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Spicy fish soup dumplings in red broth with herbs in a white bowl
Spicy fish soup dumplings at Chinatown Dumpling House
Chinatown Dumpling House/Facebook

Where Philly’s Chinatown Community Leaders Go to Eat

The highly endorsed restaurants where chicken oil makes all the difference, mangos are prepared in several ways, and the OGs still deliver

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Spicy fish soup dumplings at Chinatown Dumpling House
| Chinatown Dumpling House/Facebook

Philadelphia’s Chinatown is bursting at the seams with great restaurants, food stalls, tea and coffee shops, and tiny to-go spots. Some restaurants are decades-old and distinctly Philly, while others are branches of exciting and distinct chains from China, Taiwan, and New York. With so many choices, it’s always best to ask the pros — Chinatown community leaders who grew up in Chinatown, work in Chinatown, or work with international businesses — to get their recommendations on where and what to eat in the neighborhood.

For this guide, we spoke to Anne Ishii, executive director of the Asian Arts Initiative; Devon Stahl of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation; Samuel Chueh, the city of Philadelphia’s director of international business and global strategy; Harry Leong, director of the Philadelphia Suns; Betsy Lee-Fong, who sits on the Governor’s Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs; Alix Webb, executive director of Asian Americans United; Carol Wong, owner and director of the Chinatown Learning Center and a board member on the Asian American Women’s Coalition and Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia; as well as Philadelphia photographer and Chinatown native Albert Lee. Here are their insider tips on where to dine in Chinatown.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

BAI WEI (Sakura Mandarin)

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Formally known as Sakura Mandarin, Bai Wei has an enviable corner location with very comfy bistro-style seating. During her time at PCDC and the Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, Betsy Lee-Fong got very intimate with the “light and flaky scallion pancakes, tender and juicy double-cooked pork shoulder, and the stir-fry dry pot.” Sakura was also one of the earlier restaurants to offer soup dumplings and sheng jian bao, its delicious pan-fried cousin.

TT Skewer

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Last fall, TT Skewer, known for their Northern-style Chinese barbecue, introduced a complete overhaul of its menu to focus on traditional cuisine from the Dongbei region in Northeastern China (which stretches from Siberia to Mongolia and the Korean peninsula) and relies heavily on cabbage, root vegetables, and sturdy winter animals like lamb. The restaurant goes under the name Feng Tian Xiao Chu, (loosely translated as “Fengtian petite kitchen”) on certain food apps to emphasize the new menu, though it retains the TT Skewer signage as a homing beacon for its barbecue-loving loyals. Samuel Chueh likes to order the twice-fried pork strips tossed in a sweet, vinegary sauce, double cooked pork, earthy, spicy, and aromatic lamb ribs, and sauteed pork ribs tossed with slivers of fried potato and green beans. You can really sink into the pork stew with pickled cabbage and vermicelli noodles.

Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House

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Devon Stahl raves about the fish ball noodle soup, where “the fish balls are [so] full of flavor, they almost burst in your mouth after absorbing the flavorful soup broth.” Make sure to get the house-made hot oil. “The difference in complexity of flavor from store-bought is apparent,” Stahl says. Samuel Chueh is partial to the braised beef noodle soup. You can also make a meal of the appetizers, or bring enough friends to share: Albert Lee and Anne Ishii swear by the spicy pig ears, while Samuel Chueh takes the all-of-the-above approach and orders the aromatic mixed platter with spicy beef tendons, marinated intestine, and marinated ox stomach. For good measure, order a side of steamed mixed vegetable dumplings.

Ocean Harbor

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Betsy Lee-Fong, who sits on the Governor’s Commission on Asian Pacifc American Affairs, goes to this banquet hall for the traditional Hong Kong-style dim sum with ladies pushing “carts full of steamy hot dumplings and delicacies. You will find the best steamed shrimp dumplings, sui mei, and roast pork buns,” she says, along with “beef rice rolls, fried shrimp balls, sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf, and fried dumplings.”

Chinatown Dumpling House

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Carol Wong, the owner and director of Chinatown Learning Center, comes to this spot inside Chinatown Square for a satisfying meal with a few of her favorite things: pork fish dumplings, salt and pepper wings, and peanut sesame noodles. She also enjoys Philly Poke, a neighboring food stall, for their salmon sashimi poke bowl with brown rice, edamame, avocado, seaweed, crab, toasted onions, cucumbers, and sesame dressing.

