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Feb 14, 2010 03:45 PM

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!