January 23, 2018

Chinatown Neighborhood Guide

Restaurants, Nightlife, Shops, Art Galleries & More

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A handmade gate welcomes visitors to Philadelphia's Chinatown, an area replete with Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai and Burmese culture. Photo by VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
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At 10th and Race Streets stands Chinatown Square, a stylish, open-late, two-floor food hall of international specialties. Photo by M. Fischetti for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
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Built by Chinese artisans, the dramatic gilt-painted Friendship Gate symbolizes the connection between sister cities Philadelphia and Tianjin. G. Widman for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
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Beyond Philadelphia’s historic Friendship Arch at 10th and Arch Streets lives a thriving Asian neighborhood, settled in the mid-19th century by Cantonese immigrants. Stretching from Vine to Arch Streets between 9th and 12th Streets, Philly’s Chinatown is packed end-to-end with restaurants and stores that represent Hong Kong, Cantonese, Fujianese, Northern Sichuan and Taiwanese cultures, with a sprinkling of Korean, Thai, Malaysian, Burmese, Vietnamese and hipster thrown in for good measure. On any given day or night, Chinatown is active and authentic, popular for steaming platters of hand-stretched noodles, seasonal street festivals, a new food hall (Chinatown Square), locally guided tours and rolled ice cream. Here’s the scoop on the food, drinks, goods and culture that make Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood is worth exploring.

Restaurants:

