26, 2008 12:54 PM

                                      Thanks. .. is this place relatively new? mapquest shows it's a few doors down from the firehouse.

                  2. re: asianbun
                    phillydogs Oct 14, 2009 06:07 PM

                    I was there last year. thought the same thing. Like a ghost town. Awesome place to shoot photos or a movie but not to eat, especially coming from the east coast.. even Philly's Chinatown is more active & interesting.

                    1. re: asianbun
                      Pete Oldtown Oct 31, 2009 10:20 PM

                      You're not wrong. Chicago Chinatown is pretty disappointing to me. Joy Yee's is pretty much non-spicy, but it has some pretty complex dishes. If you want something different, try some places like Spoon Thai and TAC Quick. Or head up to Argyle (on the Red Line) and find the places where actual Vietnamese eat.

                      I think the places in Chinatown expect tourist traffic and cater to it. If you're Caucasian, you're probably not going to get the good stuff. Lao SzeChuan is decent, but not great, and it is overpriced.

                      I lived in NYC for many years, and the neighborhood Chinese joints were both better and cheaper. Our Thai, OTOH, is far superior. It was like NYC Thai places had the same menu and price fixing. Which, it turns out, was true.

                      Spoon Thai
                      4608 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60625

                      Joy Yee
                      1221 W 33rd Pl, Chicago, IL 60608

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