Mango Mango Dessert

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This New York Chinatown-based chain opened a Philly location a few years ago. Samuel Chueh’s favorite order is the mango shaved ice, which is as delicious as it is meta: while mere mortals would top shaved ice with condensed milk and mango, these fine folks make actual mango shaved ice and then load it with fresh mango and glutinous rice balls, topped with mango ice cream. Asian Arts Initiative’s executive director Anne Ishii waxes poetic about the mango mochi, which she describes as a sleeper hit. “So soft and chewy with a light dusting of coconut flakes (very light otherwise it would be bad), and inside is a perfect little block of fresh mango as a treat,” she says. “It’s seriously so ridiculous.” For those in the mango mood who want to mix it up, Albert Lee recommends the mango fruit tea at Mr. Wish, a tea shop chain based in Taiwan.

Chinese Restaurant

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Simply named (the sign reads Tai Jiang in Chinese) and surprisingly easy to overlook under the opulence of the Chinatown Friendship Gate, this hidden gem offers homestyle cooking at prices that allow a kid coming from school to grab an afternoon snack — perhaps a handsome triangular slice of taro cake, fried to perfection? — and still have money left over for some bubble tea. Harry Leong, the director of the Philadelphia Suns, a multi-generational youth sports, lion dance, and community service organization based in Chinatown, goes solely for the peanut noodles.

Mayflower Bakery

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Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation’s Devon Stahl goes to Mayflower for the bolo bao (Cantonese for “pineapple bun”), which is named for its distinct hatch-marked “glazed, almost cookie-like, topping” that resembles the tropical fruit. “It is messy to eat [because] the topping gets everywhere, but I consider it part of the whole experience,” she says. “The bun is light and not too sweet, perfect to pair with tea or coffee, which Mayflower Bakery also sells.” The fragrant, cloud-like sponge cake is another fan favorite.

Asianfresh Food Market

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There was a hole in Philadelphia’s heart when the (literally) underground Asia Supermarket and the beloved subterranean Hong Kong eatery Tasty Place closed in 2020. Asianfresh is one of a few new supermarkets that blossomed in its wake to try to fill that void. Samuel Chueh, the City of Philadelphia’s director of international business and global strategy, finds many popular Asian snacks he’d see in his native Taiwan on the marvelous second floor of this wonderland. The first floor — with its seafood and butcher counter and plentiful produce selection that spills out to the street  — is also very impressive.

This Cantonese comfort food spot is a favorite for quick breakfast and lunch, and epic multi-course family-style dinners. Both Carol Wong and Harry Leong go for the homestyle fish filet, which is seasoned beautifully and tossed with flavorful green beans, minced pork, and fermented black bean sauce over rice. Wong also loves the Chinese eggplant with pork. Anne Ishii goes for the plain congee in the morning, and so does Alix Webb, who couples it with gai lan, scallions, and youtiao — long sticks of fried dough — to make it a meal. One should note that there are 25 options on the breakfast menu alone, and Webb advises using the scallion ginger oil on the side on everything. For those with a hankering for home, look no further than the steamed minced pork pie with salted fish, topped with salted egg, for good measure. It really hits the spot.

International Bakery Inc

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Go for the rousong, a pork floss bun that is one of Devon Stahl’s favorites. “The pork floss adds an addictive savory crunch to an unbelievably soft baked bun. It’s like eating a cloud,” she says. “There is a thin layer of mayonnaise to tie the whole thing together. Perfect for breakfast, to accompany lunch, or an afternoon snack.” The veggie and pork steamed bao is also quite excellent.

Carol Wong prefers her pho with beef brisket, beef balls, and beef tendon. She also likes the broken rice platter with barbecue pork chop and egg quiche, aVietnamese steamed egg meatloaf, which one should promptly drown in nuoc cham. Demolish immediately, pausing only to occasionally breathe.

Saint Honore Pastries

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Philadelphia photographer and Chinatown native Albert Lee grew up eating the flaky, custardy egg tarts at Saint Honore. They go particularly well with a steaming hot cup of Hong Kong milk tea, which Saint Honore sweetens with a hint of condensed milk. For a different take, try the baked Portuguese egg tart with its lovely burnt sugar top. Surprise your guests by bringing a box of savory and sweet pastries instead of donuts to your next picnic/meeting/party: savory buns that are perfect for breakfast include the hot dog studded with grilled scallion, the sweet, soy saucy threads of delicate rousong, or pork floss, the homey ham and corn, and classic char siu, or roast pork.

