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Apr 26, 2014 07:28 AM

Hound & TeenHound: 1 Saturday in May in Ph. Chinatown. Park once, walk around.

First, a tourist question - is there a "walkable Chinatown area"?
We would be willing to sacrifice the best Best restaurant in order to park once and walk a decent amount if we could be "centrally located."
The perfect day:
Street food snacking, Northern Chinese/Beijing lunch and SiChuan dinner, interspersed with kitschy shops and photographable Chinese architecture.

Any chance we can get half of that?

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  1. There is a very walkable Chinatown with good food. But it's small, you won't be able to fill a day there. There isn't much interesting architecture, though there is a gate (10th & Arch) and some dragon statues (10th & Vine, 8th & Arch). There are kitschy shops too. I don't know much about Northern Chinese food but there is definitely good street food--bakeries, noodle shops Chinese bbq. And a couple good Szechuan places like E Mei and Four Rivers.

    Fortunately Chinatown is adjacent to Center City Philadelphia and walkable to Old City. There is plenty to eat and do near there, and some spectacular (non-Chinese) architecture. It's also right next to Reading Terminal Market which is a great place to visit and snack.

    So one possible itinerary: Park around 13th & Market. Snacks at Reading Terminal, wander Chinatown, lunch somewhere in Chinatown (maybe someone else can help for Northern cuisine), then wander over to the City Hall/Love Park area to snap some photos, then wander down Walnut St towards Rittenhouse Square maybe, or elsewhere around downtown. Then back to Chinatown for dinner.

    Instead of City Hall you could walk towards Old City and see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, etc. There is also a good Szechuan restaurant near there, Han Dynasty, but if you walk all the way over there the walk back to your car is kind of far. If you did that you could hop on the subway to get back, or take a cab for around $8-10.

    If you are willing to not have a Chinese dinner, you are still walkable to some of the city's best restaurants in Midtown Village (around 13th & Walnut) or the Rittenhouse area if you are over that way.

    3 Replies
    1. re: barryg

      Thanks B. so much for a comprehensive and flexible plan!!
      How is parking-- day lots? "Vulture" for a spot?
      Any maps you'd recommend?

      1. re: Kris in Beijing

        Lots around there are probably $20-25 for the day I think? Street parking will all be meter and max out at 2-4 hours probably, so the lot is probably a better bet. You could maybe find free, unlimited street parking north of Vine Street.

        Here is a pretty good map of Center City including Chinatown from (pdf):

        And a very detailed one (3MB pdf):

        1. re: barryg

          I'm pretty sure you can park at the City-Operated municipal parking lot on 8th between Market and Chestnut for $8.50 on Saturdays (a few blocks out of your way).

    2. Parking on a weekend, park at the parking lot across from Hahnaman/Drexel Hospital. Its 5 dollars for the day. Four or five block walk to Chinatown.

      The chinatown is small.. There is an arch, community center with lions. Mostly shops/restaurants.

      You might enjoy Xian sizzling woks, which serves some food inspired by cuisine from Shanxi province. It is relatively new to Chinatown. There are a couple of hand drawn noodle shops as well as one shop that specializes in dim sum. We also have a Burmese restaurant, and several Vietnamese restaurants all within the confines of the Chinatown area.

      Best sichuan restaurant in chinatown proper is probably E Mei. Please search this board for discussion of the sichuan options in Philadelphia.

      Please manage your expectations. Relative to NY, San Francisco, Vancouver and Toronto, Philadelphia's chinatown is small. Enjoy it, but please enjoy the rest of what Philadelphia has to offer as well.

      If you are in Old City for dinner, Han Dynasty a local sichuan chain has a large restaurant in that area that might also fit the bill for dinner.

      1 Reply
      1. re: cwdonald

        I've been reading about E Mei and Han D.

        Thanks for the parking rec's.

      2. What do you mean by walkable? Like easy to walk or safely for walking?

        There are many parking locations near and in the Chinatown area.

        <Any chance we can get half of that?>

        Yeah, but if you are from Beijing as your name implies, then you will be disappointed.

        <Street food snacking,>

        Yes, there are street food snacking. What kind of street foods are you thinking since there are so many different kind ranging from Bubble tea to Hong Kong egg waffle.

        <Northern Chinese/Beijing lunch>

        There is no real dedicated Beijing cuisine in Philadelphia Chinatown. No "鲁菜" or "京菜"

        <SiChuan dinner>

        For dinner, either E-Mei on Arch Street or Four Rivers (on Race Street is very nice. Four Rivers has a slightly Taiwanese touch to it, which isn't bad. I just went to the newly open "Szechwan Dim Sum Restaurant" on Arch Street. It focuses more on the smaller dishes. I just so happened to strike a very lengthy conversation with a mom and son couple next table to me, and she is from ChengDu (成都), capital of Szechuan/Sichuan. [She started the conversation by asking if I like what I ordered.] They ordered many dishes with the intention for take-out. She said that about half of the dishes there are very authentic just like she has them from ChengDu. The other half of dishes are similar, but not quiet exactly. If you go there for a sake, then I recommend the Tofu appetizer $5-6? (either called ChengDu Tofu or Szechuan Tofu). It is both spicy and numbing (麻辣). I like it quiet a bit, and she loves it too. By the way, the head chef there is also from ChengDu. He later came out and talked to the mom in ChengDu dialect. He also told me that there is a lesser spicy version (less spicy, but more sour) of this tofu snack, but you will have to specifically ask for it since it is not on the menu.

