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by Scott Dorsey

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. The map of Chinatown in Washington, D.C. accompanying this list should indicate where each of these places are.

Location: 1
Name: Burma
Rating: ?
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. (Jan 1998)

Location: 2
Name: Cafe-Deli Viet-Thai
Rating: ?
Best pot krapau in Chinatown, but no Chinese food here.

Location: 3
Name: Lei Garden
Rating: 3
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

Location: 4
Name: Chinatown Express
Rating: 4
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)

Location: 5
Name: Full Kee
Rating: 9
Excellent congee, good noodle dishes. Recomended. Extensive Chinese menu is translated into English. (May 1997)

Location: 6
Name: Golden Palace
Rating: 10
A huge dimsum operation. Best dimsum in town. Eat here. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. (Dec 1998)
BAD NEWS: 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.

Location: 7
Name: Chop Stick
Rating: 4
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)

Location: 8
Name: Eat First
Rating: 6
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)

Location: 9
Name: Go Lo's
Rating: 6
Good flaming hibachi stuff but otherwise the usual fare, done well enough but not phenomenally. (Dec 1998)

Location: 10
Name: Becky's Cafe
Rating: 3
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)

Location: 11
Name: Ho Wah
Rating: 3
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)

Location: 12
Name: Hunan Chinatown
Rating: 7
Probably the best Hunan place in the area. Not a phenomenal place, but they do a good job.

Location: 13
Name: Hunan Gourmet
Rating: 0
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)

Location: 14
Name: Kam Fong
Rating: 5
Average fare, clean place.

Location: 15
Name: Li Ho Food
Rating: 9
A dumpy looking place with the best chow foon in town. The chef is a serious noodle guru. Eat here. Closed Sunday. (May 1996)

Location: 16
Name: Mr. Yung's
Rating: 4/6
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)

Location: 17
Name: New Big Wong
Rating: 5
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.

Location: 18
Name: Ruby
Rating: 4
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)

Location: 19
Name: Szechuan Gallery
Rating: 7
Well-done food, although a very very tiny English menu. (Feb 1997)

Location: 20
Name: Szechuan House
Rating: 5
Dumpy place, food just okay. Better tea than usual. Small but reasonable selection of Szechuan specialties. (March 1997)

Location: 21
Name: Taste of China
Rating: 7
Formerly Ms. Tao's. Cheap and good lunch specials, reasonable chef who is amenable to cooking items not on the menu. (March 1997)

Location: 22
Name: Tony Cheng
Rating: 10
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)

Location: 23
Name: China Doll
Rating: 5
Generally catering to the Western trade.... limited menu although with a good variety of seafood specialties. Good soups. (Dec 1996)

Location: 24
Name: Tai Shan
Rating: 8
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)

Location: 25
Name: Chinatown Garden
Rating: 7
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. (July 1998)

Honorable Mention:
Tung Bor
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.

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