Chao Ku is a fast-casual Chinese restaurant located at 1414 9th ST NW. To a large extent, DC is a Chinese food desert. While great Southeast Asian food abounds, most Chinese places are carryouts specializing in wings and mumbo sauce over fried rice (this is a beautiful blend of Chinese food and African American cooking in its own right, but isn’t exactly authentic Chinese food. Most of the restaurants in DC’s meagre Chinatown are touristy and poorly rated. There are, of course, a few diamonds in the rough. Aside from some great Chinese food in the suburbs, Great Wall Szechuan does a mean hot pot and China Boy makes a simple but excellent beef chow fun. Aside from these options, however, Chinese food in the District proper has been limited. Chao Ku is a welcome addition. Chao Ku offers both small plates and more substantial entrees at reasonable prices, in sleek surroundings and with friendly staff. It’s partway in between fast casual and waiter service because there’s a carryout downstairs and upstairs you fill out a card with what you would like to order, and then a food runner brings your food. My friend and I got the pork dan dan noodles and the fried catfish. My friend, who is a Chinese food expert, said that the dan dan noodles were not spicy enough to be authentic, but were still tasty. The fried catfish was excellent, with a generous coating of delicious batter. This place will never be an authentic Chinese spot of the sort that you’ll find in Flushing, Queens, but it does offer a tasty, fresh take on Chinese and Chinese-inspired dishes that are a welcome change from the typical general tsaos chicken and beef and broccoli of American Chinese food. It’s definitely worth checking out!
Yum’s II is a carry out located at 1413 14th St NW. There are a number of other carry outs that call themselves Yum’s, but they appear to be unrelated.Carry outs in DC are a unique breed, typically featuring such diverse options as Chinese food, subs and sometimes even pizza. They have been a staple of the District’s food scene since long before gentrification. While they may not be the most gourmet of choices, if you choose one that isn’t overly sketchy, they are convenient and cheap. The signature dish of DC carry outs (and Yum’sII is no exception in this regard) is fried chicken wings over fried rice with a condiment called mumbo sauce. Mumbo sauce is specific to DC and Chicago and is a tangy, somewhat sweet red sauce that tasted a little like ketchup to me, but less thick. Wings with fried rice and mumbo sauce is as DC as chili halfsmokes and fried whiting sandwiches. It’s probably at least as African American as Chinese and origin and is a way to experience a slice of DC culture that has been around much longer than the truffle naan at Rasika.
Queen Amannisa is a Uyghur restaurant located at 320 23rd St in Crystal City. For the uninitiated, Uyghur food is basically a cross between Chinese food and Central Asian food. They also serve some of the common Chinese American dishes for the less adventurous, but it’s pointless to order things like that when you can order authentic Ugyhur laghman, a delicious stretchy noodle dish with veggies and meat. I ordered the Ammani-style laghman, which was absolutely delicious. The noodles were stretchy and the meat and veggies were cooked perfectly. I also ordered a red jujube tea, which is a Chinese herbal tea that’s a bit fruity. The tea was served in the carafe of a coffee maker,
Red jujube tea.
which I found a bit odd. It was also approximately $7, so I concluded that it was intended for sharing by the table. In general, I think this place is best-suited for groups. The restaurant is cavernous (I’m not sure how they ever expect to fill it) and the fact that it presents a rare opportunity to eat Uyghur food means it is a great place to share a bunch of dishes and try new things. The staff is very welcoming and is keen to make sure you like the food. The decor is pleasant, though they were playing this annoyingly repetitive elevator music when I was there, which I could have done without.
Great Wall Szechuan House is a Chinese restaurant located at 1527 14th St NW. DC has a noticeable lack of good Chinese places, especially since Chinatown is tiny and no longer very Chinese. But the hot pot at Great Wall Szechuan Houseis something special. It’s best to go in a large group, and order a variety of meat and veggie choices. The lamb and beef are delicious, as are the tofu skin and rice cakes. The quail eggs are also a real treat, especially since it’s a fun challenge to fish them out of the pot. This makes for a fun night with a group of friends, and there are plenty of great places in the area to grab drinks afterward!