Cily Chicken Rice

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It’s important to get Hainanese chicken rice right — and oh-so-easy to get something so beautifully simple wrong. Samuel Chueh scarfs down the silky boiled chicken and deliciously fragrant rice, which is cooked with rendered chicken fat. The fried chicken is also very flavorful, and so too is the accompanying more-sweet-than-spicy chili sauce that really goes with everything.

Bubblefish

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While PCDC’s Devon Stahl loves bubble tea just as much as the next person, she also appreciates the large range of herbal and traditional hot teas offered at Bubble Fish. “Their fu-er (or pu’er) tea with chrysanthemum is a nice change from classic milk tea and bubbles,” she explains. The “pu-er [is] deep and earthy while the chrysanthemum helps to balance out the pu’er with a lighter, herbal flavor,” Stahl says. “The tea is aromatic, and can be an acquired taste.” Alix Webb finds comfort in the “delicious and generous bowl” of spinach miso soup, garlic edamame, and any onigiri.

Megumi Japanese Ramen & Sushi Bar

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Betsy Lee-Fong recommends this spot for authentic Japanese cuisine, in particular the Out of Control Roll and the miso ramen. You also can’t go wrong with the bubble tea and fruit smoothies, she says.

Shi Miao Dao

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One of China’s most famous rice noodle chains, Shi Miao Dao has locations in New York, Toronto, Denver, and Boston. It specializes in the Crossing Bridge Rice Noodle, which, according to legend, was invented by the wife of a scholar who was studying on a small island in the Yunnan Province. She crossed the bridge every day to support him with sustenance and came up with a way to keep the broth hot by topping it with chicken oil and separating the noodles and toppings in order to keep all the distinct textures.

You can eat the legend in Philly’s Chinatown, where the chicken and pork bone broth is “rich in flavor” and the rice noodles — which are shipped exclusively from China and have a strict cooking technique — are “tender and chewy,” says Devon Stahl. The platter of toppings include rice, greens, tender sliced beef, a chicken wing, quail egg, bean curd, pickled vegetables, and more. “What’s unique about this dish,” Stahl explains, “is that all the toppings and noodles are added table-side and then mixed together,” just like the scholar’s wife would.

Ray's Cafe & Tea House

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This tiny family-run coffee shop has amassed a cult following that spans over three decades. In addition to pioneering the Japanese siphon method in Philly, Grace Chen and her sons Lawrence and Randy Ray make wonderful Taiwanese comfort food. Alix Webb goes for the leek boxes dumplings, house wide noodles with shrimp, and sweet and spicy flounder with rice. Try the noodle soups — all of them are delicious — or the extremely satisfying combo of spicy walnut delight and triple-greens teas.

a cup of black tea on a decorative plate with a doily and cookie with sprinkles to the right Diana Lu

BAI WEI (Sakura Mandarin)

Formally known as Sakura Mandarin, Bai Wei has an enviable corner location with very comfy bistro-style seating. During her time at PCDC and the Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, Betsy Lee-Fong got very intimate with the “light and flaky scallion pancakes, tender and juicy double-cooked pork shoulder, and the stir-fry dry pot.” Sakura was also one of the earlier restaurants to offer soup dumplings and sheng jian bao, its delicious pan-fried cousin.

TT Skewer

Last fall, TT Skewer, known for their Northern-style Chinese barbecue, introduced a complete overhaul of its menu to focus on traditional cuisine from the Dongbei region in Northeastern China (which stretches from Siberia to Mongolia and the Korean peninsula) and relies heavily on cabbage, root vegetables, and sturdy winter animals like lamb. The restaurant goes under the name Feng Tian Xiao Chu, (loosely translated as “Fengtian petite kitchen”) on certain food apps to emphasize the new menu, though it retains the TT Skewer signage as a homing beacon for its barbecue-loving loyals. Samuel Chueh likes to order the twice-fried pork strips tossed in a sweet, vinegary sauce, double cooked pork, earthy, spicy, and aromatic lamb ribs, and sauteed pork ribs tossed with slivers of fried potato and green beans. You can really sink into the pork stew with pickled cabbage and vermicelli noodles.

Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House

Devon Stahl raves about the fish ball noodle soup, where “the fish balls are [so] full of flavor, they almost burst in your mouth after absorbing the flavorful soup broth.” Make sure to get the house-made hot oil. “The difference in complexity of flavor from store-bought is apparent,” Stahl says. Samuel Chueh is partial to the braised beef noodle soup. You can also make a meal of the appetizers, or bring enough friends to share: Albert Lee and Anne Ishii swear by the spicy pig ears, while Samuel Chueh takes the all-of-the-above approach and orders the aromatic mixed platter with spicy beef tendons, marinated intestine, and marinated ox stomach. For good measure, order a side of steamed mixed vegetable dumplings.

Ocean Harbor

Betsy Lee-Fong, who sits on the Governor’s Commission on Asian Pacifc American Affairs, goes to this banquet hall for the traditional Hong Kong-style dim sum with ladies pushing “carts full of steamy hot dumplings and delicacies. You will find the best steamed shrimp dumplings, sui mei, and roast pork buns,” she says, along with “beef rice rolls, fried shrimp balls, sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf, and fried dumplings.”

Chinatown Dumpling House

Carol Wong, the owner and director of Chinatown Learning Center, comes to this spot inside Chinatown Square for a satisfying meal with a few of her favorite things: pork fish dumplings, salt and pepper wings, and peanut sesame noodles. She also enjoys Philly Poke, a neighboring food stall, for their salmon sashimi poke bowl with brown rice, edamame, avocado, seaweed, crab, toasted onions, cucumbers, and sesame dressing.

Mango Mango Dessert

This New York Chinatown-based chain opened a Philly location a few years ago. Samuel Chueh’s favorite order is the mango shaved ice, which is as delicious as it is meta: while mere mortals would top shaved ice with condensed milk and mango, these fine folks make actual mango shaved ice and then load it with fresh mango and glutinous rice balls, topped with mango ice cream. Asian Arts Initiative’s executive director Anne Ishii waxes poetic about the mango mochi, which she describes as a sleeper hit. “So soft and chewy with a light dusting of coconut flakes (very light otherwise it would be bad), and inside is a perfect little block of fresh mango as a treat,” she says. “It’s seriously so ridiculous.” For those in the mango mood who want to mix it up, Albert Lee recommends the mango fruit tea at Mr. Wish, a tea shop chain based in Taiwan.

Chinese Restaurant

Simply named (the sign reads Tai Jiang in Chinese) and surprisingly easy to overlook under the opulence of the Chinatown Friendship Gate, this hidden gem offers homestyle cooking at prices that allow a kid coming from school to grab an afternoon snack — perhaps a handsome triangular slice of taro cake, fried to perfection? — and still have money left over for some bubble tea. Harry Leong, the director of the Philadelphia Suns, a multi-generational youth sports, lion dance, and community service organization based in Chinatown, goes solely for the peanut noodles.

Mayflower Bakery

Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation’s Devon Stahl goes to Mayflower for the bolo bao (Cantonese for “pineapple bun”), which is named for its distinct hatch-marked “glazed, almost cookie-like, topping” that resembles the tropical fruit. “It is messy to eat [because] the topping gets everywhere, but I consider it part of the whole experience,” she says. “The bun is light and not too sweet, perfect to pair with tea or coffee, which Mayflower Bakery also sells.” The fragrant, cloud-like sponge cake is another fan favorite.

Asianfresh Food Market

There was a hole in Philadelphia’s heart when the (literally) underground Asia Supermarket and the beloved subterranean Hong Kong eatery Tasty Place closed in 2020. Asianfresh is one of a few new supermarkets that blossomed in its wake to try to fill that void. Samuel Chueh, the City of Philadelphia’s director of international business and global strategy, finds many popular Asian snacks he’d see in his native Taiwan on the marvelous second floor of this wonderland. The first floor — with its seafood and butcher counter and plentiful produce selection that spills out to the street  — is also very impressive.

M Kee

This Cantonese comfort food spot is a favorite for quick breakfast and lunch, and epic multi-course family-style dinners. Both Carol Wong and Harry Leong go for the homestyle fish filet, which is seasoned beautifully and tossed with flavorful green beans, minced pork, and fermented black bean sauce over rice. Wong also loves the Chinese eggplant with pork. Anne Ishii goes for the plain congee in the morning, and so does Alix Webb, who couples it with gai lan, scallions, and youtiao — long sticks of fried dough — to make it a meal. One should note that there are 25 options on the breakfast menu alone, and Webb advises using the scallion ginger oil on the side on everything. For those with a hankering for home, look no further than the steamed minced pork pie with salted fish, topped with salted egg, for good measure. It really hits the spot.

