On any given day, there’s one thing we are constantly talking about: food. From the brands we work with to what we’re planning to eat for lunch, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a group of people who think about food as often as we do. And as someone who has been taking photos of food before it became a standard on millions of social media accounts with too many “food porn” hashtags to count, I am definitely no exception.
But don’t get it twisted: I’m no food blogger or Instagrammer. I simply take photos as a way to document my various culinary adventures. One of my favorite places to eat in Philadelphia? Chinatown, of course. And considering the fact that it’s around the corner from our office and I lived there for just under 1.5 years, you could say I know my way around.
However, I fully understand that when trying to figure out where to eat in such a bustling place like Chinatown, it can be intimidating. Where does one start? What does one order? Which places are open on what days? Which places are cash only?
To help you out on your next venture to Chinatown, here’s some tips to keep in mind and an expert guide to eating some of the best food in Philly!
Fact: eating in Chinatown is not for the faint-hearted. Especially during busy hours like lunch and dinner time, everything moves pretty quickly and you don’t want to be the one causing a delay because you can’t decide what to order. So definitely scroll over the menu beforehand and/or call to place your order ahead of time so you don’t have to wait as long to pick up your food.
Also, in general, always have plenty of cash on hand. Typically if you go to any Asian American enclave in any major city, cash is always necessary. Though some places take credit cards in Philly’s Chinatown, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Other places may charge you extra for using a credit card as well.
Regarding store hours, it’s good to check Yelp ahead of time. Fun fact: restaurants in Chinatown are actually some of the few places open during any given late night or holiday including Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, don’t be super surprised if you find a local place closed on a random Wednesday despite what Yelp says—with some of these family-owned businesses, it can be a bit unpredictable if they go on vacation or just decide to close on a random weekday. But thankfully, you can likely go less than a block away for something just as tasty.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to try something new! It’s very easy to find one place and stick to it and order the same thing over and over again. But considering the vast amount of options in Chinatown, it’s worth trying out dishes and places to find new favorites, expand your palate and really experience the scope of these cuisines. This includes things that may not seem that appetizing by name or appearance. But as the old adage goes, don’t judge a book by its cover.
In no particular order, here’s a list of some of my favorite places and dishes. For the sake of length, I’ll be focusing on lunch, dinner and snack options, excluding desserts, bubble tea shops and cafes. However, keep in mind that new places are always popping up, closing down, etc. as in any other city so although this list is based on experience, there may be other hidden gems as well. And of course, for more info on each place, check their respective Yelp page, whether for store hours, contact info, if they accept credit cards or user-generated photos.
Xi’an’s Sizzling Woks
Capital of the Shaanxi province, Xi’an is known for their wide array of noodles, dumplings and more due to their rich culinary history that was partially due to being the starting point of the Silk Road. But lucky for us, this restaurant provides all the flavors right in Philadelphia. In addition to their extensive menu, they also offer a lunch special on weekdays.
- Chinese Hamburger
- Liang pi, or cold skin noodles
- Pita Bread Soaked in Lamb & Beef Soup
- Biang Biang Noodles
- Wontons in Chili Oil
- Spicy Seafood Noodle Soup
Banh Mi Cali
I honestly couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been here over the last three years. But when you can get a full meal for $4-8 and lived across the street, can you really blame me? Owned by the sweetest lady, this small shop offers plenty of tasty banh mis and vermicelli dishes that will seriously satisfy you and with a picture wall menu to boot. Just be sure to bring cash.
- #5: BBQ Chicken Hoagie
- #6: Vietnamese Ham Hoagie
- #15: Fried Shrimp over Vermicelli
- #19: BBQ Chicken over Vermicelli (or get #20 for $1 more for spring rolls)
- #23: Summer Rolls with Shrimp
- Smoothies (made with fresh fruit; go for the mango or strawberry)
QT Vietnamese Sandwich
Another great option for banh mis, this place is slightly more expensive (by $2 or so), but the portions are also slightly bigger. They also take credit cards with no minimum as of last year as well as offer online ordering. If you’re not planning to eat at the few tables there, definitely call ahead to place your order beforehand to avoid the lunch rush.
- QT Special Banh Mi
- Lemongrass Tofu Banh Mi
- Bun Rieu Noodle Soup
For some of the best authentic Szechuan food Philadelphia has to offer, head here and be ready for sweat because the spices from the Szechuan peppercorns can be no joke. But don’t let that stop you—the flavors are on point, the options are plentiful and the truth is the quality is pretty close to great Szechuan food in China.
- Sliced Beef in Hot and Spicy Sauce
- Chongqing Spicy Chicken
- Sliced Beef and Tripe with Chili Sauce
For quick, cheap and tasty Americanized Chinese food, this place is a great option with generous portions.
- Beef with Broccoli
- Sesame Chicken
An international bakery chain from South Korea, Paris Baguette opened this location a few months ago and has some tasty baked goods when you want to treat yourself.
- Chocolate Croissant
- Smoked Sausage Bread
Despite the fact that this place is only a little over two years old, Bubblefish is now a pretty well-known spot in Chinatown for decent sushi. After I introduced their lunch special of $7.95 for 2 rolls to the office, many of us were hooked. Their special rolls, sashimi and bubble tea options are also pretty great.
- Lunch special rolls
- Tuna Princess roll
- Marilyn Monroe roll
- Sashimi Heaven
- Very Mango Shake
A hole-in-the-wall if there ever was one, this hidden gem is a no-frills restaurant to the tee. Enjoy homemade dumplings, wonton soup and more, all for $7 or less.
