Fact: There are moments in life when nothing but a steaming bowl of Chinese food will do. Luckily, there are plenty of options for great Chinese food in DC when you’re in the mood for something deep-fried, drenched in soy sauce, coated in ginger and/or served over rice. (If you’re in the mood for something healthier, try the best sushi in DC.) Some of these restaurants lie in shadow of Capital Hill, while further afield, a bounty of A+ quality Chinese restaurants just beyond the DC border. We put together a list of the city’s best, as well as a few worth going the distance for in the surrounding suburbs.
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Best Chinese food in DC
After leaving his post as the chef for the Chinese Embassy, Peter Chang popped up at Chinese restaurants around the country and vanished as soon as devoted fans tracked him down. The chef has since shed his elusive persona and opened a small chain of restaurants bearing his name. The latest and seventh in the string is located in Arlington. Expect the same crowd-pleasers that made Chang a household name in these parts, including the duck in a stone pot and the dry fried eggplant. (We can’t even type that without our mouths watering.)
A glowing Washington Post article from 2013 brought attention to this relatively new spot, located in the lobby of a Day’s Inn in a still-developing part of town. Thrill seekers and adventurous eaters are all too happy to make the trek for dishes straight from China’s Szechuan and Shaanxi providences. The dan dan noodles are a must—the noodles are made in-house and doused in a sauce made with tingling peppers.
This cash-only spot is always bustling, so be prepared to wait. (Perhaps now is a good time to hit the ATM?) We promise the lines are worth the payoff. You’d never guess this place is less than five years old, judging by the cadre of dedicated diners. Hope for a seat near the open kitchen where a flurry of chefs hand-wraps your shu mai and dumplings. Speaking of dumplings, you really can’t go wrong with any variation of them on the menu, especially the soup variety. Pierce the skin with your teeth, suck out the juice and finish the rest in one gulp. Repeat.
Calculate the number of dumplings you’re craving and multiply it by three. That’s the number that you should order at A & J, where they don’t skimp on the dumpling meat and sauce. This strip-mall gem began in Taiwan in 1971 and has since expanded to a small chain of restaurants in California, Virginia and Maryland. The noodles are made in-house, and you’d be a fool (or a vegetarian) to avoid the spicy noodle beef soup. It’s prepared Szechuan-style, made with plenty of the mouth-numbing pepper of the same name.
Plenty of celebrity chefs have staked a claim in Washington in recent years, but few have done it as well as Wolfgang Puck. The Source, located adjacent to the Newseum, feels less like an absentee-chef outpost and more like a vibrant part of the city, thanks to executive chef Scott Drewno and an eclectic mix of diners, from city-dwelling twentysomethings to tourists to famous TV talking heads. If fine dining is on the agenda, book a table in the elegant and sleek upstairs dining room for Drewno’s well-executed menu of modern Asian fare. Or stick to the more casual downstairs bar and lounge for delicious dumplings, udon noodles and mini banh mi.
If you’re having a hard time finding Full Kee in the cramped streets of Chinatown, just look for the ducks hanging in the window—they’re a tantalizing glimpse at the fresh Cantonese cooking that awaits you. Waste no time and order the shrimp dumpling soup made with roast pork and Chinese greens, arguably the restaurant’s best dish and certainly its most popular. Be wary of the lunch-time rush, but know that the wait staff (though sometimes brusque) are speedy.
This fantastic Chinese restaurant—located on K Street in the heart of DC’s downtown—doesn’t quite fit in with the shiny corporate buildings that surround it. It’s large and decorated in over-the-top chintz, and multiple rooms make it a great option for a large party or business luncheon, which you see plenty of. Just about every dish is a winner, though Schezuan classics like mapo tofu and anything with cumin reign here.
Located in Seven Corners—the epicenter of international eats in suburban Virginia—Hong Kong Palace isn’t much to look at. But beyond the charmless façade lives genuine Szechuan cooking and lazy Susans galore. (Translation: This place is great for large groups.) Stick to the classics here, including the mapo tofu, served in a fiery bean-based sauce, and the dan dan noodles, a Szechuan classic. The cumin lamb is a sleeper hit and the fried chicken with chili peppers is a must. It’s so well-seasoned, it lingers on your tongue for hours to come.
As the number of Chinese food restaurants in Chinatown continues to dwindle, we have to thank our lucky stars for China Boy. The no-frills stand-by is holding it down with cheap eats and freshly prepared noodles and greasy-in-the-best-way sauces. For aspiring at-home chefs, China Boy sells take-away noodles. When you realize you’ll never make food as well as they do, head back for the beef chow foon and roast pork noodle soup.