International Bakery Inc

Go for the rousong, a pork floss bun that is one of Devon Stahl’s favorites. “The pork floss adds an addictive savory crunch to an unbelievably soft baked bun. It’s like eating a cloud,” she says. “There is a thin layer of mayonnaise to tie the whole thing together. Perfect for breakfast, to accompany lunch, or an afternoon snack.” The veggie and pork steamed bao is also quite excellent.

Pho 20

Carol Wong prefers her pho with beef brisket, beef balls, and beef tendon. She also likes the broken rice platter with barbecue pork chop and egg quiche, aVietnamese steamed egg meatloaf, which one should promptly drown in nuoc cham. Demolish immediately, pausing only to occasionally breathe.

Saint Honore Pastries

Philadelphia photographer and Chinatown native Albert Lee grew up eating the flaky, custardy egg tarts at Saint Honore. They go particularly well with a steaming hot cup of Hong Kong milk tea, which Saint Honore sweetens with a hint of condensed milk. For a different take, try the baked Portuguese egg tart with its lovely burnt sugar top. Surprise your guests by bringing a box of savory and sweet pastries instead of donuts to your next picnic/meeting/party: savory buns that are perfect for breakfast include the hot dog studded with grilled scallion, the sweet, soy saucy threads of delicate rousong, or pork floss, the homey ham and corn, and classic char siu, or roast pork.

Cily Chicken Rice

It’s important to get Hainanese chicken rice right — and oh-so-easy to get something so beautifully simple wrong. Samuel Chueh scarfs down the silky boiled chicken and deliciously fragrant rice, which is cooked with rendered chicken fat. The fried chicken is also very flavorful, and so too is the accompanying more-sweet-than-spicy chili sauce that really goes with everything.

Bubblefish

While PCDC’s Devon Stahl loves bubble tea just as much as the next person, she also appreciates the large range of herbal and traditional hot teas offered at Bubble Fish. “Their fu-er (or pu’er) tea with chrysanthemum is a nice change from classic milk tea and bubbles,” she explains. The “pu-er [is] deep and earthy while the chrysanthemum helps to balance out the pu’er with a lighter, herbal flavor,” Stahl says. “The tea is aromatic, and can be an acquired taste.” Alix Webb finds comfort in the “delicious and generous bowl” of spinach miso soup, garlic edamame, and any onigiri.

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Megumi Japanese Ramen & Sushi Bar

Betsy Lee-Fong recommends this spot for authentic Japanese cuisine, in particular the Out of Control Roll and the miso ramen. You also can’t go wrong with the bubble tea and fruit smoothies, she says.

Shi Miao Dao

One of China’s most famous rice noodle chains, Shi Miao Dao has locations in New York, Toronto, Denver, and Boston. It specializes in the Crossing Bridge Rice Noodle, which, according to legend, was invented by the wife of a scholar who was studying on a small island in the Yunnan Province. She crossed the bridge every day to support him with sustenance and came up with a way to keep the broth hot by topping it with chicken oil and separating the noodles and toppings in order to keep all the distinct textures.

You can eat the legend in Philly’s Chinatown, where the chicken and pork bone broth is “rich in flavor” and the rice noodles — which are shipped exclusively from China and have a strict cooking technique — are “tender and chewy,” says Devon Stahl. The platter of toppings include rice, greens, tender sliced beef, a chicken wing, quail egg, bean curd, pickled vegetables, and more. “What’s unique about this dish,” Stahl explains, “is that all the toppings and noodles are added table-side and then mixed together,” just like the scholar’s wife would.

Ray's Cafe & Tea House

a cup of black tea on a decorative plate with a doily and cookie with sprinkles to the right Diana Lu

This tiny family-run coffee shop has amassed a cult following that spans over three decades. In addition to pioneering the Japanese siphon method in Philly, Grace Chen and her sons Lawrence and Randy Ray make wonderful Taiwanese comfort food. Alix Webb goes for the leek boxes dumplings, house wide noodles with shrimp, and sweet and spicy flounder with rice. Try the noodle soups — all of them are delicious — or the extremely satisfying combo of spicy walnut delight and triple-greens teas.

a cup of black tea on a decorative plate with a doily and cookie with sprinkles to the right Diana Lu

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