Best Chinatown restaurants
Xi Xin Lin, the chef at this ornate dinner and dim sum spot, has a mystical way with creamy egg-yolk buns, delicate free-form dumplings stuffed with shrimp and dried scallop and steamed rice-noodle crêpes paired with crunchy bits of celery. This is classed-up dim sum at its most traditional, mirrored by the over-the-top, glitzy, gilded look of the second-story restaurant, making it a favorite pick for Chinese wedding banquets.
This humble dumpling spot started as a walk-up stand in the basement of the Richland Center before moving above ground to a beautiful, airy storefront in the heart of Chinatown. The menu offers dozens of dumplings to choose from, including lobster, truffle, lamb and dill, beef and onion, and crab roe. As an added bonus, QXY offers free 60-minute dumpling-making classes, so you can learn how to make your own doughy pockets at home.
The crackly skin attached to a juicy barbecue duck and a slab of “Macau” pork belly is like a primal call to fans of Cantonese-style roasted meats, and we’d recommend both, along with the perfectly cooked beans in the string bean “casserole” and the chubby rice noodles pan-fried in a lightly spicy XO sauce. But with extensive seafood offerings and an interesting dim sum lineup offered from early in the day to late in the evening, what we really recommend is going to the slick, contemporary dining room and choosing your own favorites.
To say the menu at Dolo is expansive would be an understatement. The chic Chinatown restaurant serves dozens of dim sum treats, including creamy egg tarts, bitter melon custard cakes, tender pork shumai, bright-green durian pancakes and fluffy pork buns. But that's just scraping the surface on what Dolo has to offer: A novel-sized menu is packed with glossy photos of seafood by the pound, spicy jellyfish, Taiwanese-style shrimp, mango beef tenderloin and stir-fried lo mein—among many other specialty dishes. If we haven't made it clear already, come hungry and bring a friend or two.
Dim sum fans are accustomed to cart service and ordering cards, but the majority of the small dishes traditionally served originated in tea houses and bakeries in southern China. Chinese bakery Chi Quon has been making these delectable items for decades, attracting locals and visitors from around the city with dishes like fresh BBQ pork buns, sesame balls filled with bean paste and shrimp dumplings. Pop in for a snack or make a meal out of the various baked goods on display.
MCCB, which stands for Modern Chinese Cook Book, specializes in Sichuan- and Canton-style cuisines, which means guests are treated to an in-depth menu that appropriately represents several regions of China. Holding down the "Modern" end of things are dishes like the Philly steak egg roll and dry chili fantail shrimp, which is served in a small fryer basket. The Chinatown restaurant’s signature dish is the charcoal-grilled whole fish, which is soaked in hot chili broth before it's grilled and carved at your table.
The Chinatown restaurant, which is tucked down a side street, fuses multiple Chinese cuisines together to yield dishes like the chili crab—huge Dungeness crabs cooks with curry, onions, ketchup and other ingredients for a spicy, messy, delicious meal. You'll also find the usual suspects, like ma po tofu, but you're definitely rewarded when you try something new.
One of the Chicago’s finest Chinese bakeries offers up an impressive range of treats both savory and sweet from its Chinatown storefront. The cha siu bao—brioche-like baked buns filled with sticky barbecue pork—make a good option for an on-the-go lunch, and the oblong egg tarts have a fan following for their just-barely-set custard filling and crumbly shortbread crust. Between bites, sip on the Hong Kong-style milk tea, a creamy, sweetened black tea that’s refreshing over ice.
No matter the season, you'll find a parade of colorful creations marching out of this made-to-order tea shop in Chinatown. Thirsty visitors have plenty of options here, with fresh fruit teas, milk teas, milk drinks, sea salt milk foam and fresh fruit yogurt drinks. You can add tapioca, jellies and flavored boba balls to most drinks, but the shop is best known for its "cheese tea," a sweet and creamy milk foam that tastes like cheesecake. We go back again and again for the delicious matcha latte with chewy tapioca—a classic sipper that's perfectly sweetened and easy to slurp down on a hot summer day.
This small but hopping barbecue shop has a lengthy menu, but you're here for the Small Peking Duck Dinner, which rings up under $35 and easily feeds three to four hungry adults. The steal of a meal includes duck bone soup, shredded duck with veggies, spicy fried shrimp and—the star of the show—crispy duck skin presented on soft bao buns.
Believe it or not, this hot pot operation is a massive global chain, with hundreds of locations sprinkled throughout the world. It's not Chicago's first hot pot rodeo either, but that doesn't stop Little Sheep from making an impression. Guests choose a soup base (tomato, "milky" bone marrow, or spicy bone marrow) and select goodies to boil inside the pot. We're big fans of the lamb, hand-sliced fatty beef, fish balls, Napa cabbage, baby bok choy and glass noodles. From there, it's up to you to cook your dinner, which is half the fun of hot pot.
After more than a decade tucked away on a Chinatown side street, this late-night institution moved to the main drag, with a second-story view of the area’s action. The dinner hour brings a nonstop flurry of cooks plucking lobsters, sea bass and Dungeness crab from the seafood tanks, but after 10pm, it’s drunken dim sum time. All the fried classics are suitable stomach lining, but we say meet in the middle with the late-night menu of small-plate portions of garlicky peapod greens, salt-and-pepper pork chops and tender quail smothered in peppery black bean sauce.
Nine-to-fivers will have to skip work to avoid the crowds at this dim sum stalwart, but it’s worth it to bypass the weekend frenzy. What’s the fuss? Hangover cures in the form of fried or steamed dough stuffed with savory, sometimes spicy pork. The classic bao are proper pillowy buns, Malay steamed cake is soft and spongy, deep-fried red bean dumplings are sweet and greasy (this is not a bad thing), and crêpes are characteristically silky wraps for shrimp, beef or greens—try the pan-fried version of both for a bit of crispness. Save room for interesting options like tender baby octopus with a slight curry flavor and crispy eggplant stuffed with steamed squid.
Heat-seekers, rejoice. This is the spot for you. Plenty of Szechuan pepper, dried chilies, garlic and ginger create flavors that are incredibly addictive. Our favorites are Chengdu dumplings, crispy Chinese eggplant with ground pork, twice-cooked pork, mapo tofu, Szechuan prawns and “chef’s special” dry chili chicken. Or choose at random—you won’t be disappointed.