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Best Chinese in Cambridge or Somerville

My wife and I are longing for a really good Chinese place. Yes we know about Wang's on Broadway in Somerville. But when we last went (not take-out) it was too dirty for a sit-down meal. There must be more than one good Chinese restaurant in Somerville (where we live), Cambridge, Medford or Arlington. HELP!

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  1. My favorite Chinese restaurant in Cambridge (near Davis Square) is Qingdao Garden. The back page of the menu has Northern Chinese specialties. Their dumplings are very similar (if not the same?) as Wangs. The kitchen has always seemed clean enough there. Mary Chungs in Central Square has very good Chinese-American cuisine.

    Otherwise, I would travel to Allston or Chinatown for my Chinese food fix.

    2 Replies
    1. re: babka eater

      Second Qingdao Garden, for sure. My go-to place in the area. I love the boiled fish in fiery sauce there. I also enjoy Zoe's on Beacon St, although I've found it a bit hit-or-miss. For something a bit more Americanized, East Asia in Powderhouse Square is pretty good (I like the homemade tofu).

      1. re: greenzebra

        FYI, they seem to be closed at the moment. There are renovations going on but I am not sure if the renovations are for Qingdao or another restaurant. I hope they re-open soon. Love thier dumplings!

        -----
        Qingdao Garden Restaurant
        2382 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02140

    2. I'm a very big fan of Zoe's on Beacon Street in Somerville. I have only had excellent meals there. They serve Szechuan food--my favorites include the Chongqing Chicken, Lamb with Cumin, and their rendition of Ants on a Tree (ground pork with bean thread noodles). Their space is elegant and warm and the staff is very kind. It is a good neighborhood place with food that in my opinion is consistently very good.

      1. Wang's on Broadway at Macgoun Sq, especally (but not only) for dumplings.

          1. Royal East in Cambridge is great - very fresh ingredients - wonderful fish and vegetable dishes! (792 Main Street)

            15 Replies
            1. re: halaluia13

              Counterpoint: Royal East is pretty awful and even the less Americanized dishes are prepared in a fairly American-take-out style (too much sauce, monotonous salty flavors).

              In that neighborhood, MuLan is by far your best option.

              1. re: Luther

                I agree with Luther. Mulan is excellent. In Cambridge itself, I'd say that Mulan and Qingdao Garden are the obvious best.

                Jo Jo Taipei, Zoe's and Wang's are not in Cambridge, but none is far away. I realize that Wang's does not have the nicest decor of any restaurant, and I probably wouldn't take a first date there. But it is scruplously clean --- the obvious pride that the family who runs the restaurant takes in their business is self-evident, so I'm not sure I understand the OP's comment.

                Mary Chung has some nice dishes (dan dan mian, in particular) but it is not, overall, an authentic or excellent Chinese restaurant. Thailand Cafe‎, near MIT, has some excellent Sichuan dishes, but has a relatively limited Chinese menu. Don't touch their exercrable Thai food though. I find Royal East to be quite unremarkable. Changsho has fine Americanized Chinese food, but there is nothing authentic at all on their menu. Stay away from Yenching at all costs. In Harvard Square I'd prefer to go to the Hong Kong, which does not have a pretense of authenticity, but has some surprisingly satisfying dishes. Still, unless it's late at night, Zoe's is not far away and a better choice.

                1. re: lipoff

                  Thank you for reminding me of Mulan. I went there last night and had an excellent meal, We started with the beef and leek pancakes and then moved onto three main courses. The shredded fish (a Chinese New Year's special) with jellyfish was very fresh and tender. The jumbo shrimp with walnuts (another Chinese New Year's special) was drenched with a sweet mayo over a bed of broccoli and honeydew melon. Finally, the eggplant with hot garlic sauce made a nice accompaniment to the meal. The waitress had recommended the eggplant with basil as more Taiwanese but we wanted something a little more spicy

                  In addition, the service was attentive and helpful. We plan to return soon.

                  1. re: babka eater

                    babka, you'll be happy to hear that the shredded fish with jellyfish is available year round, although not listed on the menu...i usually ask them to hold the celery in that dish

                2. re: Luther

                  I don't think I've ever seen a place cause such diverse opinions in cambridge/'ville than Royal East. Over the years I've seen people (even folks from china, which is the oddest part) declare it to be the best available, hands down. I've also seen people say it is absolutely awful. Despite living in the 'hood for a decade now, somehow I've never managed to go there myself, I always forget about it down there.

                    1. re: jgg13

                      Just another example of how people from Country X aren't necessarily good judges of the quality of X food.

                      1. re: Luther

                        Too true, although when people say, "this is exactly like what I ate back home" it is hard to ignore. I suppose that's more in the 'authenticity' argument than 'quality'.

                        You could say that it'd be akin to a fast food junky from here moving to china and saying that McDs is exactly the sort of thing they ate all the time back home in the US.

