Chinese food may have been supplanted by Italian and Mexican as America’s favorite cuisine, but it is no less beloved. There are about 45,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S., and few are the towns and cities that don’t have at least one.
There are eight great regional Chinese cuisines: Szechuan, Cantonese, Hunan, Fujian, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Shandong. Hunan and Szechuan are “heart-clutchingly spicy,” according to “China The Cookbook,” an excellent reference guide. (Fuschia Dunlap’s various books on Chinese food are also highly recommended).
For this list of Chinese restaurants, we did not consider Asian fusion restaurants, those with some combination of Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, etc.
Instead, we aimed to focus on authentic Chinese, which means a reference or two to sliced pork kidney, Ants Climbing a Tree and other famed Szechuan, Cantonese, Hunan and Shanghainese dishes. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about real ants.
Here are 30 terrific spots you need to try right now, ordered alphabetically by town name. Dig in!
Who orders calamari at a Chinese restaurant? I do! The fried calamari with pepper at Imperial Asian Restaurant shames every restaurant/bar calamari out there. Plump, perfectly fried chunks of squid make for an amazing app. For an entree, try the Kung Pao chicken. (PG)
Grand Moon is a simple, spare storefront, but the dishes boast complex taste and flavors. Take the Hunan Chicken (photo). Tender, tasty chicken in a piquant brown sauce make this a must-order. Takeout only, and cash only. (PG)
No, not fortune cookies, those crunchy bite-size pearls of wisdom, but Fortune Cookies, the restaurant. Multi-colored strips of paper with dishes written in Chinese adorn the walls at Fortune Cookies, which bills itself as “the first Hunan Cuisine in New Jersey.” The restaurant is as much roadhouse as restaurant, with its simple, spare atmosphere, blue plastic tablecloths and paper lanterns. Popular dishes include the Braised Fish Head, Chicken with Three Peppers and Braised Pork, Mao style.” The sautéed frogs Hunan style ($19.95) are spicy and sassy. Hunan Province, in south-central China, is known for its scenic beauty and spicy food, rivaled only by Szechuan in heat. (PG)
Han Dynasty is located in the same Route 70 strip mall as Dolsot House, a perennial entry on my best NJ’s best wings list. The dumplings in chili oil are irresistible little mounds of spicy hot joy, and the Three Pepper Chicken is recommended. My favorite dish here: the Ginger Shredded Duck (photo). Fatty, greasy, glorious. (PG).
You’ve got to love a place where a dish named Mouthwatering Pork is on the menu. You’ll find it at Taste of Sichuan, another strip mall restaurant. The Seven Flavor Wontons are highly recommended, and that Mouth Watering Pork (photo) — sliced pork belly and cucumber in a spicy/sweet sauce — lives up to its name. (PG)
Cliffside Park is loaded with great Chinese restaurants, but you won’t do any better that Petite Soo Chow. The unassuming spot has an intimidatingly large menu, but you can’t go wrong with soup dumplings, scallion pancake, chow mein or bok choy. Feeling adventurous? Go for the fish head in hot pepper sauce. The restaurant has massive tables that spin like lazy Susans, making your feast even more sharable with your party. (JS)
Hunan Taste often appears at the top of most lists of the state’s best Chinese restaurants. It certainly has the grandest facade, with two imposing stone lions standing guard under the pagoda-like roof. The Spicy Chicken Dumplings are a lightly spicy, thoroughly enticing app, and the Peking Duck is a model of its kind. Were the dishes disappointing? No, but this Chinese restaurant legend was eclipsed by other, less-well-known restaurants on our list. (PG)
Vegetarian dishes and plant-based meat substitutes may be mainstream, but they weren’t years ago when Veggie Heaven opened. General Tso’s Chicken. Beef with broccoli. Shrimp with garlic sauce — all vegetarian, all absolutely delicious. (JS)
What would do New Jersey do without its strip mall restaurants? Starve, most likely. Bill & Harry, open since 1985, is squeezed into a Route 10 East strip mall. The wonton soup smelled like heaven – fragrant, spring-meadowy. And the Lake Tung Ting Shrimp (photo) may have been the best Chinese seafood dish on my entire road trip. Takeout only at this time. (PG)
Shanghai Dumpling has a vast ranging from sweet tofu pudding and pumpkin pancakes with oats to duck tongues in wine sauce. But the dumplings are the main attraction — their soup dumplings, shrimp dumplings and pork and vegetable wontons in spicy sauce are divine. (JS)
The trick at Szechuan-accented China Chalet is to ask if you can order “off the menu,” which is not a secret or special menu but items simply not listed anywhere. The razor clams with scallion pesto ranks wins the prize as most creatively presented Chinese dish — a peacock with carrot-topped plumage, carved from a radish, perches at the front of the dish, the clams trailing behind. The wonderfully-named Chilly Fish Pond (flounder simmered in Szechuan spices with cabbage, bamboo shoots, celery and Shiitake mushrooms) looks more like an oil slick than soup, with its deep brown broth, but it’s fabulous. (PG)
As much as I love soup dumplings, I’m always hesitant to order them for takeout because they don’t travel well. But the soup dumplings I got from Soup Dumpling Plus were so hearty that they were restaurant quality even out of a takeout container — not a single one had ripped and the broth was still hot. But as the name of the restaurant suggests, they have more than soup dumplings. Their pan fried pork buns have crispy bottoms and doughy interiors, and their fried udon noodles are addictively good. (JS)
