Boston's Chinatown has dozens, or more likely hundreds, of restaurants ranging from banquet-sized palaces with novel-length menus and dim sum on steamer carts to tiny hole-in-the-wall spots serving just a few options.
Although Chinese specialties dominate, you'll find plenty of places to enjoy traditional Vietnamese pho, Japanese sushi, Mongolian hot pots, Taiwanese soup dumplings, Korean bulgoki, and Malaysian noodles. Almost hidden among them are some modern choices too - places where you can indulge in Hong Kong style chicken and waffles, innovative ramen, bubble tea, and boozy brunches.
So where should you go for the best Asian food in Boston? Especially if you're a visitor to Boston and not familiar with the maze of mostly narrow streets in this surprisingly large and somewhat sprawling neighborhood?
To make sure you get the most from your Chinatown visit, we recommend a mix of contemporary "new generation" and traditional choices where you'll enjoy the food, the ambiance, and have a memorable meal.
Top photo: China Pearl and Shojo restaurants in Boston's Chinatown
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1. Shojo - Contemporary Asian with a Manga Twist
The second you step through the door at Shojo, you'll realize it's like no other Chinatown restaurant in Boston.
With a huge manga mural covering one wall, kung fu movies on the big screen over the bar (which offers an extensive list of sake, soju, shochu, craft beers, and Chinatown's most creative cocktails), a hip-hop/rap soundtrack, and congenial seating, Shojo practically screams "fun"!
But as soon as the seriously good food arrives, everything else fades into the background.
You'll find flavors and influences from across Asia, especially Japan, Korea, Thailand, and throughout China - and possibly the most innovative cuisine in Chinatown.
Some dishes such as the kimchi fried rice topped with a fried egg are riffs on traditional Asian favorites, while others - the Wu-Tang tiger style ribs, and the crispy fish and chips taco - are more like Asian versions of Western cuisine.
You can buy tasty pork-stuffed bao at almost every bakery in Chinatown - but the version here made with suckling pig and a smoky BBQ sauce with plenty of kimchi and jalapeño for heat is in a class of its own. Shojo's small plates of sesame charred greens are addictive. The chicken and waffles raise the bar for this Hong Kong classic.
You'll see only 15 or so dishes on the dinner menu, and even fewer for lunch (ramen is offered only at lunch) - but there is plenty to love here. The chef changes the menu fairly frequently, based on what's fresh, what's good, and what inspires him.
9 Tyler Street | (617) 423-7888 | Dinner only Monday - Wednesday; lunch and dinner on Thursday - Sunday | www.shojoboston.com
2. Double Chin - A Light-Filled Asian Cafe
Double Chin, the fun-filled creation of sisters Emily Chin and Gloria Chin, serves up modern versions of Hong Kong comfort food plus Chinese spins on American classics such as mac and cheese (made with rice noodles) for you to mix and match while you savor an explosion of flavors.
A great place to start is the weekend "Boozy Brunch" when almost every table sports a carved out watermelon or pineapple holding fruit-infused drinks (alcoholic and virgin) and multiple straws. Order, perhaps, a Katsu Bo Lo Baowich (pineapple rice bun filled with katsu pork, a fried egg, unagi glaze, and house slaw), Chinese egg pastries, or Hong Kong style French Toast filled with peanut butter and a red bean sauce - ice cream optional.
The regular menu offers everything from semi-traditional noodle, fried rice dishes, curries, and even roast duck to fusion riffs such as Corn Elote, Spam and Taro fries, and a fried soft-shell crab sandwich with sriracha mayo. Can't decide? Order a "Chinwich" - a sandwich made from scallion pancakes and savory fillings.
What you won't want to miss are the desserts. Hong Kong waffles with ice cream, fruit, small cubes of mochi, sauce, and pocky are spectacular, and so are the green tea (matcha) sundaes and fried donut slices with green tea and ovaltine dipping sauces.
Although you can ask to have savory items arrive first and dessert at the end, even better is having everything on your table at once and alternating savory and sweet bites - a new way to experience the contrasting flavors.
Most dishes are meant to be shared, and each ice cream-filled waffle is easily enough for 2-4 people - unless, of course, you decide to skip everything else and just order dessert.
86 Harrison Ave | 617-482-0682 | Open at 11am until 4am on Thursday - Saturday, and 11pm on other nights | Boozy Brunch specialties available Saturday and Sunday 11am - 3pm | www.doublechinbos.com
More Fun for Foodies: Chinatown Culture & Cuisine Tour
Want to explore Chinatown, visit some historical and cultural places, and sample some of the best traditional Chinese, modern Chinese, and Chinese-American cuisine? If so, this Chinatown Culture and Cuisine guide-led walking tour is for you!
Not will you visit lots of interesting historic, architectural, and cultural sites, but you also get to savor tastings at six local Chinatown restaurants and bakeries - the perfect way to experience the best of Chinatown! Find out more
3. Crave Mad for Chicken
The tantalizing aroma of fried chicken from Mad for Chicken hits you at least a block away, and after just one visit, you'll be hooked.
This is Korean-style fried chicken at its best, boasting a super-crunchy crust and bursting with flavor. You choose what you want - wings, drumsticks, boneless, or combos), pick a dipping sauce, and pop it in your mouth. You'll never want any other type of chicken ever again.
