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Aug 27, 2012 07:45 AM

Four Rivers (Chinatown)

This place has been mentioned a few times in other threads, mostly by barryg

I figured I'd start a thread just for it. I checked it out recently and really liked it, especially for the price (dirt cheap), the service (very friendly and helpful), and the atmosphere (definitely Chinatown but not dirty or dumpy). We didn't eat a lot, and since we'd never been there before we stuck to things mentioned in other threads: spicy cucumbers, crystal wontons, and peppercorn chicken. They were all good, especially the cucumbers and peppercorn chicken, both of which I preferred to Han Dynasty's versions. The cucumbers were dressed lightly, not bathing in a pool of oil like at HD (not that I don't like that!), the texture was better than at HD and the spicy heat was more complex. I think they may be using a different variety of cucumber. Peppercorn chicken was as barryg said, redolent of szechuan peppercorn (something that's been lacking at the Old City HD for quite a while) and delicious. Crystal wontons were OK but I prefer HD's wontons in chili oil. At $22 for the lot I'm not complaining though.

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  1. I haven't read barryg. Hope it is not a disrespect, but it could be better since my opinion here is not influenced by others.

    I have eaten at Four Rivers about 4 times. I enjoyed my experience for all four occasions. Good quality food, and good prices. The restaurnat is fancy by any mean. It could use some remodeling or decorations. The only big crticism I heard is that Four Rivers restaurant is run and owned by a Taiwanese (which is absolutely true), and therefore it is not authnetic (not sure about this part). In my view, it is good, and taste as authnetic as most other Suezhen restaurants.

    As for authnetic Suezhen restaurant, I was told that Emei is better. I have only eaten at Emei once.

    It was good too.

    Thanks for your review.

    12 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      I wouldn't let Taiwanese ownership keep me from eating a place, or even considering it "authentic."
      -Many people have left mainland China for Taiwan, while keeping their own culinary traditions;
      -Everywhere, many outsiders tend to respect traditions, while people who grow up w/in a tradition often want to modify it, expand on it, etc.
      I'll also ad that when we're in Hong Kong, our favorite restaurant for Shanghainese food is a Taiwanese chain!

      1. re: Bob Loblaw

        Also, their chef(s) could very well be from Szechuan. I don't think Han of Han Dynasty is from Szechuan but he gets his chefs there.

        1. re: barryg

          If I remember correctly, I believe that Han's family is from Formosa/Taiway as well (and explains a few of the dishes on the menu including taiwanese sausage, and the three cup chciken).

          1. re: cwdonald

            Han is America-born, parents from Taiwan. Their first restaurant was the one in Exton, with a co-owner who is from SiChuan (who was once, if not current, owner of Four Rivers) and who brought along Chef Zhang (now at R&Z Ping Pong). Small world, complicated network.

            The Shanghai food chain is excellent. NY times once reported it as one of the top snack food places in the world. Owned by a "mainlander" family from Taiwan. I once met them and asked why they have not come to Philadelphia. I was told the franchise fee is a cool US 2 million. The training of a kitchen hand takes 2 years just to put in the right number of folds in the dumplings. High standards are the reason people wait in lines around blocks in Taipei to eat in the small restaurant. OK, guess I will stick with Dim Sum Garden on 11th street near Chinatown still.

            For SiChuan food, I just want a place that offers decent Ma La and some consistency in good food preparation. Still looking. Someone mentioned Spice 28. Anyone has been?

            1. re: borntolovefood

              borntolovefood, what is your opinion of Han Dynasty, Four Rivers, and Szechuan Tasty House?

              1. re: barryg

                It's been a while since I visited any of them. Therefore my opinion is not up to date.

                I think the problem is I have only one stomach and a very limited amount of free time. If I go to a restaurant to eat and the food does not satisfy, I do not go back. This may not be a fair thing to do since anyone can have an "off" day cooking.

                Recently, I found myself following a few favorite chefs of mine more than anything else. Doing it this way, satisfaction is almost always graranteed. For Chinese food I follow Z of Ping Pong (reasons previously documented) and would also gladly eat at Margaret Kuo in Wayne since she also takes care of using good ingredients.

        2. re: Bob Loblaw

          <I wouldn't let Taiwanese ownership keep me from eating a place, or even considering it "authentic." >

          I absolutely agree with you on a personal level, which is why I wrote "In my view, it is good, and taste as authnetic as most other Suezhen restaurants.", but I know exactly what you mean. I was just saying that some people don't think so. It is very debatable. I know some would even argue that the Taiwan has the more authentic version since, during the Chinese civil war, the elites were moved to Taiwan. Anyway.