  • Banana Leaf – A casual but funky atmosphere complements the Malaysian cuisine with Thai and Indian accents. The deeply spiced specialties include roti canai, curried chicken over coconut rice and pad Thai with noodles. 1009 Arch Street, (215) 592-8288, bananaleafphilly.com
  • Bonchon – Korean fried chicken obsessives find plenty of crunch and spice at this franchise of an international chain. Open until 2 a.m., the kitchen serves wings and drums with addictive sauce, plus dishes like rice cake in chili sauce, japchae and bulgogi. 1020 Cherry Street, (267) 639-6686, bonchon.com
  • Bubblefish Bubble Tea & Sushi – This trendy spot stays open until midnight during the week and until 1 a.m. on weekends. The mostly light fare menu includes Japanese cuisine such as sushi and tonkatsu don, along with bubble tea from a long list of flavor options. 909 Arch Street, (267) 930-7634, bubblefishphilly.com
  • Chinatown Square Food Hall – In this new 24-hour operation, 14 vendors, including acclaimed, second-floor Korean newcomer Dae Bak, represent cuisine from Thailand to Mexico. But this food hall has more than just food: The hall also offers an expansive lounge and multiple karaoke rooms. 1016 Race Street, chinatownsq.com
  • David’s Mai Lai Wah – Up-late studiers, industry folks and other night owls hankering for authentic Chinese eats come here after midnight for salt-and-pepper squid, dumplings in ginger-scallion sauce and beef with pickled mustard greens. 1001 Race Street, (215) 627-2610
  • Dim Sum Garden – It may not exactly look like a garden, but the restaurant offers an abundant selection. The low-cost eats here include pork soup dumplings, pan-fried dumplings and pumpkin cakes. 1020 Race Street, (215) 873-0258, dimsumgardenphilly.com
  • E Mei – Touted as the most authentic Szechuan cooking in the city, this kitchen delivers chicken with pickled pepper, and rabbit and peanuts in chili sauce. Spice-averse diners can opt for the pork belly and radish soup or seafood with crispy rice cake. 915 Arch Street, (215) 627-2500, emeiphilly.com
  • Little Sheep – Mongolian hot pot steams up the tables at this outpost of an international chain. Diners choose a soup base, proteins and an array of vegetables and noodles to dip and cook in aromatic broth. 1017 Arch Street, (215) 923-9222, littlesheephotpot.com
  • M Kee – A relative newcomer to the scene, this diminutive eatery beckons with its lacquered ducks hanging in the window. The temptation continues with traditional Chinese barbecue spareribs and roast pork, served over noodles, congee and rice. 1002 Race Street, (215) 238-8883
  • Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House – Lunchtime visitors pack into this no-frills spot where the star feature is noodles, which come hand-drawn or shaved, fat or thin and swirled in rich broth, tossed with peanut sauce or stir-fried. 1022 Race Street, (215) 923-1550, nanzhounoodlehouse.com
  • Nine Ting – Black lacquered booths beckon especially on cold days for lovers of hot pot and Korean barbecue. Either way, it’s cooked at table and served “all you can eat” for a very good value. 926 Race Street, (215) 238-9996
  • Nom Wah Tea Parlor – This stylish sister eatery to a New York establishment, specializes, as the name suggests, in tea and snacks. Eaters can pair chrysanthemum or pu-er tea with delicacies such as turnip cake, soup dumplings and sticky rice with Chinese sausage. 218 N. 13th Street, (267) 519-2889, nomwah.com
  • Oishii Poké – Hawaiian raw fish salad stars at this quick-service stop on Arch Street. Customers choose from signature dishes or a build their own bowl, burrito or salad before selecting ingredients. 938 Arch Street, first floor rear, (267) 909-8358, oishiipoke.com
  • Rangoon – The city’s only Burmese restaurant has successfully hooked Philadelphians on Thousand Layer Bread, fresh ginger salad and fragrant stir-fry and noodle dishes—with plenty of vegetarian options. 112 N. 9th Street, (215) 829-8939
  • Red Kings 2 – Late-night hours (until nearly 3 a.m. on weekends and 2 a.m. during the week) and the irresistible lure of Szechuan peppercorns make this sequel restaurant a major draw. Loyal diners insist that the Dan Dan noodles, cumin lamb and spicy boiled fish are the best in town. 1006 Race Street, (215) 238-1392, redkings2restaurant.com
  • Sang Kee Peking Duck House – The flagship of a local empire, Sang Kee built its name on noodle soups, garlicky greens and, of course, roast duck. Patrons eagerly sample the Hong Kong fare on two floors of the restaurant. 238 N. 9th Street, (215) 925-7532, sangkeechinatown.com
  • Spice C – With a flair for the dramatic, this Chinese noodle house lets patrons watch chefs turn dough into noodles. Lumps fly into the air, stretching, separating and transforming into savory soups and stir-fries. 131 N. 10th Street, (215) 923-2222, spicecnoodle.com
  • Tai Lake – The tanks of fish and frogs hint at the freshness of ingredients at this seafoodery. Diners choose from authentic delicacies such as crabmeat and asparagus soup, chili-baked shrimp and sautéed conch. 134 N. 10th Street, (215) 922-0698, tailakeseafoodrest.com
  • Tasty Place – Hungry neighborhood dwellers head underground in the Chinatown Mall for a true taste of Hong Kong. For two decades, Chef Simon Sei has satisfied their cravings for salt-baked wings, homey soups and spare ribs. 143 N. 11th Street, (215) 592-8990
  • Terakawa Ramen – Japanese noodle bowls topped with roast pork, soft-boiled egg or soy-flavored chicken make up the main attractions at this sleek fast-service spot. The ramen-averse can sample platters with homemade curry, as well as a sandwich similar to a Japanese bun, with slowly braised pork, lettuce, tomato and spicy mayonnaise. 204 N. 9th Street, (267) 687-1355, terakawaramenphilly.com
  • Tom’s Dim Sum – Its humble setting in an underpass only adds to the charm of this quick-eat spot, owned by a soup dumpling master. Diners can mix and match steamed buns, dumplings, and entrees over rice and still spend less than $20. 59 N. 11th Street, (215) 923-8880, tomsdimsum.com
  • Vietnam – The food at this handsome spot is impossibly quick, surprisingly inexpensive and deliciously authentic—and has been so since the early 1980s. Think crepes, broken rice platters and steaming bowls of pho. 221 N. 11th Street, (215) 592-1163, eatatvietnam.com
  • Xi’an Sizzling Woks – The unadorned atmosphere here quickly recedes into the background when steaming platters of authentic Chinese fare arrive. Some of the specialties include Chinese hamburger made with braised pork, dumplings in spicy and sour soup and fiery hot pots. 902 Arch Street, (215) 925-1688, xiansizzlingwoksphilly.com
  • Yamitsuki Ramen – Street food becomes elevated—but not pretentious—inside the modern Japanese restaurant, a standout for the full-sized Iron Man costume on display in the front window. Ramen finds space on the menu, as do steamed buns stuffed with pork or chicken, ethereal snow ice and tea bar beverages.1028 Arch Street, (215) 629-3888, yamitsukiramen.com