                        1. re: jgg13

                          Being just like home does not mean it is good. While I love some lesser quality portuguese food, other fellow portuguese don't. I might love it because it brings me back childhood memories or sharing quality time with an ex-girlfriend sharing a certain type of food.

                          I've been to plenty of portuguese restaurants and while I'd say most of them are pretty authentic to me, a lot of them do stuff in a way I don't really love or not with great care or quality. In portugal, I will go to a certain restaurant to get some dish I specially like there, not to get a dish.

                          It's very dangerous to over-trust natives of countries when going to restaurants. For example, while I find the bacalhau 'a bras sub-standard at casa portugal in cambridge, some of my fellow countrymen say it's ok or even good.

                          Just because it's authentic, doesn't mean it's really good or culinary interesting. Just because it's not american, does not make junk food good :-)

                      2. re: jgg13

                        I might interpret that further, might that actually go something like this?

                        "best available, hands down." = " Well it's nice and fancy looking, you won't like real Chinese food anyway, so for a Westerner like you, a pretty, Americanized place that looks like a fancy Western restaurant, is the best in Cambridge (for you) hands down."

                        1. re: StriperGuy

                          In the couple of examples that I'm thinking, the 'for you' isn't the case as RE was literally their favorite place to go. There is the possibility that they were able to get stuff that a whitey like myself wouldn't be able to get though, I dunno.

                          1. re: jgg13

                            Oh well, I tried...

                            That they got a "house menu" is the only thing I can imagine.

                        2. re: jgg13

                          I think it's partly the case that, for me at least, some of their dishes are quite good and others are either not what I would expect or are just not very good. I don't mind RE but am selective about what I order. I tend to favor Mary Chung's and, more recently, Mulan's.

                          1. re: ghaff

                            My experience at Royal East has been distinctly thumbs down. I've only had take out lunch, but I ordered simple dishes figuring they're tough to mess up, and they messed them up. Rice was dry and reminded me of rice leftover from the night before. The roast duck I didn't expect to be great considering the location, but I've even had better leftover roast duck that I re-heated in a microwave.

                            Ginger & scallion noodles used the wrong type of noodles and completely flavorless. Yikes. Both items shouldn't be affected by takeout, especially considering I only work a block and half away.

                          2. re: jgg13

                            Put me in the Royal East haters category. Frozen peas and die-cut carrots in some dishes: unspeakable!

                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                      3. Chili Garden in Medford has great Szechuan food, so-so American Chinese food. Try the spicy beef short ribs, cumin lamb, or chicken with sour mustard greens.

                        1. Unfortunately, the three best Chinese restaurants in the areas you are noting are Qingdao Garden, Chilli Garden, and Zoes'. Neither Qingdao Garden nor Zoe's are very good. Chilli Garden is inconsistent, but when it's on, the noodle dishes are exceptional. I would not order protein dishes at any of these restaurants. The two best Chinese restaurants in Boston are CK's Shanghai, in Wellesley, which offers refinement and Sichuan Garden in Brookline, which, if you order the Sichuan dishes, offers the real thing.

                          11 Replies
                          1. re: scotty27

                            "Steak House" @ Chilli Garden == Sublime
                            Chicken kung pao @ Chilli Garden == Excellent
                            Lamb cumin @ Qingdao == Sublime
                            Boiled Fish/Fiery Sauce @ Qingdao == Excellent

                            These are all "protein dishes" if I'm not mistaken.

                            1. re: scratchie

                              My favorite spots are Chilli Garden - especially for pork dishes, and Fuloon, mostly for bean curd. I'm not a huge fan of the wok baked... I've only had Sichuan dishes at Chilli Garden, but my son likes the orange chicken from the other side of the menu. IMO the non Sichuan dishes at Fuloon are awful.

                              -----
                              Chilli Garden
                              41 Riverside Ave, Medford, MA 02155

                              1. re: almansa

                                Awful seems like a very strong word, especially for the most sophisticated Chinese cooking in the Boston area. Are you referring to Fuloon's offering of American-Chinese food, or authentic Shandong or Cantonese dishes like their Jiang Pao Duck, Diced Chicken with Dates & Chestnuts, Wok Baked Beef, Steamed Pork with Dry Bean Curd, Jing Du Pork Pancake, Steamed Whole Fish with Ginger and Scallion, and more?

                                1. re: lipoff

                                  No, I'm mostly referring to the sizzling scallop entree my father ordered over the holidays. It was admittedly too broad a statement, but I was so disappointed he ordered it that I'm taking out my family issues on Chowhound. Sorry.

                                  1. re: almansa

                                    I can't blame you for this one --- the tie3 ban3 ("iron plate" or "sizzling") dishes at Fuloon are actually uniformly awful. I've found this very strange, because the superficially similar Wok Baked series are uniformly terrific and unique.

