Tag Archives: Houston

My Favorite Chinatowns

It’s been months since I wrote a blog post, since the pandemic has really made my normal blog staples, reviewing different restaurants, virtually impossible. I thought about writing a blog post on what restaurants are open to outdoor dining, but I am wary about tacitly endorsing dining, even outdoors, in the midst of a new surge and plateau of cases in much of the US.

So instead, I figured I would write about my personal favorite Chinatowns in North America that I’ve been to, why I like them, and which of my favorite restaurants are still open for takeout. The order is loosely based on my preference but don’t fret, even if I left yours out, I still love all Chinatowns.

San Gabriel Valley (LA), CA

Kaya (Coconut Jam) Pastry at Longo Seafood
Kaya (Coconut Jam) Pastry at Longo Seafood in the SGV

I admit, I am a little biased given that I have traveled to the San Gabriel Valley (aka the “SGV” or “626”) since I was a kid, as it was often the area where we could get better dim sum and Chinese groceries that were harder or more expensive to find in San Diego. That said, the SGV is one of the largest “Chinatowns” in North America encompassing hundreds of square miles and dozens of different cities just east of Los Angeles and can probably be divided into 2: the west San Gabriel Valley centered in the cities of Alhambra, Monterey Park, Rosemead, and San Gabriel, and the east San Gabriel Valley around the communities of Diamond Bar, Rowland Heights, and Walnut.

Unlike historic Chinatowns in San Francisco or New York City with their dense streets and small alleys, the San Gabriel Valley is filled with sprawling suburbs centered on commercial corridors jam packed with Chinese strip malls along Valley Blvd, Garvey Ave, Colima Rd, and other streets. Partially because of such vastness, over the last 50 years the SGV has been an area where successive waves of immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China have been able to settle and set up new businesses. This allows a continual wave of new competition and trends from China to emerge, which also keeps old standbys on their toes to better their offerings or potentially be replaced fairly soon.

It’s also a fairly young place, with a pretty dynamic and ever evolving Chinese American culture that help popularize emerging Asian American trends in the United States like boba/bubble tea 20-30 years ago. (yes, bubble tea has been in the US for that long!) This Fung Bros “The 626” video typifies how this culture was like 10 years ago.

So where are some of the places to order takeout in the best Chinatown in North America? See below:

  • The Bay Cafe – One of the SGV’s better known and regarded Hong Kong style cafes serves a good Hong Kong milk tea and a cornucopia of other great Hong Kong staples. Order on DoorDash or Uber Eats
  • Bistro Na’s – Michelin starred Bistro Na’s in Temple City serves self proclaimed “imperial court food” that is nonetheless vary delicious, like the Crispy Shrimp and Na’s Spicy Chicken. You can order online via their website, DoorDash, or Grubhub
  • Elite Restaurant – One of the SGV’s best places for dim sum is now open for takeout again on DoorDash
  • HaiDiLao Hot Pot – Takeout hot pot you say? Yes, it exists (and I can report that it’s really doable if you got a pot and burner/hot plate at home) and you can order from this popular, and expensive, Chinese chain on virtually all the delivery platforms.
  • Mian – Chengdu Taste’s sibling restaurant with a tasty assortment of noodles is available for takeout on Uber Eats
  • Sea Harbour – Constantly evolving and standard setting Cantonese and dim sum specialist Sea Harbour is open for takeout. Given them a call at 626-288-3939
  • Savoy Kitchen – This perennial chicken rice favorite is available to order togo. Just give them a call at 626-308-9535
  • Yin Ji Chang Fen – The San Gabriel outpost of this Guangzhou style rice noodle roll chain accepts orders on DoorDash and Uber Eats

Richmond (Vancouver), BC

Lamb Fried Dumplings at Yue Restaurant
Lamb Fried Dumplings at Yue Restaurant

While great Chinese food can be found nearly all over Vancouver, the best in the Lower Mainland is concentrated in the southern suburb of Vancouver. While the San Gabriel Valley’s strength is in its wide and continually evolving breadth of regional cuisines, Richmond’s strength lies in its particular depth of one regional cuisine: Cantonese.

It’s not to say you can’t find great places serving other regional Chinese cuisines in Richmond, but the particular depth of Cantonese cuisine here lies in its unique history. As the 1997 handover of Hong Kong approached, many wealthy Hong Kongers feared what might change in a PRC controlled Hong Kong and promptly found ways to immigrant. One of the easiest options was to get investment visas in Canada, and thus tens of thousands of Hong Kongers and their children moved and settled to Richmond. They brought along and could entice good chefs from Hong Kong which helped increase the quality of Cantonese food in the region, so much so that many restaurants in the 2000s to mid 2010s were close or at the level of their counterparts in Hong Kong.

