Eating in Washington DC's Chinatown

Up until the 1980s, Washington DC had a thriving and active Chinatown with a local community of residents, Chinese restaurants and stores. Cantonese was regularly spoken on the street by immigrants and the children of immigrants.

The opening of the Capital One Arena, originally the MCI center, changed all that. The neighborhood was decimated, prices rose to the point where residents moved to Rockville and Northern Virginia.

In spite of Wikipedia's bizarre claim that the coming of the Capital Center was "one of the driving catalysts of the revitalization of the Washington DC Chinatown neighborhood," there are now as of 2018 fewer than 300 Chinese residents left, most of them living in a single apartment building, the Wah Luck House.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s I maintained a guide to restaurants in the Washington DC Chinatown available by FTP and then later on the early web, but by 2000 or so the number of restaurants had dwindled so severely that I had given up maintaining the list. However, requests from users have caused me to create a new list again.

I have generally rated places overall on a ten-point scale. 10 = excellent; 1 = poor. With the advent of fancy mapping systems on the web, I have removed the Chinatown map, however, and added postal addresses.

1 - Reren
817 7th St NW, 202-290-3677
http://rerenlamen.com
Reren specializes in Chinese-style ramen soups made with their own homemade noodles. They have a few other items including dumplings but this is very much a soup place. I thought it was okay; the broth was not as rich and clear as I might have liked but it was pleasant and worth the trip. (Dec 2021)

4 - Chinatown Express - 3/8
746 6th St NW, 202-638-0424
http://www.chinatownexpressdc.com
Order the fresh noodle, either soup or fried noodle. Order the fresh dumplings. Order the steamed pork buns. Stay away from the rest of the manu which is mostly sweet crap for tourists. The hand-stretched noodles and dumplings (which are softer than you might be accustomed to) are great. In thirty years of eating here I never had an egg roll that was fresh. Review is a 3 for the normal menu, an 8 for the hand-stretched noodle. (Nov 2018)

5- Full Kee - 9
509 H St NW, 202-371-2233
NOT TESTED SINCE 2002 This restaurant is run by an employee of the original owners, who went to open a restaurant by the same name in Richmond, VA. Excellent congee, good noodle dishes. Recomended. Extensive Chinese menu is translated into English. (Nov 2002)

9 - Wok and Roll - 6
604 H St NW, 202-347-4656
The restaurant that was open for many years at this location, Go Lo's, has been remodelled and reopened under new management but with the same kitchen staff. They have added a sushi counter and a bubble tea stand in order to get with the latest trends in Asian foods that white people like, and the menu has been simplified with all of the flaming hibachi stuff removed. Generally the usual fare, these folks are trying very hard to cater to the Western crowd. They can cook pretty well when specifically asked but will otherwise tend to the usual sweet slop in an attempt to appeal to the white crowd. (Jan 2002)

11 - Jackey Cafe - 7
611 H st NW, 202-408-1288.
NOT TRIED SINCE 2007 Mostly traditional Cantonese food, with good congee, noodle soups, and wonderful pan-fried noodle. This location was previously owned by Ho Wah and then the Rainbow Inn, both fairly low-grade places, but the new owners have done an excellent job of cleaning the place up. (Jun 2007)

17 - New Big Wong - 5
610 H St NW, 202-628-0490
If you went into a typical Chinatown restaurant in 1970, this is what you would have seen. Extensive menu full of traditional Cantonese favorites. A few newer items here and there (they have things in XO sauce now, in keeping with 21st century fashion) but very much what your grandparents would have eaten. Well prepared, and the whole menu is translated into English. (March 2019)

18 - Eat First - 6
609 H St NW, 202-289-1703
NOT TRIED SINCE 2001 The Ruby restaurant that served good Cantonese food in this location shut down in early 2001, and the Eat First restaurant that was previously around the corner has moved in after two years of absence. Although this place rates fairly low for food, with heavy egg rolls, and a higher than average proportion of premade sauces, they are also the only place in town which not only provides an extensive English translation of the special menu, but also provides a translation of the specials on the walls. Even so, many of my complaints about them in 1997 (like prepackaged mustard and uneven cooking) seem to be now remedied. Staff speaks good English and is very helpful, and it is the most clean and shining place in the area. I mean, the place literally sparkles. Good noodle dishes. (August 2001)

19 - Ming's Restaurant- ?
617 H St NW
This was formerly Szechuan Gallery and Penang Rasa Selang. Have not tried it since 2001 and now it's been shut down due to redevelopment of the building. (March 2019)

20 - Joy Luck House - 6
748 6th St NW, 202-628-1668
In the eighties and nineties this place traded as Szechuan House and was very downscale, catering mostly to the tourist trade. Although it's still billing credit cards and listing their phone as "Szechuan house," things have improved. It is small and cramped but their build-your-own noodle soup arrangement where you can select noodle, meat, and noodle shape individually is inexpensive and good. Menu still does have a variety of "slop for tourist" items however. (Aug 2018)