As you can tell by this list, Jeremy and I sure do love our Szechuan food. It’s the spiciest Chinese food, for sure, and there is something about all those chili peppers that makes me squirm with delight. Szechuan House’s owners are from Chengdu, the capital of Szechuan province. The braised beef in hot chili oil (photo) is terrific; for an app, try the Sliced Pork Kidney with Szechuan peppercorn vinaigrette. (PG)
You can practically see the Holland Tunnel from your table at this tiny restaurant, but what the Chengdu 1 lacks in ambiance it makes up for in spice. Their dan dan noodles, mapo tofu and spicy wontons — the latter in a shimmering red sauce — all have serious kick. If you’re looking for less heat, try the wontons with sesame sauce. (JS)
There are fancier, more acclaimed restaurants in Jersey City, which has quickly become the state’s hottest food town. There are restaurants with better ambiance. But I don’t think anywhere else in Jersey City has served me more delicious and consistent meals than Grand Sichuan, a tiny BYOB restaurant a block up from the Grove Street PATH station that serves up some of the best soup dumplings I’ve ever tasted. Their eggplant in garlic sauce, caramelized and sweet, is a must-try as well. (JS)
The original Peking Pavilion opened in Richmond, Va., in 1975; owners Michael and Corinna Kuo re-located to New Jersey. Their son, Steve, owns KUO Social, also on this list. The Chung King beef at Peking Pavilion (photo) is one of the half dozen best dishes I’ve had so far this year, of any cuisine. Don’t be like me and drive right past the place on first try — it looks like a doctors office. (PG)
Sichuan Cottage is a short walk from the much more heralded Crown Palace, but I’ll take Sichuan Cottage any day. It’s located in the same strip mall as the Marlboro post office, and right now it’s takeout only. The Fish Filet with Roasted Chili in Hot Oil is an orange-glowing bowl of marine magnificence; the oil alone is dangerously addictive. The Triple Pepper Chicken (photo) manages to be both crispy and fire-breathing. (PG).
What should you order at Joe’s Peking Duck House? How about the Fish Maw Soup? Okay, just kidding. The Peking Duck — you can order it a al carte by the half or whole, or as a combo meal for two or four -— is better than its counterpart at Hunan Taste in Denville, for starters. Tender, juicy, eminently tasty skin — it hits all the roast duck notes. Also recommended: the wonton noodle soup. Add wontons and noodles, in separate containers, to the broth and you have a sumptuous soupy delight. (PG)
Shanghai Bun touts an impressive assortment of dumplings, but it’s their massive soup menu that sets it apart. Spicy beef noodle soup, Shanghai wonton soup and duck and taro rice noodle soup are just a few of their options, while their rice cakes and chow fun are hits as well. (JS)
Two words: Honey. Chicken. The sweet, succulent dish is one of the signatures at T.S. Ma, which serves up a lighter, healthier brand of Chinese food than your typical hole-in-the-wall spot. (JS)
Old Shanghai is actually relatively young, having been open for just a few years. But in that span, it has become one of the most popular restaurants in the area for its brothy soup dumplings and staples like chicken with garlic sauce and Szechuan style double-cooked pork. (JS)
You don’t just get dinner when you go to Shan Shan, you also get a show. Watching the masterful chefs hand-pull their noodles through the window into the kitchen is almost as fun as eating the tender, slurp-able dish. The noodles in hot oil are my personal favorite, but the cumin lamb noodles are delectable as well. Don’t forget to order the beef wrapped in scallion pancake, too. (JS)
New Jersey’s “hottest restaurant and lounge”? Why, it’s KUO Social, at least according to the web site. Steven Kuo, with 35 years in the restaurant/hospitality business, is the chef/owner. Executive chef/partner Yang Huang, is a former executive chef of Buddakan in New York City. The menu features “fanciful interpretations of Modern Chinese dishes.” I’ll say this: the Kung Pao Chicken (photo) may have been the most aromatic dish of the dozens I sampled on this road trip. I also loved the Moo Shu Pork. (PG)
Is anything more comforting than a steaming hot bowl of egg drop soup on a nasty rainy day? The one at Rice King does the often-forgotten soup proud; it’s thick, viscous and eminently eggy, a deep rich golden hue (see photo). Whoever wrote the menu here should win a Pulitzer for menu hyperbole. The House Special Sizzling (shrimp, beef‚ scallops, onions, snow peas, mushrooms) boasts a “sensational” aroma. The Shrimp Amazing (jumbo shrimp with Chinese vegetables,) features — what else? — an ”amazing sauce.” The former is actually pretty good, rich and hearty. Takeout only. (PG)
Within walking distance of Willowbrook Mall, Chengdu 23 is my favorite Chinese restaurant in the state, and a recent visit did nothing to change that opinion. Sign of a great restaurant? When a dish you last ordered ten years ago (the spicy cabbage, in photo) tastes exactly as you remembered it. That’s consistency. The Bang Bang Chicken, a savory swirl of meat, chilis and vegetables, looks like a dish conjured over an open fire in a distant village. I also recommend Ants Climbing a Tree, a slithery, slippery mix of cellophane noodles and minced pork. Note: No ants were harmed or even used in the dish. (PG)
“Best Chinese at the Jersey Shore” proclaims Dragon House, which opened in 1959. “Chinese pizza “— the scallion pancakes — is a popular dish here. Recommended: the Hong Kong Seafood dish (photo), with fresh-tasting seafood, and the Steak Polynesian, with enough steak and pork to feed a hungry small army. (PG)
Krystal Vy, a modest, red-framed building on Route 322, may make the biggest egg rolls (photo) in the state. They’re loaded and luscious and skillfully fried. There’s more to like here; the Scallops and Shrimp Hunan Style and the Grandfather Chicken are both recommended. (PG)
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