If there’s one style of food where we tend to think, “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” it’s Chinese food. To some, this conclusion might seem obvious, and it is perhaps not without some justification. After all, many Chinese restaurants are surprisingly similar, right down to their dish names and descriptions. But in certain parts of the country, you can find Chinese food that’s legitimately spectacular. So to honor these restaurants, we’ve rounded up the 10 best Chinese restaurants in the country.
Travel to just about any American city and odds are there’ll be at least one Chinese restaurant (in fact, that’s pretty much a global truism). Convenient, inexpensive, and full of flavor, Chinese food is one of the country’s great adopted cuisines. Sadly, in much of the country it’s still very difficult to find anything other than “Chinese-American” cuisine – sesame chicken, egg foo young, and the like – but that doesn’t mean that great Chinese food doesn’t exist; it’s just usually found on the coasts (especially the West Coast), where the majority of Chinese immigrants have settled.
Din Tai Fung Dumpling House, Los Angeles
Din Tai Fung Dumpling House is a popular Taiwan-based chain of dumpling shops that got its start in 1958. Today there are locations throughout Asia, and six in the United States: three in the Los Angeles area (Arcadia, Glendale, and Costa Mesa), and two in Seattle (in Bellevue and the University District).
As the name might suggest, Din Tai Fung sells a variety of dumplings, with fillings including pork, pork and crab, fish, chicken, and vegetable; pork buns; soup dumplings; and shao mai. But there are also a wide variety of appetizers (fried pork chop, pork rice bun, soy noodle salad); soups (braised beef, chicken, wonton, hot and sour); noodles (with minced pork sauce, spicy sauce, pickled mustard seed, and shredded pork); wontons with sauce; fried noodles (with pork, chicken, or shrimp); fried rice; greens; and desserts including red bean buns.
If you’re looking for authentic dumplings, Din Tai Fung is the place to go. If you need any more prodding, the New York Times named the Taiwan flagship one of the 10 best restaurants in the world in 1993, and its Honk Kong branches have been awarded Michelin stars.
San Tung, San Francisco
This perennially packed restaurant serves an array of dough-based items like dumplings and fresh-cut noodles (try the shrimp and leek dumplings or dry black bean sauce noodles), but the dish that has people lined up out the door every night are the dry-fried chicken wings. With a sticky-sweet exterior, they’re about as far from Buffalo as you can get and come slicked with spicy garlic sauce bolstered by even more red chile heat. Forego the rice and snag some garlic string beans to balance out all that heat.
The no-frills dining room doesn’t give the impression that this restaurant is any more special than the many others in San Francisco, but one taste of menu items including shrimp and leek dumplings, hot and sour soup, and dry fry beef will have you sold.
RedFarm, New York
Dim sum master chef Joe Ng and Chinese food expert Ed Schoenfeld have elevated Chinese food to a new level in the West Village and on the Upper West Side. RedFarm offers innovative Chinese cuisine incorporating a farm-to-table mindset, one that you certainly don’t encounter often in Chinese restaurants.
The West Village location only has 42 seats, most of which are at two large communal tables, and reservations for both locations are only taken for parties of eight or more. Once the food starts coming out, you’ll see what all the fuss is about. Starters include Kumamoto oysters with Meyer lemon-yuzu ice, barbecued Flack Foot Berkshire pork belly with grilled jalapeños, a Katz’s pastrami egg roll, and barbecue duck lettuce wraps. Dim sum includes pan-fried lamb dumpling “shooters,” pan-fried pork buns, crispy oxtail dumplings, crispy duck and crab dumplings, and pork and crab soup dumplings. Mains include lobster with chopped pork and egg, crispy skin smoked chicken with garlic, wide rice noodles with barbecued duck breast, Dungeness and rock crabmeat long life noodles, Nueske’s bacon and egg fried rice, and udon noodles with grilled short ribs.
Not only is RedFarm’s food creative and delicious, it fuses the traditional and contemporary in a seamless and brilliant way.
Mission Chinese, San Francisco
Chef Danny Bowien’s San Francisco landmark is still going strong, and very well just might be the most famous Chinese restaurant in America today, commanding hours-long waits that are only somewhat assuaged by kegs of free beer for those who decide to stick around. Thankfully, you can order takeout, so it’s possible to enjoy quirky, non-traditional dishes like kung pao pastrami, barbecued pig ear terrine, and an upmarket twist on beef with broccoli that incorporates tender brisket and smoked oyster sauce without being crushed by hipsters. The New York location, which was shuttered by the city’s Department of Health in October 2013, re-opened with much fanfare in a new location last December. Some may think that Bowien is just a flash in the pan (his follow-up restaurant, Mission Cantina, opened to poor reviews), but we think that his star is only continuing to rise.
Peter Chang’s China Café, Frederiksberg, Maryland