More recently, arrivals from mainland China have helped expanded the number of good regional options available, but not to the level of SGV yet, and it remains to be seen on how Hong Kong’s latest political turbulence will mean for even more food and immigration to Canada. That said, some of my favorites are:

  • HK BBQ Master – This was always basically a big takeout restaurant, so you can still get their excellent Cantonese style roast meats in person
  • Mama’s Dumpling and Coffee – Renown for their xiaolongbao, you can get these delicious orders for takeout
  • Silver Tower – Old school Hong Kong Style Cafe serves the best comfort food that you can order on DoorDash
  • Sun Sui Wah – A couple of my friends recently dined here (BC’s COVID rates are significantly better than the US, though I’d still be pretty hesitant) and the food seems just as great as pre-pandemic, which you can order on Skip the Dishes.
  • Yue Restaurant – One of my favorite dim sum spots in Richmond is open for takeout via DoorDash

Flushing (New York City), NY

Liang Pi at Xi'an Famous Foods
Liang Pi at Xi’an Famous Foods (which started in Flushing)

The sights and sounds of Canal and Mott Streets in Manhattan Chinatown may get much of the spotlight in New York City, but I say that the best New York Chinatown is a hop uptown and a 7 line subway ride away to Flushing in Queens.

In contrast to the SGV and Richmond’s sprawling strip malls, Flushing is a decidedly urban Chinatown, densely packed along Main Street and its side streets and allies. You can find a variety of Chinese regional cuisines here too, especially in the few densely packed mall food courts like the New World Mall (though not sure how open they might or will be with the COVID-19 pandemic). However, many of the main stars in Flushing are Taiwanese, Fujianese, and Shanghainese and some of my favorite memories in New York City are of walking down Main St with various friends and cousins sipping on boba and eating street food.

Here are a few great places currently open for takeout:

  • Hunan Cafe – Order some authentic Hunanese food for takeout via Seamless or Uber Eats
  • Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao – You can order some of the best soup dumplings in the city online through their website
  • Nurlan Uygher Restaurant – One of NYC’s first Uygher restaurants is open for takeout by looking at their menu and calling 347-542-3324
  • Xing Fu Tang – I couldn’t write about Flushing without a bubble tea recommendation right? Well get some Brown Sugar Boba Milk from this new kid on the block that replaced the old Red House on Seamless, Uber Eats, or DoorDash
  • Yi Fang Taiwan Fruit Tea – I love Yi Fang Fruit Tea for their endless array of delectable fruit teas, which you can order on Seamless and DoorDash

The Richmond (San Francisco), CA

Juicy Pork Xiao Long Bao at Dragon Beaux
Juicy Pork Xiao Long Bao at Dragon Beaux

There are numerous Chinatowns in the San Francisco Bay Area, but in my opinion the Richmond District in the western part of the city is the best Chinatown in the region.

Why? Unlike San Francisco’s historic Chinatown, the Richmond is a little less touristy but packs in the bustle as much as you’d find on Stockton St. Clement St and Geary St have a large selection of Chinese restaurants, supermarkets, and other businesses, including my favorite dim sum place, Dragon Beaux.

Here are some places to try ordering from in the Richmond:

  • Dragon Beaux – The aforementioned Dragon Beaux is available for takeout on Uber Eats or Grubhub, but you could also give them a call and order their frozen dim sum to reheat yourself to perfection
  • HoDaLa – From beef noodle soup to popcorn chicken, this Taiwanese favorite can be ordered for takeout or delivery via its website.
  • Jiangnan Cuisine – Cuisine from the area just north of Shanghai in Jiangsu province can be found on DoorDash, Grubhub, or Postmates
  • Kowloon Tong Dessert Cafe – This no frills cha chaan teng is ready to serve you some delicious Hong Kong milk tea or basic Hong Kong style western food and deserts on nearly all delivery apps
  • Tasty Pot – Taiwanese hot pot chain Tasty Pot is available for your individualized hot pot needs via takeout or delivery on DoorDash or Uber Eats

Manhattan Chinatown (New York City), NY

Food at Noodle Village
Food at Noodle Village

The only historic Chinatown on my list is New York City. Why Manhattan’s historic Chinatown you ask, instead of other ones like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver, or even my hometown of Oakland? The simple reason is that unlike the others, it’s a perfect combination of history, mix of shops, and an area where both old Chinese families from Guangdong, recent arrivals from Fujian, and tourists alike can mix and mingle with ease. San Francisco’s Chinatown, sadly, feels very weirdly divided between tourist and trinket shop dominated Grant St and local market and restaurant focused Stockton St.

So if you’re in or near Manhattan, here are some places open for takeout!

