How to Eat in Chinatown for Under $5
While many of the dishes at Fat Rice may not be familiar to fans of classic Chinese-American takeout joints, they are still Chinese through and through. Fat Rice is firing up the food of former Portuguese colony Macau, which gives the restaurant it’s fusion style, particularly evident in the paella-style arroz gordo, where chorizo, seafood, duck, and egg make sweet love in a bed of rice (but heads up, it’s a communal dish meant for two or more people). There are potstickers and noodles for those who want more familiar fare, but none of it is lacking in flavor or inspiration.
Don’t think you need to hike down to Chinatown for great dim sum. Furama has an outlandishly large menu of steamed, fried, and stewed delights for you to choose from. Filling Uptown’s craving for meat and veggies stuffed in buns since 1985, Furama is overflowing with little carts carrying everything your Chinese-loving hearts desire. The shrimp-peanut and barbecue pork are standouts, but don’t be afraid to stray away from the known and sample the Taro puffs or custards. No one thing will make much of a dent in your wallet, so try it all at least once.
A throwback family-owned Chinese spot of the highest order, Shanghai Inn is the type of place that is so simple, and yet so good, it makes you angry there aren’t places like this all over Chicago. Family-owned for multiple generations, it has a homey feel, and everything you could ever want from your local Chinese restaurant. Sweet and sour chicken? Tangy and delicious. Egg foo young? Great sauce, not too greasy. The egg rolls are crispy, the portions are big (like three meals big), the prices are borderline crazy. What’s not to love?
Sun Wah doesn’t hide what it does best with an enticing (unless you’re a vegetarian) line of ducks hanging in the window just waiting to be roasted. Sun Wah is Chinese barbecue, and the duck is the star; order it ahead of time when you make your reservation and be treated to a multicourse dinner of soup, carved bird, and fried rice, with plenty to go around for a group, and at smile-inducing prices. Once you’ve gotten the duck out of the way, carry yourself back to the sparsely decorated but charmingly simple dining room and order the juicy roast pork or any number of the Chinese favorites; repeat as necessary.
Opened in 1998, Lao Sze Chuan has become a Chicago institution with locations in Uptown and Michigan Ave as well as several suburban outposts. Don’t let the rapid growth fool you; LSC hasn't lost a step. Instead, it has drawn raves, including from the Michelin guide, and for a reason. Plenty of Chinese restaurants boast big menus, but Lao Sze Chuan’s is truly expansive, with hundreds of options to choose from. That might sound intimidating, but the names are familiar enough that you should have a good idea what you are getting, and it’s hard to find a bad choice in the whole place, so make your best guess and dig in.
As you wade through the sea of mediocre Chinese offerings in Chicago, it really makes you appreciate when a place can just deliver the goods, no questions asked. Anyone who has gotten too many bland limp orders of General Tso’s chicken will light up when they open up their order from House of Wah Sun: fresh, high-quality chicken in sauce that is perfectly spicy and packed with flavor. The thick hearty noodles are heaven for lo mein junkies. And the small army of takeout and delivery regulars will attest to the ample portions. They do not skimp on the meat, as well as the quality of the service, in-house or out.
Yes, yes, sushi isn’t Chinese. Neither is kalbi or teriyaki. But this is America, and if a Chinese restaurant wants to have sushi and kalbi, and it’s good, who are you to stop them? Besides that mix, follow’s owner Dee Kang’s journey from a Chinese-Korean family to Japan and then Chicago. Dee’s is no secret to Lincoln Park locals, who have kept the place open since 1983. The service is affectionate, the decor is quiet and charming, and the Mongolian beef will be a lasting takeaway.
A name like Yummy Yummy should be catnip to any aficionado of cheap old-school Chinese takeout. Nonsensical phrases are often the first sign that you’ve found a jewel in the rough, and Yummy Yummy shines in an area of the city where great Chinese is sorely lacking otherwise. Don’t plan on eating in unless you can grab one of the five or so tables in the cramped “dining room,” but that should not stop you because all your childhood favorites (assuming you grew up eating Chinese takeout like some of us) are here, and few places do them better. Across the board, the clear difference is the quality of ingredients: big chunks of white chicken meat; fresh crispy vegetables, not too greasy or soggy. It’s nothing flashy, nothing new, just classics done right.
A long-standing Logan Square chop suey house, Friendship has undergone a wonderful renovation into a worthwhile place to sit and linger instead of grabbing takeout. Friendship’s menu has plenty of familiar terms like “Sesame” and “Kung Pao,” but the food is cooked with a care not usually associated with those cheap paper box staples. Beyond what's predictably good are things like the Barbarian seared steak, chive flower pork belly, and bird’s nest of seafood and shredded potato.
We all know everything she touches turns to gold, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that venerable Chicago chef Stephanie Izard’s newest outing is as must-visit as its counterparts around the corner. Inspired by regional food that Izard encountered in her travels across China, Duck Duck Goat's menu is a grab bag of original takes on street food, noodle shops, and dim sum dishes. Familiar in a way, Duck Duck Goat has enough character to make it a truly unique experience. If you aren’t convinced yet, there is a sharing-sized dish simply called “goat of the day.”
