Philadelphia’s Chinatown is concentrated in a relatively small area, but every single block is bursting with eateries. How to choose? Look to the experts who cook in other parts of the city for guidance! Here’s where 10 of Philly’s best chefs head for their Chinatown fix, and the dishes they crave at all hours.
When the pasta master in charge needs a break from overseeing his string of well-loved Italian dining rooms, he swings by David's Mai Lai Wah for the duck soup ($8.50).
After a night of refined plating at his East Passyunk BYO, the Top Chef New Orleans winner heads to Chinatown for a 1 AM stop at Red Kings 2 (wontons in chile oil, $4.95), then moves over to Tai Lake around 2 AM for sautéed clams with minced pork ($14.95) and a mai tai nightcap.
Over the two years the chef de cuisine of these sister Rittenhouse spots has lived in Philadelphia, his favorite Chinatown restaurant has undergone a few name changes, but “the shaved noodle soups are always great," he says. Right now it’s called Spice C, and in addition to the highly aromatic soup ordered "firing hot" ($6.95-$8.30), he adores the pickled wood ear mushrooms — "one of the best overall dishes in the city" ($4.95).
“I have to go with my heart,” says the chef-owner of the ultraseasonal Spruce Street BYO, which takes him to Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House for a bowl of the rich oxtail noodle soup ($4.75).
More trim and fit than ever, this Vetri Family chef-partner still lets himself enjoy Sunday dim sum with the family at Ocean Harbor, where they dig into head-on fried shrimp, pork buns and fried ginger noodles (prices vary). Chicken feet too, because “it’s fun to freak the kids out (they do try it, though).”
When he’s not twisting and tweaking Asian favorites into new creations, this young chef-restaurateur visits Sakura Mandarin. “My girlfriend and I go there about once a week,” he says, and they usually get the same thing: soup dumplings ($6.25), the stir-fry bowl (“with ****tons of ingredients”; $9.75) and fish fillet soup with sour cabbage and glass noodles ($7.95).
Shiao Lan Kung is the late-night destination of choice for this Instagram-happy South Philly chef, where he goes off his sometimes-vegan diet to indulge in razor clams with minced pork ($8).
One night when this Puebla native was working and living in NYC (in between his first Philly stint and his return as chef-partner at these beer-rich cantinas), he had such an intense craving for David’s Mai Lai Wah’s fried dumplings ($6) that he got in his car and drove 90 miles down, despite the fact that it was already 11 PM. David’s salt and pepper calamari ($9.95) seals the deal.
On departing the Sansom Street seafooder at the end of the evening, this 30 Under 30 honoree stays with the ocean theme at Tai Lake, where he often goes for the braised BBQ scallops ($16.95). If he’s in the mood for something different, it’s fried whole squab ($13.95), with the critical addition of a side of Pringles.
David’s Mai Lai Wah also wins the vote of the Fairmount market-cafe's chef-owner, who loves the pork-belly hot pot ($8.95) and squid in XO sauce ($9.95).