Quick Bites & Treats:

  • Bread Top House – Breakfast here starts the day off right—and for a bargain. Freshly baked coconut buns, fruit smoothies and milk teas hit the spot, and most items are around a dollar. 1041 Race Street, (215) 925-3802
  • Heung Fa Chun Sweet House – Quick, light meals are the specialty at this easy-to-miss snackery. Favorites include sweet or savory dou hua (tofu custard), sticky rice with Chinese sausage and fried sesame balls. 112 N. 10th Street, (215) 238-8968
  • Mayflower Bakery and Café – This mainstay for cheap meals welcomes guests for breakfast or lunch. Behind the glass displays sit crispy, fresh-out-of-the-oven delicacies, such as taro and red-bean buns, coconut bread, egg tarts and even hot-dog buns. 1008 Race Street, (215) 629-5668
  • N2 Sweet Cafe – What’s colder than cold? Liquid nitrogen-frozen ice cream at this trending addition to the neighborhood’s burgeoning sweet scene, where flavors like Oreo and cotton candy are DIY. 125 N. 11th Street, (215) 925-3200, n2sweetcafe.com
  • QT Vietnamese Sandwich – When the banh mi craving hits, this little luncheonette satisfies. The menu includes hoagies of both the meaty (house special includes barbecue pork, Vietnamese ham and Vietnamese meat) and vegetarian (lemongrass tofu, or tofu, onions and mushrooms) varieties, all layered with cilantro, fresh cucumbers, pickled carrots, mayo, pâté and fresh jalapeños. 48 N. 10th Street, (267) 639-4520, qtvietnamesesandwich.com
  • Ray’s Café & Teahouse – Known for its siphoned specialty hot coffees and 12-hour drip cold-brew ice coffee, Ray’s attracts caffeine-starved connoisseurs. There’s also a full menu of imported Taiwanese tealeaves and bubble teas, smoothies, desserts—coffee jelly made from the shop’s siphoned blend—and beef noodle soup and dumplings. 141 N. 9th Street, (215) 922-5122, rayscafe.com
  • Tea Dó – This modern teahouse serves little snacks all day long. A full selection of teas—with or without bubbles—accompanies gyoza, fish balls and onigiri. 132 N. 10th Street, (215) 925-8889, tea-do.com
  • Teassert Bar – Not just another neighborhood dessert spot, Teassert uses flavorful, all-natural ingredients in its ice cream rolls, sorbets, Hong Kong waffles and bubble teas. 227 N. 10th Street, (267) 761-5944
  • Mr. Wish – For fruity tea and all-things creamy and sippable, this cheery drink shop delivers. Late-night hours make it a great place to hit before or after a concert at the Troc. 216 N. 10th Street, (267) 457-2650

Shopping:

  • Asia Crafts, Inc. – The city’s main outlet for Hello Kitty and her Sanrio pals stocks its shelves to the brim. Shoppers can find just about any item stamped with their iconic images at this fun Japanese toy and novelty store. 124 N. 10th Street, (215) 925-3974
  • Asia Supermarket – Set next to the Tasty Place restaurant, this food market offers a down-home shopping experience. Noodles, tea, condiments, cookware and a wide selection of herbal medicines line the aisles. 143 N. 11th Street, (215) 928-9888
  • Chinese Culture and Arts – One of the neighborhood’s best-kept shopping secrets, this store encourages bargaining. Offerings include mahjong sets, Buddha sculptures, teapots and more—all at good prices. 126 N. 10th Street, (215) 928-1616
  • Ga-In BeautyZone – Korean beauty experts deliver the goods at this cosmetic store. In addition to makeup, masks and skin care products, Ga-In offers eyelash extensions and micro-blading. 127 N. 11th Street, (267) 210-0314
  • Invisible Fake – This sleek boutique accommodates men with a flair for high style but reasonably priced apparel. The selection includes jerseys, hats and hoodies from Japanese labels such as Under Cover, Sophnet, Comme des Garçons and more. 118 N. 9th Street, (267) 930-8546
  • Tuck Hing – The stock varies from week to week at Chinatown’s longest-running grocer. However, shoppers can always count on superb Chinese sausage, dried oysters and other staples of the Asian kitchen. 218 N. 10th Street, (215) 627-2079