Chinese is perched curiously atop the list of cuisines that seem to resist the high-end treatment. Maybe it’s the long association with greasy delivery dishes and Chinatown dives, who knows, but it’s a shame, because the bevy of flavors seem like they would be perfect in the hands of a sophisticated chef. At least Chicago has Shanghai Terrace, which sports a luxurious atmosphere atop the Peninsula Hotel with a sublime view of city. The menu is small, with what you might call “elevated” takes on Peking duck and kung pao chicken, but you’ve never had Peking duck melt in your mouth like this. The true, and unexpected, stars may be the cocktails, which complete a pretty perfect dining experience.
Sitting just a few blocks west of the Kimball Brown Line stop is a true neighborhood gem, worth the trip to the end of the line and a favorite for anyone within walking distance. Peking Mandarin is Korean-style Chinese, a fusion of Korean ingredients with Chinese dishes that is popular fare in Korea. Regulars come from all over Chicago seeking out spicy seafood noodles and sweet & sour pork, which amounts to comfort food for many Korean immigrants and anyone else who gets to taste it. If that’s not your style, go another direction with the lollipop chicken wings, crispy, fatty, and covered in a sticky, spicy sauce.
Instead of hopping off at Chinatown, wait one stop further and you’ll find yourself at Han 202 in Bridgeport for a more unique dinner experience. The menu is a four-course prix fixe ($35) of modern, beautiful evolutions of traditional Chinese dishes, which is a great deal considering the quality of what you are getting. Feast on crispy quail, rack of lamb, or rib-eye steak in a spicy miso sauce. Han 202 is the kind of place that challenges your expectations for what to expect from Chinese dining without straying too far from what makes it great in the first place. And don’t worry about your bottle of wine driving up the price, because the restaurant is BYOB.
1. Fat Rice2957 W Diversey Ave, Chicago
2. Furama4936 N Broadway St, Chicago
3. Shanghai Inn4723 N Damen Ave, Chicago
4. Sun Wah BBQ5039 N Broadway St, Chicago
5. Lao Sze Chuan4832 N Broadway Ave, Chicago
6. House of Wah Sun4319 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago
7. Dee's Mandarin & Sushi Lounge1114 W Armitage Ave, Chicago
8. Yummy Yummy Asian Cuisine2901 N Broadway St, Chicago
9. Friendship Chinese Restaurant2830 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago
10. Duck Duck Goat857 W Fulton Market, Chicago
11. Shanghai Terrace108 E Superior St, Chicago
12. Peking Mandarin Restaurant3459 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago
13. Han 202605 W 31st St, Chicago
This perpetual hot spot in Logan Square specializes in the cuisine of Macau, which translates to a mix of European and Asian comfort foods. The signature dish is arroz gordo, aka fat rice, a paella-meets-bibimbap bowl of layered rice packed rich with clams, prawns, sausage, chicken, eggs, olives, and chilis. Everything about Fat Rice is conducive to sharing, from the appetizers and entrees to the communal tables.
Uptown’s dim sum palace Furama is relatively unassuming from the outside, except, of course, for the sensational red and yellow sign marking the restaurant’s corner territory on Argyle, the same it’s maintained since 1985. Inside, avoid getting swallowed up by the dim sum pushcarts; they’ll whiz by to feed other hungry souls faster than you can say shumai if you miss them. Allow yourself a few minutes to ogle at the green and white-themed dining room, framed by mirrored walls with painted yellow designs; the décor is as authentic as the food. And though the wide selection of Mandarin and Cantonese small bites stays mostly within traditional bounds, the exceptional BBQ short ribs fall right of the bone. Come for brunch on Saturday and Sunday; why have last night’s coagulated Chinese food when you can have piping hot, mouth-watering, brand-new dumplings?
Finally, a Chinese restaurant that does not skimp on the cashews in its cashew chicken. Known for its generous portions, Shanghai Inn in Ravenswood has been serving the area since 1960s and has been passed down through the generations by two families. The owners capitalize on tradition in more ways than one; the red pleather booths and simple wall hangings have been around for decades. The menu is divided into appetizers, homemade Cantonese soups, seafood, poultry, and beef dishes, and more noodle options than you can conceive of. The General Tso chicken, though, is matchless in all its hot, crispy, and lightly-coated-in-sauce glory. Not gloopy at all, this dish earns its title as one of the best in the Windy City.
Nowhere on Uptown’s Sun Wah BBQ’s menu will you find its most sought-after dish, the three-course Beijing duck feast. The Chinese restaurant’s worst-kept secret, the duck is expertly carved, plated, and served to you by one of the chefs in a jazz-like rhythm of slicing and dicing as the bird’s tender, juicy meat falls off the bone and barely hangs onto its glistening, crunchy skin. The remainder of the duck is then syphoned off into duck fried rice and duck soup for subsequent courses. While you in no uncertain terms come to Sun Wah for the duck, there are other delectable options for those who duck meat altogether, like the Singapore noodles or black mushrooms with fried tofu.