China Chilcano (China rhymes with Tina in this case) is a Peruvian-Chinese-Japanese fusion restaurant located at 418 7th Street NW.China Chilcano‘s food is based on the immigration of Chinese and Japanese people to Peru; they brought their culinary traditions with them but adapted them to suit the ingredients that were available. The food is absolutely delicious and innovative. I once went for a business lunch and we ordered one of the tasting menus, which provided an amazing overview of a large portion of the menu items. Last time I went, I had brunch which was also great. The brunch menu itself is small, but involves cool fusion options as well. The regular menu is also available at
The Ceviche Clásico La Mar
lunch. I ordered the Tortilla China (Egg foo yung, Edwards smoked ham, fresh crab, scallion, jicama, bean sprout, oyster sauce), which was like a tasty Asian-influenced Spanish omelette. I also had the Ceviche Clásico La Mar, which is made with a daily selection of fresh fish- it was great. My friends ordered the Lucky 12 dim sum tower, which is an awesome combo of three different types of Peruvian-accented dumplings. China Chilcano is a bit of an off-the-beaten track choice for brunch and doesn’t have the standard chicken and waffles fare. While there were a good number of people there, it wasn’t packed, making it a great choice for a unique brunch that isn’t especially hard to get a table at. Cool, minimalist decor and super friendly staff add to the experience. Our server, a Peruvian, took great care of us and was enthusiastic about explaining the menu and offering suggestions. At the end of the meal, he gave us all samples of chicha morada, a deliciously sweet sangria-like beverage (though alcohol-free) made from purple corn and spices.
Jds Shanghai is a Chinese restaurant specializing in xiao long bao (soup dumplings) located in the Firstfield Shopping Center at 519 Quince Orchard Rd in Gaithersburg, Maryland.Jds Shanghai is one of the few places in the DC metro area that has xiao long bao, which is a food that I absolutely crave (I refer to them as xiao long bae). My favorite place in the world for xiao long bao is Nan Xiang Dumpling House in Flushing, NY. Jds Shanghai lacks the frenetic atmosphere of Nan Xiang or the cool
location in the middle of Flushing Chinatown (Jds Shanghai is basically in a suburban strip mall). The xiao long bao themselves may not be quite as good, but they still totally hit the spot. I ordered pork xiao long bao, mixed pork and crab xiao long bao, and xiao long bao containing chinese okra, crab and pork. I also ordered a scallion pancake stuffed with beef which was tasty as well. Previous reviews of this place online mentioned poor service; I did not find this to be the case at all. The servers were friendly and very attentive. Be aware that if you don’t have a car, the place is a 10 minute Uber (or Lyft if that’s how you roll) ride from Shady Grove metro.
Clockwise from top left: Chinatown’s “Friendship Archway,” China Boy’s sketchy, hand-drawn menu, China Boy’s tasty beef chow fun, and China Boy’s exterior.
China Boy (yes, it’s actually called that) is a hole in the wall Chinese place located at 817 6th St NW in Chinatown. Those of you who know DC well will know that DC has a shortage of good Chinese food in its small (and generally disappointing Chinatown). I stumbled upon China Boy because it’s one of the only places in Chinatown that gets good reviews on Yelp. China Boy is a pretty dumpy-looking, tiny place (there’s one round table if you insist on eating there, but it’s mainly a carryout) that is known for one thing: it’s chow fun. The noodles are made in-house and the chow fun is delightfully greasy, rich and in huge portions (one container for $10 really serves two). At my previous job, I used to host “Chow Fun Fridays” with chow fun from China Boy. One of my colleagues was pregnant at the time and China Boy’s chow fun became her pregnancy craving. The noodles here are undeniably tasty, but it’s a pretty sketchy-looking place, so don’t go here on your next date (or at all if you’re squeamish).