Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Four words: Dirty. Crowded. Absolutely fantastic.
This place is a second home to me. From having wonton noodle soup with my family after my mom received her citizenship to celebrating my sister’s birthdays at our family’s favorite restaurant, Chinatown is a keystone in my relationship to Philadelphia and the place where I began many of my food journeys. I cannot even describe how much I miss Chinatown right now in London (since the London Chinatown is way overpriced.)
For those who are not familiar with Chinatown or who are not from Philadelphia, I am sad to say that the height of Chinese cuisine in the area has declined greatly over the past couple of years. For those who are familiar, you might remember Bao Bao Hao, the best restaurant in Chinatown (in my opinion), whose era is now over.
However, there are still many gems in the ever-changing landscape, and I hope this article does Chinatown justice. This week I will be talking about the sit-down restaurants, and next week I will be talking about the many different small eats you can get in Chinatown.
Note: If you’re from San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, or any other big city with a large APIA [Asian & Pacific Islander American) population, I don’t want to hear about how much better [insert major city]’s Chinese food or whatnot is better because yes, we all know that. However we’re not in [insert major city] so boo hoo.
How to get to Chinatown: Take the Media/Elwyn line from Swarthmore and get off at Market East Station. There will be signs leading you out of the station into Chinatown.
Sang Kee Peking Duck House – Winter Comfort Food
Often my go-to restaurant to bring friends who are unfamiliar with Chinese food, Sang Kee Peking Duck House is one of my favorite places to go for a good bowl of noodle soup. Located off North 9th Street and at the very edge of Chinatown, the restaurant is also famed for having great Peking duck (although I promise there are actually better places in Chinatown that are also a lot less costly). Instead, what I recommend is Braised Beef Wonton Noodle Soup ($7.95) for those who crave something warm as we get closer to winter and Beef Chow Fun ($8.95) if you want noodles but no soup. This is a perfect place to go for a quick dinner if you are heading to the Electric Factory or Union Transfer for a concert since it is a long the way to those concert venues.
Gu’d Tip: This restaurant only accepts cash so be prepared. There is also an ATM at the restaurant itself for those who forget.
Joy Tsin Lau – Great Dim Sum with Atmosphere
If you’re looking for a Chinese restaurant with great dim sum and extremely over-decorated atmosphere, look no further: Joy Tsin Lau is the place to go. For those who are not familiar with dim sum, there is no menu (unless you want to order specific dishes) from which you order, but instead all the food comes to you. Restaurant staff will walk around with carts of food and you select food from the cart. Think of it as a moving buffet line. Each cart has something different and you can ask what specific dishes have in them. When you order something, a staff member will mark it on a card, indicating the size of the dish (small, medium, large). At the end, you will go up to the cashier and pay for your meal. Although it can be overwhelming at first, here are some dishes you should definitely ask for. Shaomai, or pork dumplings, are an excellent choice for meat lovers and turnip cake, possibly my favorite dish they offer, for vegetarians (though always ask whether or not a dish has meat in it). For those who want rice, definitely try their Nuomiji, or sticky steamed rice with chicken, or congee for those who want something more soup- based.
Jade Harbor – Great Restaurant for Authentic Chinese Dishes
Ever since Bao Bao Hao closed, my family was at a loss for where to go for dinner. We tended to order Shanghainese or Cantonese style cuisine, so we were trying to find a new restaurant to go to. A family friend, and probably the person most knowledgeable about Chinese food I know, took us here for her daughter’s graduation dinner four years ago and we have been coming back ever since. They serve my favorite Chinese dish, Jiaoyanpaigu, or salt and pepper pork chops, which are an excellent choice as well as their Mapo Tofu, a delicious vegetarian Szechuan dish. In addition, if you come for dinner, your table receives Li Tang, a beef and Asian pear soup, free of charge if you ask for it. Although there have been some service difficulties in the past, overall the food at this restaurant makes up for it.
Gu’d Tips: A heads-up warning is that although I do love their food, sometimes their service is a little less steady. Try to get seated on the bottom floor since food comes out quicker to those tables. Also be clear on what you want to order and always check the bill to see if it matched up to what you asked for. I would not recommend getting the hotpot here since it is overpriced and frankly not very good.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Yang ’15