This is a short survey of restaurants in Washington DC's Chinatown, made
over the course of a year or so. As I have only been to some of these
restaurants once or twice, I cannot attest to absolute accuracy here, but
the few restaurants that I have raved about have been tested many, many
times with many different people, and they are surely accurate.
When eating in Chinatown, it's best if you can read Chinese characters because
the English menus are quite limited. To the English-speaker, it seems as if
all the menus in town are close to identical. If you cannot do this, your
next two steps are to try some of the places listed which I have specifically
pointed out as having elaborate English menus, or to eat dim sum style where
you merely need to point out the dishes you wish. Specials, however, are almost
always listed in Chinese only, on banners on the wall. Bringing along someone
who speaks Chinese may or may not be of much use; because of the difference
in dialects, there is often great confusion. Knowing how to read Chinese,
however, is quite useful.
I have generally rated places overall on a ten-point scale.
10 = excellent; 1 = poor.
map of Chinatown in Washington, D.C.
accompanying this list should indicate where each of these places are.
I am really not familiar with Burmese food, but I was very impressed
with this place. The cuisine in many ways had elements of both Chinese
and Indian cooking, and I strongly recommend visiting if you find
yourself in Chinatown and in the mood for something different.
Name: Cafe-Deli Viet-Thai
Best pot krapau in Chinatown, but no Chinese food here.
Name: Lei Garden
Formerly operating as Charlie Chiang's Grande Cafe.
After 50 years, China Inn closed down and this location is now
occupied by a new restaurant with new management. Food isn't so
good, but there is an inexpensive lunch buffet which tries to make
up in quantity for what it lacks in quality. Three visits so far
have not indicated any improvement in the food, with stale noodles
and rubber tasting Hot and Sour soup the order of the day. (Dec 1998)
629-631 H. St NW, 202-216-9696
Name: Chinatown Express
Excellent orange chicken, but the chow foon was made poorly, with
mediocre ham, and other dishes rated similarly poor. Hot pot is
a specialty here but is no better. (Jan 1999)
Name: Full Kee
Excellent congee, good noodle dishes. Recomended. Extensive
Chinese menu is translated into English. (May 1997)
Name: Golden Palace
A huge dimsum operation. Best dimsum in town. Eat here.
I cannot recommend this place highly enough. (Dec 1998)
As we go to press, the Washington Post reports that the Golden Palace
is shutting down on Boxing day, to re-open some time later in 1999 at
800 Eighth st. They close only three days after President Clinton
ate there. This is a tragedy, and we can only wish them luck in
getting opened as soon as possible at their new location.
Name: Chop Stick
Reasonable, downhome cooking. Char siu in the egg rolls which is
an interesting change. Everything homemade; not a great deal of
skill but less westernized than average. I went in once in the late
afternoon and was the only guy there... the waitress shouted into the
kitchen that there was a white guy here (and the word she used was not
a polite one) and suddenly the bad Chinese pop music changed to bad
American pop music. I did not laugh enough to give myself away, I
think. (Jan 1997)
Name: Eat First
Although this place rates fairly low for food, with heavy egg rolls,
prepackaged mustard, and a higher than average proportion of premade
sauces, they are also the only place in town which not only provides
an extensive English translation of the special menu, but also provides
a translation of the specials on the walls. Staff speaks good English
and is very helpful, and it is the most clean and shining place in
the area. Good noodle dishes. (May 1997)
Name: Go Lo's
Good flaming hibachi stuff but otherwise the usual fare, done
well enough but not phenomenally. (Dec 1998)
Name: Becky's Cafe
Formerly the site of Good Taste restaurant. Becky's has a mixture
of Western food like subs and sandwiches, which I would point you
toward before the Chinese food. They do have delivery, though, but
that doesn't really make up for the food quality. (Jan 1998)
Name: Ho Wah
Fairly seedy-looking restaurant in a tiny basement. The food
is acceptable, and the prices are very, very low. Family-run.
It's not someplace I would recommend but you _can_ get a good
lunch for five bucks here which is better than what you'd get
for five bucks elsewhere. (Aug 1996)
Name: Hunan Chinatown
Probably the best Hunan place in the area. Not a phenomenal
place, but they do a good job.
Name: Hunan Gourmet
I am pleased to report that Hunan Gourmet is now closed, and the
operation has moved to Rockville, MD where they are operating as
Canton Cafe. As this is the place where I was served putrid food
which in May of 1997 gave me food poisoning resulting in spasms on
both ends of my GI tract for three days of agony, I am happy to
report that others will now be spared this fate. (January 1999)
Name: Kam Fong
Average fare, clean place.
Name: Li Ho Food
A dumpy looking place with the best chow foon in town. The
chef is a serious noodle guru. Eat here. Closed Sunday.
Name: Mr. Yung's
This place warrants only a 4 for items off the regular manu,
but they have a seperate dim sum menu which is reasonable, and
warrants a 6. The regular menu consists mostly of lunch slop,
with overly sweet sauces and gummy spring rolls, but the dim sum
is okay, and available seven days a week. (Jan 1999)
Name: New Big Wong
These folks are taking real trouble to attract the white trade,
doing things like translating the special menus. The food is
good if not phenomenal and if you are looking for the more
interesting meals but can't read characters, they're a big help.
Blandest food in town, and an odd phenolic taste in several
items. Tea even worse than typical restaurant tea. Run by
a pleasant and helpful family, though. (May 1997)
Name: Szechuan Gallery
Well-done food, although a very very tiny English menu.
Name: Szechuan House
Dumpy place, food just okay. Better tea than usual. Small but
reasonable selection of Szechuan specialties. (March 1997)
Name: Taste of China
Formerly Ms. Tao's. Cheap and good lunch specials, reasonable
chef who is amenable to cooking items not on the menu. (March 1997)
Name: Tony Cheng
Upstairs the seafood restaurant is the sort of place that would
get a three-star Michelin rating; it's not cheap but it's worth it.
English menu is very, very extensive (but the Chinese menu is even
bigger!) Downstairs there is a Mongolian barbeque. (Jan 1999)
Name: China Doll
Generally catering to the Western trade.... limited menu although
with a good variety of seafood specialties. Good soups. (Dec 1996)
Name: Tai Shan
Good Hot Pot menus, and they also are the only place I have found
that gives a good English translation of the Chinese menu and the
specials. A touch seedy looking but the food is good. Open very
late, also. (Jan 1998)
Name: Chinatown Garden
No real specials, and they don't seem to be able to cook to order,
but they do a good job with the menu they've got. Definitely seem
to be trying to cater to the western crowd, but it has only been
open for a week at the time of this visit so things may stabilize.
Tung Bor isn't in Chinatown, it's out in the wilds of Maryland
somewhere, but they do great dimsum. If you're in that side of the
city you should try it. (Jan 1997)
In the last ten years, Chinatown, like many of the ethnic neighborhoods,
has shrunk considerably with the exodus of people moving into the suburbs.
With the recent construction of the MCI Stadium, additional damage is being
done to the feel of the area and there are many who wonder how much longer
the area will last. It is with this worry that I strongly recommend that
you patronize these businesses and try and support them as much as possible,
to keep a unique institution alive as long as possible.
Many thanks to Yong-Mi, WB8F0Z, Zbig, Dena, Parke, Hallie, Shiva and
his wives, Barbara, Vicki, Bard, Lewis and Jasi for coming along on
these outings. Thanks to Dawn for putting up with me for three days
while I had Hunan poisoning at the conference.