        <kitschy shops >

        Yes, at least two kitchen stores. One is more restaurant supply, and the other one is slightly more home style, but still very much restaurant supply. They are called General Restaurant Supply Equipment Supply on Cherry Street, and Wayne Kee Hardware and Kitchen Supplies on Arch Street.

        <photographable Chinese architecture>

        Hmm, maybe the Chinatown Arch:

        and the tiny Chinese park:

        The Imperial Inn and Joy Tsin Lau, maybe?

        If you want to park once, then I recommend this tiny parking lot on 10th street. It is located at the center of Chinatown.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Wow CK!!!
          Great series of recommendations!

          I'm now living near DC, which has the "#10 Chinatown in the US" so my expectations have been sufficiently dampened already.

          MaLa ANYTHING will be appreciated.
          We've had success with ChengDU chefs on a 2nd or 3rd visit, once they trust that I'm more than a chunky white American who "wants Chinese food."

          Anything served from a cart/ through a window will count as street food : )

          1. re: Kris in Beijing

            <MaLa ANYTHING will be appreciated.>

            I don't know. It was so MaLa that I had a stomach pain this morning. :P

            <Anything served from a cart/ through a window will count as street food : )>

            There are no street carts in Philly Chinatown. The closest I can think of as street snacks are those from Yummy Yummy, which is the modern Hong Kong Street snacks, like: Egg Waffle, Fish Balls, French Toast (Hong Kong Style), Shaved ice, Bubble tea...etc:


            If you want something slightly more traditional (older), then Heung Fa Chun Sweet House offers some of the best Tofu pudding, as good as any from Hong Kong or Taiwan in my opinion. This of course only matters if you like tofu puddings.


            If you like charcoal grill skew street food, then Solo Skew bar is pretty interesting with assorted variations of skewed snacks:


            If you like Vietnamese sandwich, then QT Vietnamese Sandwich is pretty cool:


            All of these snack restaurants are on North 10th Street. In fact, they are all on the same side of the street (west side). They are all within 30 seconds of walking distance.

        2. Chinatown as said - walkable but small - nearby

          avoid "The Gallery" Mall its just depressing

          But right adjacent to Chinatown is Reading Terminal Market - which is really a cool place

          great place to get a snack - buy food gifts or just look around - the Fair Food Farmstand has some great very local products - sample the cheese

          Also you will be very close to 13th street just south of Market which has a wide array of eateries and bars etc

          venturing a few blocks north or south with take you to Old City or Rittenhouse Square - both lovely

          Central Philadelphia is very walkable - park once for the day and you can cover several neighborhood- Chinatown is a good starting point as it is fairly centrally located - short cab rides will not be expensive and busses and subway service can move you quickly through town but if you stick to the core neighborhoods - Rittenhouse Square, Old City, Washington Square, and Market East (where Chinatown is) you will not need more than your feet)

          1. To follow up on what Chemicalkinetics said, there is absolutely no street food in Philly's Chinatown like the kind you'd find in Asian cities--ie, no hawker stalls, no motorcycle food carts, no roadside stands. I've only been to Yummy Yummy once, but if you're looking for the type of street food you'd find in Asia, I'm afraid that probably won't do the trick.

            Having said that, I agree with CK that you can get some pretty decent stuff to snack on. In addition to the tofu pudding, Heung Fa Chun makes pretty decent zongzi. You could also stop by one of the HK-style roast meat places and get a 1/2 lb of roast pork or char siu to snack on (roast duck may be messy to eat while walking). Or stop by Banana Leaf and order a roti canai to go, then find a less crowded spot to stand while eating so you don't end up wearing the curry dipping sauce that comes with it! :-)

            If you're open to exploring outside of Chinatown, I second the recommendations for Reading Terminal Market. The 9th Street Italian Market in South Philly is also fantastic for walking around and getting random bites to eat, but I suspect it's not so easy to get to unless you drive there--maybe someone who lives in Philly proper could comment on this.

            4 Replies
            1. re: msiangal

              The Italian market is a long (nice) walk or a short (unpleasant) bus ride from Chinatown, if you drive parking on the street is possible (with a little looking) and free for up to 2 hours - it is mostly a market for food shopping and not snacking though - think raw fish and bushels of zucchini less prepared foods but Fante's and Claudios make it worth the trip. There is also a lot of Asian (mostly Vietnamese) and Mexican food near the Italian Market - you can get delicious Banh Mi or Tacos and there are large Asian grocery stores as well.

              While there are food carts scattered throughout the city as msiangal says there is not really street food in Chinatown.

                1. re: JTPhilly

                  You can also get some interesting Vietnamese snacks (and homemade tofu and soy milk drinks) from Viet Tofu in the shoppong center at 11th & Washington very close to there. Check out the pictures on Yelp:

                  1. re: barryg

                    i will need to check that place _ I usually go to Ba Le @ 6th and Washington

                    now i want banh mi! and I have totally gone OT on this thread