Spice lovers and adventurous eaters alike rejoice at Uptown’s Lao Sze Chuan, a Sichuan mecca in Chicago. Begun by Tony Hu, the mastermind behind the Tony Gourmet Group and a graduate of China’s first culinary institution, Lao Sze Chuan promises authentic cuisine founded on high quality materials and ingredients, all prepared by chefs hailing from the restaurant’s regional namesake. With a diverse selection of saucy, hot dishes, you should top your table with Tony’s Chicken with Three Chili and one of the less conventional plates offered, like ginger pork stomach or pork intestine with pork blood cake. Not for the faint of heart (or faint of taste bud), Lao Sze Chuan will provoke you to expand your Chinese culinary horizons well beyond General Tso’s and white rice.
House of Wah Sun in North Center is the solution to all of your mediocre Chinese take-out and delivery qualms. A cut above the rest of Chicago’s Chinese offerings, House of Wah Sun offers large portions of your favorite dishes, plates that actually pack a flavorful punch. Opt for standards like the hot and sour soup, lo mein, egg rolls, and crab Rangoon, or for vegetarians, Szechuan eggplant should be your go-to. If you feel bold enough to leave your living room for dinner, spend a couple of hours at Wah Sun; the spacious dining room with mahogany tables leaves lots of room for you and your belly, which is sure to expand as the meal proceeds.
The owner of Dee Kang is a Korean-born Chinese woman who spent much time in Japan as a child, and she fuses the cuisine of each culture into an appropriately Asian fusion menu. The lineup at this modern Lincoln Park restaurant is exploding with flavor, and runs the gamut from Korean kalbi and Mongolian beef to fresh sushi rolls, including California, spider, and the spicier Kaibashira with scallops. You can either nab a white linen-covered table in the exposed brick dining room or on the airy back patio.
Quality Chinese food is sorely lacking in Lakeview, but Yummy Yummy Asian Cuisine helps fill that void with an extensive menu of cheap, old-school Chinese take-out that's, well, yummy. There are only about five tables in this tiny space that sports lime-green walls, so plan on ordering classics like orange chicken, beef lo mein, and Szechuan shrimp to go. These favorites are a cut above those at other unfussy Chinese joints in Chicago: they're not too soggy or greasy, and they're made with high-quality ingredients like tender chunks of white-meat chicken and fresh, crispy vegetables.
This trendy chop suey house has remained popular in Logan Square despite the many simpler Chinese buffets and takeout joints that have popped up across the city, offering a stylish, dimly lit dining room to sit and linger rather than grab and go. Familiar dishes like Kung Pao chicken and Peking duck are still on the menu, but they're presented with elegance (instead of inside paper boxes) by a friendly waitstaff. Among white tablecloths and Buddha statues, you can nosh on some unexpected plates, too, such as Barbarian seared steak and chive flower pork belly.
As you might guess from the name, this Chinese-inspired restaurant is from the mastermind behind Girl & the Goat, Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard. The 100-seat West Loop space is undeniably cool and stylish with portraits hanging on the walls, lazy Susan tabletops, and a jade-accented cocktail lounge. Izard describes the menu as "reasonably authentic," which means elaborate takes on dim sum, fried rice, and noodles, plus various small and large dishes. The food is meant to be shared, and if you're with a big group, definitely order the Peking duck or goat of the day.
Shanghai Terrace, located inside the Peninsula Hotel, is an upscale Chinese restaurant, meant to evoke a 1930's Shanghai supper club vibe. This spot has swanky '30's decor inside and a chic outdoor terrace with spectacular skyline views of the city and the Water Tower. On the menu, you can expect traditional Cantonese dishes along with re-vamped classics, plus wonderful specialty cocktails.
Regulars come from all over Chicago to nosh on unique and spicy Korean-Chinese fusion at Peking Mandarin, an unassuming corner restaurant just a few blocks west of the Kimball-Brown Line stop. Traveling to the end of the line is more than worth it for dishes like spicy seafood noodles, sweet & sour pork, and lollipop chicken wings, which are crispy, fatty, and covered in a spicy, sticky sauce. The space itself is unfussy and casual, offering lots of linoleum tabletops, diner-style bar seating with a view of colorful Asian knick-knacks, and plenty of black banquette booths to get cozy in with all of this comforting fare.
If you're on the hunt for Chinese, instead of hopping off the train at Chinatown, wait one stop further and opt for a more unique dining experience at Han 202 in Bridgeport, an understatedly chic restaurant with a four-course prix-fixe menu of beautiful, modern takes on traditional dishes. You can feast on plates like crispy quail, rack of lamb, or rib-eye steak in a spicy miso sauce -- all of which will force you to rethink your typical greasy Chinese food. A bonus? This tasteful spot is BYOB.