Bars & Nightlife:

  • Bar.Ly – The changing face of Chinatown has brought more of a trendy bar culture, with an emphasis on cocktails and beer. With 60 beers on tap and a menu of tater tots, burgers, kimchi pizza and Vietnamese pork chops, this sports bar/gastropub is part of the neighborhood’s new generation. 101 N. 11th Street, (215) 922-2688, bar-ly.com
  • Hi Kori – This L-shaped bar in the Chinatown Square complex serves well crafted, tea-infused cocktails and an excellent selection of Japanese whiskey. Street food bites complete the experience. 1016 Race Street, @hikori.phila
  • Hop Sing Laundromat – Those in the know have caught on to the mysterious Lê and his bartending prowess. Chinatown’s quirky answer to a speakeasy hand-cracks its ice, freshly squeezes its fruit juice per order and serves only exquisitely crafted cocktails to well-heeled clientele. 1029 Race Street, hopsinglaundromat.com
  • NOTO – The acronym stands for “Not Of The Ordinary,” and with 22 VIP bottle-service tables, three bars and the capacity to hold up to 980 clubgoers, Philly’s largest nightclub delivers on that promise. The upscale venue combines superior service with international DJs. 1209 Vine Street, (215) 607-6686, notoftheordinary.com
  • Tango – Dinner and entertainment meet at this neon-lit combination eatery and karaoke bar. The menu features snacks like wings, crab Rangoon and lettuce wraps, plus and luxe private singing suites. 1021 Arch Street, (215) 925-8100, tangophilly.com
  • The Trocadero – The ever-versatile former burlesque theater gives fans the chance to attend shows both large and small—whether it’s international bands, hip-hop artists, indie rockers or the campy Movie Monday series. 1003 Arch Street, (215) 922-6888, thetroc.com
  • Yakitori Boy – At this hotspot, the night can start with Yakitori, sushi or sake bombs, but it always ends with karaoke. Those too shy for the crowd can demo musical stylings to friends in private karaoke rooms or, if booked in advance, a private lounge. 211 N. 11th Street, (215) 923-8088, yakitoriboy.com

Arts & Culture:

  • 10th Street Plaza – Capped by a pergola and guardian lions, this cornerstone park flanks Chinatown’s north end. A statue of Lin Zexu honors the Fujian province. 10th & Vine Streets
  • Asian Arts Initiative – This community-based arts center engages people to create art that explores the diverse experiences of Asian-Americans, addresses social context and impacts the community in a positive way. The organization offers a full calendar of events, including exhibitions, public performances, an out-of-school youth program and more. 1219 Vine Street, (215) 557-0455, asianartsinitiative.org
  • Chinese Zodiac Walk – The 95 bronze medallions embedded in the neighborhood’s sidewalks represent the Chinese calendar year. Look closely for all 12 animals, designed in a paper-cut style by Andrews/LeFevre Studios and the 10-foot medallion displaying all of the zodiac animals.
  • Friendship Gate – Built by Chinese artisans more than 30 years ago, the dramatic gilt-painted entry symbolizes the connection between sister cities Philadelphia and Tianjin. Architect Sabrina Soong designed the structure to recreate a Qing Dynasty style with Tianjin tiles. 10th & Arch Streets
  • Mural Arts Philadelphia – Many Chinatown walls depict the area’s rich history and vision for the future, thanks to larger-than-life works created by Mural Arts designers and painters. How We Fish is part of a citywide project to engage workers, business leaders and residents in thinking about the role of work in the community. Tours depart from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ Hamilton Building. 128 N. Broad Street, muralarts.org
  • Philly Food Adventures – Food writer and blogger Jamie Shanker welcomes groups of four to 20 for her 2.5-hour jaunt around the neighborhood. Meeting under the neighborhood’s arch, she offers insights into Asian cultures before taking eaters to multiple destinations for dumplings, noodles and under-the-radar street fare. phillyfoodadventures.com
  • Space 1026 – Founded 20 years ago by a young group of artists, this rugged, member-based collective includes a gallery, screen-printing shop and growing community of artists. The gallery is open by appointment and during monthly first Friday openings. 1026 Arch Street, 2nd floor, (215) 574-7630, space1026.com

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