The Grid: Bite into the classics and the fresh takes in Chinatown
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Chinatown is continually blossoming thanks to steady Asian immigration and a vibrant and engaged Chinese community. There’s a trendy and modern meets old-school and traditional feel in the many new businesses — not just Chinese — that are multiplying in the area. Here are the newer and old-school spots I find myself revisiting.
Qing Xiang Yuan Dumplings
2002 S. Wentworth
Three years ago, this critic’s favorite graduated from its humble beginnings, a stall in the lower level of the Richland Center Chinatown Food Court, to its current chic location. Addictive, delicious dumplings are made fresh to order, served juicy and piping hot — steamed, pan-fried or boiled to perfection. Go with friends as dumplings can only be ordered by the dozen and you’ll want to try a few varieties — pork and cabbage, shrimp, pork and leek, beef and onion and others.
Wentworth Seafood House
2229 S. Wentworth
This Cantonese-style seafood restaurant has live seafood tanks to ensure the freshest crab, oysters, shrimp and lobsters. Some unexpected favorites include the golden egg yolk-battered pumpkin and Hong Kong-style eggplant. Try the house-made wonton soup, which is filled with a dollop of pork. The wonton skins are paper thin, billowing in the broth made from shrimp stock. Dim sum is served daily.
Slurp Slurp Noodles
2247 S. Wentworth
You can get your handmade noodles shaved with a knife (it looks like a wood worker catapulting slivers of wood from a block) or hand-pulled (the dough is pounded, pulled and then twisted like a yo-yo). You can choose to have your noodles stir-fried or in broth with a choice of protein.
Chiu Quon Bakery & Dim Sum
2253 S. Wentworth
This family bakery, since 1986, is known for its BBQ pork buns, Portuguese-style egg tarts, coconut cream turnovers, lotus bean mooncakes and mango mousse cakes.
2358 S. Wentworth
Go with friends to eat the generous amounts of grilled skewered meat or seafood on a stick. You can aim for the exotic (tendon and kidney) or stay with the familiar (pork belly and sausage). There are also vegetable options, including whole garlic eggplant, and a skewer hot pot option.
Another spot to satisfy your skewered meat cravings is Gao’s Kabob Sports Grill at 232 W. 22nd Pl.
2230 S. Wentworth
A great spot for novice diners with a familiar atmosphere and fast-casual service. Rice noodles can be paired with a broth and protein of your choice. Various vegetables and meats are brought on a tray table side and dropped into your soup.
2163 S. China Pl.
This South Korean fried chicken chain is known for its double-fry technique that creates an extra crispy outer layer. Favorites include wings, drums, strips or a combo with spicy, soy garlic or sweet crunch sauce. There’s also traditional Korean standbys like bibimbap (toasted rice mixed with vegetables and protein) and inventive offshoots like Korean tacos.
Another South Korean chain infiltrating the Chicago market is Tous Les Jours, 2144 S. Archer. The bakery combines French technique with Asian flavors like red bean, green tea and sesame.
2138 S. Archer
MCCB, which stands for Modern Chinese Cook Book, specializes in Szechuan-style food with a twist. Try the dry hot pot and the Mala entrees. But if you’re not really into fiery food, be aware: The term “mala” in Chinese literally means numbingly spicy.
2140 S. Archer
I always make a stop here for an order of xiao long bao (Chinese soup dumplings) as an appetizer before eating elsewhere or exploring the neighborhood.
Strings Ramen Shop
2141 S. Archer
Strings was at the forefront of the ramen craze, but I’m drawn to the oden (Japanese hot pot) bar — skewers of fish cake, tofu and Berkshire pork sausage. Also, I tend to go for the spicy scallop sashimi bowl.
Happy Lamb Hot Pot
2342 S. Wentworth
As you dunk your meat, seafood and veggies inside the hot pot, it’s the perfect time to catch up without phones distracting you since your hands are occupied. Both the spicy and milder aromatic broths are deliciously lovely, so I’d recommend getting the combo split pot.