                            2. re: scotty27

                              I'm a big Zoe's fan, including their "protein" dishes (Chongqing chicken, ground pork with long beans, ma po tofu, bean thread noodles with pork, cumin lamb, among others). I am curious why you say it's not very good--I haven't been to Qingdao Garden yet but that, too, has a lot of fans on these boards. I found Szechuan dishes at Zoe's far better than what I had at Szechuan Garden. I would probably say Szechuan Gourmet was the best Szechuan meal I have had up here, but again, I have never been disappointed with Zoe's. There are also a number of really excellent places in Chinatown, including Gourmet Dumpling House, Winsor Dim Sum Cafe, Peach Farm, etc. It would be a shame to write off a lot of great places in this area.

                              1. re: hckybg

                                Zoe's can be hit or miss. I've always figured they have multiple cooks and it depends on who is working there on any given night. I've seen various dishes arrive that are completely different than what I've seen other times - one dish in particular seems to be prepared 3 different ways, never know quite what will come.

                              2. re: scotty27

                                I don't understand this at all. CK Shanghai in Wellesley is so sad --- it serves incredibly bland, Americanized dreck! Walnut Shrimp? Dragon and Phoenix? Sirlion Steak in Black Pepper Sauce? Give me a break. Such a let down from CK's New Shanghai in its heyday. Is there something in particular that you like at CK Shanghai? Does he make special off-menu dishes or is there something worthwhile on the standard menu?

                                Qingdao Garden is excellent all around, serving a variety of Northern style Chinese dishes and the occaisonal spicy surprise. I do find Zoe's and Chili Garden a little inconsistent, but far, far above average. I find it actually fairly exciting that sometimes very different items emerge from Zoe's kitchen from the same order (try guai4 wei4 ji1 a few times --- it really is a mystery!)

                                I know some people prefer Sichuan Garden, but on the local Sichuan scene I'd say they rank at best fourth, after Sichuan Gourmet, Fuloon and Red Peppers.

                                I also think that, in general, the best Chinese food is now found the suburbs (such Malden, Medford, Somerville, Cambridge and Framingham), where Chinese people who've immigrated from mainland China and Taiwan now live, rather than in Chinatown, which is where people from Hong Kong and Fujian used to live. There are some good restaurants, notably Taiwan Cafe, but I don't think the best representative of any genre of Chinese food now resides in Chinatown.

                                1. re: lipoff

                                  Where is the best Chinese Restaurant you've been in MA? People rave about Peach Farm, but last time I went it was very mediocre.

                                  1. re: Torolover

                                    my favorite place is ck shanghai but you have to choose well as some of the dishes including the dumplings are americanized. though yesterday, ck made me some special dumplings that were excellent.

                                    in chinatown, i go to east ocean seafood where i recommend the seafood though they do good mu shu pork.

                                    for buying dumplings, i like mulan and wang's. why not get them frozen, boil them for about 12 minutes and then use soy sauce/balsamic vinegar/hot sause with some ginger.

                                2. re: scotty27

                                  Agreed on Qinddao, we tried it once with a large variety of dishes (family visiting at the time) and were disappointed. Haven't been to Zoe's or Chilli Garden.

                                  The old standbys of which we all approve and have had multiple good meals at in the past 5 years have been Mulan (consistently good), Shangri-La (it's in Belmont, but it's close to Cambridge). New on the scene is Golden Garden, in Belmont but very close to the Cambridge border. We've been there a few times, and also taken out for family members, and haven't had a bad meal yet.

                                  -----
                                  Shangri-La
                                  149 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478

                                  Chilli Garden
                                  41 Riverside Ave, Medford, MA 02155

                                  Golden Garden
                                  63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

                                3. Have you considered Chinatown? There are lots of interesting places to explore, and probably more interesting than Medford.

                                  1. i live down the street from wang's and don't think much of it. the frozen dumplings are pretty good but the freshness of their ingredients in the main menu has been questionable and it is often very oily. we love mary chung's in cental square, if we don't go there once a week they ask us "what happened?" some chowhounds say it isn't authentic- well we've had to wait for a table and been the only non- asians in the place. very few clunkers on the menu. even her american chinese standards (chicken wings, pork fried rice,general gau chicken, etc) is a notch or two above what you'll find elsewhere. sometimes we get a craving for that stuff too!

                                    1. What about Shangri-La in Belmont? Authentic Taiwanese (IIRC) and also a pleasant atmosphere, definitely a step up from both Wang's and Qingdao in ambience.

                                      1. I'm in the catagory of Royal East fans! I've never had a bad meal or even close to bad.
                                        The spare ribs are top notch, crispy duck which we order with pancakes and scallions is perfectly cooked, we always get an order of chinese broccoli which is cooked perfectly.
                                        The service is wonderful, the room is clean and roomy ( and always packed) with many Asian families I may add. I like Quingdao and realize it is closer to authentic. Pork with cilantro and the dumplings are standouts. It's in my neighborhood but it is the dreariest place to sit down in. Let's hope the renovation takes care of that. I am a fan of Mary Chungs as you can't beat their won tons and the spicy eggplant is epic.

                                        -----
                                        Mary Chung Restaurant
                                        460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                        Royal East Restaurant
                                        792 Main St, Cambridge, MA 02139