        3. re: Chemicalkinetics

          <The restaurnat is fancy by any mean>

          I meant the restaurant is NOT fancy by any mean.

          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            I've been to Four Rivers for lunch many many times and think their Szechuann dishes are fantastic. The double cooked pork is my favorite here. The wonton soup has vegetables in it which is a nice change of pace and when I ask for extra rice it's not a problem or extra charge.
            Service is friendly too so I can recommend it on all all levels (except the decor).

            1. re: discndav

              <(except the decor).>

              I agree. It isn't dirty or anything, but it looks cheap. That is the problem. it is one of those places, I would love to go, but would never bring my date to. I don't know if that makes sense.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Maybe for a first date but, if you're getting to know someone better I think it would be great to see if this is a food experience you could enjoy sharing... not that I've dated in many a year so my opinion may be exactly that. i led my dh into a veritable treasure trove of varied ethnic eating he had never been exposed to and it is something we enjoy together.

          2. re: Chemicalkinetics

            I did a takeout from Four River this Sunday with the infamous "Water Cooked Pork" (水煮肉) -- I didn't have enough cash for "Water Cooked Fish". It is pretty good again. Very spicy, very favorful.

          3. Was back at Four Rivers tonight. Peppercorn Chicken was good as usual, Dan Dan was actually improved over my last visits with a richer sauce. It was excellent though still not quite as good as Han's.

            This time we also got the server to translate the hand written specials card in the menus, which she was happy to do. We got a steamed beef dish served with a very spicy sauce on the side, and pigs feet cooked in a sweet-spicy sauce. Both were excellent. The vegetable dumplings were a big hit too, stuffed with lots of chopped spinach and mushroom. The pork dumplings are very plain and nothing special.

            Don't see myself going back to Han Dynasty any time soon, the food here is so good.

            5 Replies
            1. re: barryg

              I did a take out of "Ants Climb Tree" just a week ago. Good as usual. Still, these spicy foods are starting to get to me.

              <Don't see myself going back to Han Dynasty any time soon>

              Why? You just wrote that Han is better -- at least for the Dan Dan noodle. I don't think I have been to Han.

              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Why not go to Han? Besides the dan dan everything I've had is as good or better than Han, the food is cheaper, it is BYO (no corkage), and the menu has more to explore. Now that you mention it I would probably like to hit Han at lunch for noodles.

                Sounds like I need to try E Mei too. I thank Han for introducing me to Szechuan food but my meals at Four Rivers have just been more enjoyable.

                  1. re: barryg

                    Just bought a takeout from EMei. Here is a photo. I forgot the English name, but it is basically spicy spinach beef tendon (though I have only seen green onion and not spinach). I tasted a little bit and it is good.

                    I will first admit that I am not a Sichuan/Szechuan expert. To me, Four Rivers and EMei are on par. EMei is much better decorated, and it probably 3-4 times as large as Four Rivers. This is a photo of EMei I got from the internet:


                    EMei is also more expensive. I say about 20-50% more expensive -- depending on the dishes.

                1. re: barryg

                  That's funny, last time I was there I also asked them to translate the little card, we ordered a pork belly noodle dish from it. You may also want to check out E Mei, on the 900 block of Arch, I tried it the other night and I like their peppercorn chicken (at E Mei it's "Chongquing spicy chicken") more than Four Rivers, and the boiled dumplings in chili oil were excellent as well. The dan dan noodles are better at Four Rivers though, the noodles at E Mei seemed to be closer to pasta in texture (and much smaller in diameter than I'm used to in my very limited dan dan noodle experience).

                2. Just came back from Philly Chinatown. Although I didn't eat at Four Rivers, I have the urge to write this following. I want to write a bit about the origin of the names for Four Rivers Restaurant and E Mei Restaurant.

                  E Mei is the Chinese pronunciation of a famous mountain in the Sichuan or Szechuan province in China. So E Mei Restaurant named itself after the famous mountain in Sichuan.

                  Four Rivers is the literal translation of the province Sichuan. Sichuan is a southwestern province in China. Si-chuan is written in two Chinese words: 四 (Si) 川 (Chuan). These two words mean "Four" and "Rivers", respectively. There are two possible origins of this name. One of which involves the four major rivers in the province. The other is the abbreviation of "Four major roads in the province of gorges and rivers". The English name of the restaurant is essentially the direct translation of the Sichuan province. Its Chinese name is slightly different. Its Chinese name is of three characters: 真川味, which means Real-Rivers-Taste or Authentic Taste from the Four Rivers (Sichuan).