22 - Tony Cheng - 8
619 H St NW, 202-842-8669
Upstairs is the sort of place where you bring grandma for her birthday dinner, if your grandma is from Hong Kong. It was once a high end restaurant and you can still see glimpses of that faded glory. The food is good but very much stuck in the 1950s. Ask for the full menu, not the lunch menu and check out the pictures of celebrities. They do dim sum on weekends but I have not tried it for many years. As far as I know they are the last place still serving dim sum in Chinatown. Downstairs is a Mongolian barbecue which I also have not tried. (Jan 2019)

25 - Chinatown Garden - 5
618 H St NW, 202-737-8887
NOT TESTED SINCE 2004 No real specials, but they can cook to order although they have no Chinese manu. The menu they do have appears to be intended to cater to the Western crowd and have in the past (1999) had a persion stationed at the door to encourage passers-by to come in and eat. This is a very bad sign. These folks _can_ cook well but have a tendency to serve overly-sweetened stuff intended for white folks unless you can convince them otherwise. They opened in 1998 and seem to be still run by the same family. Good chow foon, though, and some okay soups as well.. (Jan 2004)

26 - China Boy Rice Noodle House- 7
815 6th st. 202-371-1661
This is a wholesale maker of fresh rice noodle that has a tiny restaurant serving various rice noodle dishes and some dim sum items. The soups and chow foon are very good and the noodles super fresh. They will also sell flat rice noodle and rice flours by the pound for you to take home and cook (and the rice flour is much fresher and cheaper than what you will find in the markets).

Stores
There are only four stores left. The days of the Da Hua Market and the Chinese Cultural Center are long over.

1 - Da Hsin Trading Company
811 7th. st NW.
Da Hsin has been around for many many decades, and stocks a wide variety of Chinese groceries, kitchen and houseware supplies, and traditional chinese medicine. They are the only place in the area stocking Chinese rice wine and liquor. They used to carry a variety of Chinese-style artwork and furniture and they still do carry some although not to the extent that they did decades ago. (Oct 2017)

2 - Chinatown Market
521 H St NW, 202-842-0130
Corner convenience store with a couple Chinese items, catering to people in the neighborhood. Closet-sized. (March 2019)

3 - Souvenir Store under Wok and Roll
604 H St NW, 202-347-4656
This is a shop selling Washington DC souvenir items, T-shirts, postcards, and so forth. It does not seem to have any name. (Nov 2018)

4 - De Zhi Co
600 H ST NW, second floor
This is a tea and herb shop without a large selection, but what they have is very fresh and the staff is extremely friendly even if they do not all speak English well. It is upstairs on the second floor and worth a visit if you are looking for grocery supplies or traditional chinese medicine. (Nov 2018) #

#Honorable Mention: New Fortune
# No relation at all to the Fortune in Falls Church, this one is # in Gaithersburg but also does excellent dim sum. More or less # standard fare although they do add some oddities now and then in # season. The food is probably on a par with the Fortune. (Jan 2004) # #

#Honorable Mention: A&J Restaurant
# In Rockville. A&J serves Northern Style dimsum, which is nothing # at all like Hong Kong food. Absolutely wonderful, though. The # staff will shout it at you in incomprensible northern dialect, # but the scallion pancakes alone are worth the trip. Dr. Chen # calls this ``Chinese hillbilly food.'' (Oct 2002) # #

#Honorable Mention: Joe's Noodle Shop
# In Rockville. You place your order at the counter and they bring # it to you. A radical change from typical Cantonese food, with some # really amazing noodle soups. (Oct 2002) # #

#In the last ten years, Chinatown, like many of the ethnic neighborhoods, #has shrunk considerably with the exodus of people moving into the suburbs. #With the recent construction of the MCI Stadium, additional damage is being #done to the feel of the area and there are many who wonder how much longer #the area will last. It is with this worry that I strongly recommend that #you patronize these businesses and try and support them as much as possible, #to keep a unique institution alive as long as possible.

# #A more complete list of Chinese restaurants in the Washington DC area can be #found at yeschinese.com.

# If you are in Philadelphia, check out their very active Chinatown, which seems to be doing better at organizing businesses and keeping intact. They have a web site at http://www.phillychinatown.com.

Many thanks to Yong-Mi, WB8F0Z, Zbig, Dena, Parke, Hallie, Shiva and his wives, The Ampex User's Group, Barbara, Vicki, Bard, Chakaal, Jon Singer, Lisa Lisa Lisa, Lewis and Jasi for coming along on these outings. Thanks to Dawn for putting up with me for three days while I had Hunan poisoning at the conference.

This page copyright Scott Dorsey (kludge at panix.com), all rights reserved.