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Dec 10, 2011 07:37 AM

Chinese in Chinatown

We want to eat in Chinatown (D.C.). Which restaurant do you recommend and why?

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  1. We enjoy Eat First. They have authentic Cantonese and roast duck, roast pork. They have good hong kong style dumpling soup, clams with black bean sauce, clay pot chicken with mushrooms and ginger, whole fried fish with garlic and ginger, sautéed bok Choy. Check out the authentic Chinese menu as well as the sheets of paper on the wall. Btw, they have great lo mein also.

    1 Reply
    1. What are you looking for? Chinese-American food or authentic Chinese? Any particular style or province?

      Or maybe you are not even interested in Chinese food at all.... many restaurants in Chinatown are not Chinese. You could eat Irish pub fare, African food, Pizza, etc.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Steve

        I do want Chinese, but open to province. I think authentic is difficult to define. Would like to walk in and around Chinatown, but can jump on the metro and go 15 minutes further afield for really good food.. I grew up on NYC Chinese food, but living in a small Midwest town with boring Chinese. Staying Dc central would like to walk if possible,

        1. re: dlpucc

          You can certainly find non-boring Chinese in Chinatown. Full Key is an old standby. I don't know how it is recently, though. Duck stuffed with shrimp paste and oyster and ginger casserole among my favorite dishes there.

          A group of us had a good lunch at Jacky Cafe, now a long time ago.

          New Big Wong has some good dishes. I like the fried baby squid heads on the specials menu on the wall, written in Chinese only ($12.95), and from the menu the marinated pork with pickled vegetables.

          1. re: Steve

            The fried baby squid heads are on the printed menu as well, with a different name. i've hd excellent luck over the years at NWB, though I think their food may have gone a bit downhill recently--as you know their kitchen does occasionally have a bad night, which has happened to me only once in the previous decade.

            The best Chinese is clearly in the suburbs these days, but the best Cantonese may still be NBW. I haven't been very impressed with the other choices in the area. And having tried a huge chunk of their authentic menu over the years I can think of only one dish (the pork belly with pickled veg) I've had at NBW that wasn't well above average for the dish in question. If I want to try something weird, I go there to do it.

            As for "authentic", well, that's a huge can of worms, but there seem to be two kinds of people on Chowhound--those who immediately understand the concept and wonder why anyone would need to discuss it, and those who go on endlessly about how it's "difficult to define" or how "all cuisine is adapted to local tastes" [by which they do not mean "to locally available ingredients"] and so on and so forth for hundreds of posts. I'm sure there's a third kind of Chowhound who just skips those threads entirely.

            For me a few simple guidelines suffice. For example, if there's a menu written in a language you can't read, order from that. If you see dishes on another table you don't recognize, or ingredients your supermarket doesn't stock, order those dishes. If the proprietor says she'll cook you something the way she cooks it for herself, go for it. If the waiter says "you no like, that for Chinese people," well by now you should know what to do. :D

            1. re: KWagle

              When I was in China in the early 80s before the rush of tourists I ate really good food and food that tasted like crap. Since I was in China (all over the state) you could argue it was "authentic". Some of the food, though, was bad. I'd prefer good to authentic any day.
              Cuisine is a evolution. Just think about Italy pre New World contact. I find authentic and people who pontificate on it pretentious.

              1. re: dlpucc

                What about Chinese people just wanting Chinese food? Is that pretentious? Some food may taste like crap to you but that doesn't mean it's bad. It just means you haven't acquired a taste for it. I suggest you go to PF Chang.

                1. re: Worldwide Diner

                  *Being* crap is different than "tasting like crap." It's easy to confuse "I don't like it" with "it's crap". I don't know if that's the case in this case, but it's a very common mistake.

                  I believe there have been two occasions when I was told I woldn't like something and actually didn't. In the recent case, it was a wok-burnt beef and onion dish which I wanted to try due to my own misunderstanding of the Chinese. I was repeatedly warned that it would taste burned and I should order something else. It tasted bad to me, and I certainly didn't like it. But since the restaurant was otherwise good, and since the dish was correctly described to me by the woman who took my order, my assumption is I didn't like it, precisely because it *was* good. Some people presumably like the taste of actually burnt food.

                  I can't say I like everything I eat. But I *can* say, after years of cooking and eating, "I don't like that dish, but it's a well-prepared example."

                2. re: dlpucc

                  In general, the quality of Chinese food in China in the early 1980's was poor. Higher level party cadres and hotels catering to foreigners received the good stuff while the masses had more limited fare. At the Beijing Language Institute for example they had one dining hall for Chinese and one for foreigners. While the Chinese were not allowed into the western dining hall, foreigners could eat in the Chinese dining hall. The difference between the two was vast, so was the price!

                  D.C. is a very expensive town to live and work in and the best ethnic eateries are found in the suburban areas.

                  1. re: dlpucc

                    I don't think KWagle was pretending anything. He was explaining about the kind of food and experiences he likes. If you are looking for that, then his advice could be meaningful. No need for you to be insulting.

          2. I like the homemade noodles at Chinatown Express, although the flavors are on the plain side. If anyone else has recommendations for noodles in Chinatown, I'm listening!

            1 Reply
              1. re: mdpilam

                And you've personally tried all of the Chinese restaurants in Chinatown?

                1. re: Worldwide Diner

                  FYI - DC's Chinatown is a not really chinatown since many of the Chinese business and restaurants bolted for the burbs years ago due to higher rents. If you have been to Chinatown in NYC or San Fran you will be disappointed in the DC version which is full of chain restaurants and sub-par eating establishments

                  1. re: agarnett100

                    Not that history means much, but this does not explain it well. Much of Chinatown was dismantled when DC built the OLD Convention Center and the residents were displaced. Had little to do with higher rents.

                    1. re: Steve

                      I always read the bad posts regarding chinatown. I love Grace Garden in Odenton, Hunan Taste in Catonsville, Sechuan Pavillion in Rockville, New Kam Fong and Wong Gee in Wheaton but I also love EAT FIRST in chinatown. Food is very good and DLPUCC I think you will enjoy it. stop listening to all these chinatown food snobs posts.

                      1. re: Steve

                        Don't you mean when Abe Pollin built the Verizon Center the Old Convention Center is bound by New York Avenue and 9th, H, and 11th Streets - where City Center is going up

                        1. re: agarnett100

                          I think the beginning of the end was when the Chinese residenrts were displaced to the Wah Luck House in 1982 from building the old Convention Center. I don't remember there being any more of a 'real' Chinatown after that. Verizon Center was around 1998.

                          1. re: Steve

                            Its kinda of funny its the only Chinatown I have ever been to with so few if any actual Chinese people

                            1. re: agarnett100

                              Always see Asians eating in Chinatown express and at eat first

                        2. re: Steve

                          My favorite was the Nanking at 10th and Mass. Best Cantonese ever in DC, I'm pretty sure. It burned some time in the late 70's. RIP.