- Steamed or Fried Dumplings
- Wonton Noodle Soup
Heung Fa Chun Sweet House
Another mom-and-pop shop, this place serves both savory and sweet douhua, or soft tofu, that you can eat with fried dough sticks, homemade soy milk as well as zongzi, or sticky rice stuffed with delicious pork, mushrooms and more wrapped in bamboo leaves.
- Xian Douhua, or savory tofu
- Sweet Tofu with Ginger Syrup
- Sweet Tofu with Red Beans
- Taro and Tapioca Sweet Soup
- Soy Milk
- Fried Dough
If you still haven’t been to Penang, you’re missing out. A great option for lunch, date nights or dinner with friends, this place serves great Malaysian dishes at incredibly reasonable prices. I’ve taken several friends visiting me from out of town here because it’s consistently great and there’s typically plenty of room.
- Roti Canai
- Chow Kueh Teow
- Mee Siam
- Hainese Chicken
- Beef Rendang
To satisfy your poke cravings, come here for a quick and tasty meal, whether you order one of their signature pokes or make your own.
- Hawaiian Classic
- Oishii Ahi
- Make Your Own
St. Honore Pastries
This small bakery may be unassuming, but their baked goods are always tasty and cheap with most buns running $0.90 each.
- Egg Tarts
- Coconut Custard Bun
- Egg Custard Bun
- Pineapple Bun
- Fried Dumpling
Siu Kee Duck House
One of those places very easy to pass by when not paying attention, this is duck and pork heaven for under $10. Yes, it’s the place with the hanging cooked poultry in the window, but don’t let that intimidate you.
- Roast Duck
- Roast Pig
- Honey BBQ Pork
Mayflower Bakery & Cafe
Another great Chinese bakery option, this places lets you enjoy all the cheap and fresh baked goods your heart desires.
- Roast Pork Bun
- Egg Tarts
- Coconut Cream Bun
- Pineapple Bun
Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House
When you’re in desperate need of Chinese noodle soups, this is the place to go. Whether you want beef, pork or lamb, they have it all with made-to-order noodles either hand drawn or shaved.
- Spicy Pig Ears
- Beef Noodle Soup (any variety)
- Roast Pork Noodle Soup
- Oxtail Noodle Soup
Right around the corner from the Greyhound bus stop, this is a great place for quick snacks and treats, whether you’re craving something savory or sweet.
- Combination Bun
- Green Tea White Chocolate Egg Waffle
- Fried Rice Noodles w/ Vegetables
For an authentic dim sum experience, come here with all the bustling carts that come to your table hawking a variety of delicious dishes from savory to sweet to salty.
- Shrimp Rice Noodle
- Steamed Shrimp Dumplings
- Fried Calamari
- Spare Ribs with Black Bean Sauce
- Fried Stuffed Bean Curd
You would think that a restaurant right next to a basement supermarket would be suspicious, but the quality of the food here will convince you that looks can be deceiving. Come for some of the best Chinese food at bargain prices.
- Beef Stir Fried Ho Fun
- Salt Baked Squid or Chicken Wings
- Seafood Tofu Soup
Dim Sum Garden and Tom’s Dim Sum
Despite having “dim sum” in their names, these places serve dim sum dishes, but aren’t dim sum places in the typical sense. However, they are both great options for xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, as well as fried and steamed dumplings.
- Soup Dumplings (any variety)
- Chive & Pork Dumplings
Shang Hai 1
Another good option for soup dumplings, this place also offers rice dishes and more for people seeking a wide variety of good food.
- Soup Dumplings (any variety)
- Shanghai Pan Fried Pork Soup Dumplings
- Beef Scallion Pancake
- Braised Pork with Boiled Egg Over Rice
One of 80+ U.S. locations of the South Korean-based international fried chicken restaurant franchise, this place serves up some damn good Korean fried chicken in a casual setting. Head over after work for happy hour specials on drinks as well.
- Soy Garlic or Half & Half Wings
Rangoon Burmese Restaurant
For something unique, try this place featuring tasty Burmese cuisine. The portions aren’t huge, but the quality is great and you’ll be sure to experience new flavors unlike any other.
- Thousand Layer Bread with BBQ Beef
- Northern Burmese Noodles
- Sweet Rice with Mango
After much anticipation, this contemporary food hall finally opened in 2017, offering a wide array of dining options. Open late, this is a great spot to hit up for some grub after a night out on the town.
- Khmer Grill: large platter with beef, boneless chicken and sausage
- Halal Guys: regular platter combo
Hippot Shabu Shabu
A great pick for a cold, windy night when you need something hot and comforting, this restaurant offers all you can eat hot pot for $21.99. Stock up on beef, lamb, all kinds of vegetables and more. Just be sure to pace yourself and drink plenty of water.
- N/A – whatever you want!
If you’re craving ramen, this is probably your best bet in Chinatown to get your fill at a reasonable price. Just beware of the wait—during busy hours, there can be a line out the door due to the restaurant size.
- Terakawa Ramen
- Miso Ramen
- Tan Tan Ramen
- Spicy Ramen
When you’re out late and everything seems closed, this is the place to go. After all, there’s nothing like made-to-order fried noodles to end the night right.
- Beef Lo Mein
- Sizzling Beef Short Ribs with Black Pepper Sauce
And there you have it. So next time you’re in Chinatown seeking some grub or visiting us, you’ll know exactly where to go and what to order. Have any favorites we mentioned or missed? Let us know!