There's actually lots more on Mad for Chicken's menu, including outstanding fried seafood options, standard but yummy Korean dishes such as bibimbap and kimchi fried rice, and a surprisingly extensive sushi selection. But most people come for the chicken.
75 Kneeland Street | (617) 338-0188 | Open until 2am on Friday and Saturday | www.cravemadforchicken.com
4. Gourmet Dumpling House
You'll often have to stand in line for a table at Gourmet Dumpling House - but if you want to dine on their intensely flavorful soup dumplings known as xiao long bao (listed on the menu as "mini juicy dumplings") served in little aluminum steamers (a modern update to traditional bamboo round "baskets"), you won't mind the wait.
The menu also includes other Taiwanese-style specialties such as sautéed mustard greens with edamame and tofu, chicken corn soup, pan-fried pork buns, eggplant with pork, fried peanuts, and sizzling baby beef ribs.
If you like your food hot and spicy, the fiery Szechuan Sliced Fish Soup is spectacular - and highly addictive. Once you've tasted it, you'll dream about it.
Gourmet Dumpling House is a no-frills restaurant, with tables crammed together in a small space. You may sometimes be seated with strangers, which can actually be a lot of fun, especially when everyone tastes each other's food.
52 Beach Street | (617) 338-6223 | www.gourmetdumpling.com
Soup Dumpling FAQs
What is a soup dumpling (xiao long bao)?
A soup dumpling is made with cubes of jellied meat-based broth aspic and a meatball made with finely minced meat and vegetables, wrapped in thinly-rolled wheat flour dough pulled up to surround the filling with pleated sides and a little twist on top.
Traditionally, the dumplings are placed on a leaf inside a bamboo basket steamer and steamed until the aspic melts into a flavorful broth and the meatball is cooked.
What is the best way to eat xiao long bao?
First, let's start with what not to do: DO NOT grab the dumpling with your chopsticks (or worse, fingers) as soon as it's delivered to your table and pop the whole thing into your mouth at once. Soup dumplings are usually delivered steaming hot to the table - so eating the whole thing immediately puts you at risk of 1) seriously scalding your mouth, or 2) spitting the whole thing out and causing it, worst case, to fly across the table and hit a fellow diner.
Ok, here's what you should do: Use your chopsticks to pick up a dumpling and carefully put it into your soup spoon (or, if you're not adept with chopsticks, maneuver your spoon under the dumpling and lift it up). Now, take a tiny bite off the top where the twisted sides come together in a little point to let the steam escape. If you're at Gourmet Dumpling House, they actually usually leave a little opening (you can see this in the above photo), so you can skip this step.
Once the dumpling has cooled for a minute or two, you can suck the broth out of the hole at the top of the dumpling (slurping noises are acceptable) and then put the rest of it into your mouth and eat it.
Or, you're sure the dumpling is really cool, you can eat the whole thing, soup and all, at once. Some people like to add a little black vinegar, soy sauce, or pickled ginger to their spoon before eating the xiao long bao - you can experiment to see what you prefer.
Where did soup dumplings originate?
Although soup dumplings originated in Shanghai, China, they didn't become widely popular until a restaurant in Taiwan started serving them. In Boston, most Taiwanese restaurants such as Gourmet Dumpling House and Taiwan Cafe offer them.
More Ways to Enjoy Boston's Food Culture
5. Q Restaurant - Hot Pot & Sushi Bar
Q Restaurant is one of Chinatown's newest and trendiest spots, drawing enthusiastic crowds throughout most of the day and night, with occasional lines snaking down the sidewalk outside the door.
Q offers three rather different menus, each with extensive selections: Mongolian-style hot pot, sushi/makimono/sushimi, and Chinese dishes ranging from traditional to innovative. There's a full-service bar - and also a large selection of bubble tea.
If you're dining here for the first time, definitely try the hot pot - very tasty, plus you'll have a lot of fun cooking your meal at the table. Your first decision is the delicious broth prepared from long-simmered bones - you'll find more than a dozen flavor options offering various degrees of spiciness/heat. Small bowls of condiments arrive with the broth so that you can punch up the flavor complexity even more.
Then you choose the types of meats, seafood, tofu, veggies, and noodles that you want to add to the broth.
You can opt for a pre-set combination - or customize by ordering from almost 100 á la carte items. Everything is fresh, and top quality.
660 Washington Street, corner of Beach and Washington Streets | (857) 350-3968 | no reservations - but if you call about 30 minutes before you want to come, they will help you reduce your wait time | thequsa.com
Chinatown Restaurants - Directions & Parking
Subway: Green Line/Boylston or Orange Line/Chinatown
If you drive: The easiest place to park is in the garage under Boston Common, just 2-4 blocks from these restaurants. The 660 Washington Street Garage is also reasonably convenient. It costs a few dollars more than the Boston Common Garage, but Q Restaurant (located next door) gives you up to 3 hours of validated parking. Although there are other garages in Chinatown, the narrow and congested streets (not to speak of mammouth delivery trucks) can cause them to be difficult (and that's probably an understatement) to access.
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