  • Carol’s Bun – Located in the East Broadway part of Chinatown, this no-frills Fujianese places is perfect for some affordable takeout
  • Cha Chan Tang – One of the original cha chaan tengs in the city serves up comfort Hong Kong style western food like macaroni soup and curry chicken that you can get on DoorDash or Seamless
  • Kong Sihk Tong – Feast upon all sorts of Hong Kong style foods by getting some takeout via phone at 646-850-6140
  • Noodle Village – My favorite comfort Cantonese spot in Manhattan Chinatown is available for takeout or delivery on virtually all the delivery apps
  • Wo Hop – Want some old school Chinese American food? Like so old that the restaurant has been around for 80+ years? Look no further than Chinatown staple Wo Hop to grab some Chinese American takeout

Houston Chinatown, TX

Dinner at Fung's Kitchen
Dinner at Fung’s Kitchen

I think many folks tend to think of big historic and even suburban Chinatowns as being exclusively a West Coast or East Coast thing, but one of the largest Chinatowns in the country is, in fact, in Houston! Centered on Bellaire Blvd. east of Beltway 8, Houston Chinatown is similar to what you would find along Valley Blvd in the SGV or heavily Chinese cities in the Silicon Valley around Sunnyvale and Cupertino. There’s a mix of Hong Kong, mainland Chinese, and Vietnamese Chinese people in Houston that also makes Houston’s Chinatown a little unique. Houston’s Little Saigon is also just to the west of Beltway 8.

I’ve only been to Houston Chinatown once, but here’s some places that are still open for takeout:

  • Fung’s Kitchen – The only one of the places on this list I’ve actually dined in, you can get your craving of dim sum filled here through ordering takeout or on DoorDash or Uber Eats (I hear they are taking COVID precautions pretty seriously too!)
  • House of Bowls – One of Houston’s cha chaan tengs seems well beloved with a variety of Hong Kong style dishes available for takeout
  • Mala Sichuan Bistro – The authentic flavors of Sichuan can be had by ordering takeout on their website as well as Uber Eats
  • Mein – Classic Cantonese food, including the namesake noodles and noodle soups, can be found for takeout at this well regarded spot
  • One Dragon – For Shanghainese xiao long bao and their crispy bottom cousins, sheng jian bao, order takeout here

Honorary Mentions:

I didn’t include pan-Asian areas just so it was clearer/cleaner. However, there are a few pan-Asian districts (places where there’s more of a mix of different pan-Asian shops, restaurants, and markets) that I really love.

  • International District (Seattle), WA – The most recent non-Bay Area Asian district I’ve been to, the International District, is a historic Japanese and Chinese area that has a great diversity of different Asian cuisines just southeast of downtown Seattle.
  • Irvine (outside of LA), CA – I went to college in Irvine and loved being able to eat all sorts of Taiwanese food here as many Taiwanese families settled in Irvine in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Kearny Mesa (San Diego), CA – Yes, I’m biased in that I grew up in San Diego, but Kearny Mesa, especially on Convoy St, was the area I grew up eating dim sum, Korean BBQ, yakitori, and other variety of Asian food. Mira Mesa, historically a large neighborhood of Filipino and Vietnamese folks, is also a great pan Asian area to visit in San Diego as well.
  • Mesa (Phoenix), AZ – While Mesa leans more toward Vietnamese and Vietnamese Chinese folks, it’s a great place to eat and shop all types of Asian cuisines. I always made it a point to stop in Mesa on my ways to/from Albuquerque to/from my visits seeing family in Southern California
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Pho Saigon, Houston

Pho Saigon
2808 Milam St., Suite D
Houston, TX 77006

One big thing I was excited about when I was in Houston for a conference was to try their Vietnamese food. Houston has the third largest Vietnamese population in the United States, after Orange County’s enclave of Vietnamese around Westminster and San Jose. Given the density of the Vietnamese population as well as my experience with Vietnamese food going to school in Orange County, I wanted to see how Houston stacked up.

Pho Saigon 1

I originally wanted to go to Mai’s, considered by many to be the top Vietnamese restaurant in Houston, but since it was closed on Sundays I decided to go to the ostensibly second best reviewed Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Saigon. I took a cab a couple miles to Midtown and landed in a small strip mall, which seemed auspicious in my mind given the plethora of great hole in the wall Vietnamese places in tiny Westminster strip malls. Upon entering the place, the feel got even better as it seemed very much like a Vietnamese restaurant in Southern California – bare linoleum tables stuff with condiments, busy servers flying over the place with steaming bowls of pho, and barely decorated walls.

I sat down for my quick meal before my ride to the airport and ordered their combination beef pho, #44 on their menu. Since I love Vietnamese egg rolls and typically order 2 items to see a better spectrum of the kitchen’s ability, I ordered a small plate with 2 egg rolls as well.

Pho Saigon 2

Within 7 minutes, the bowl of pho came to my table. I immediately sipped the broth and found it spectacular in taste. The beef was not too strong and balanced well with the taste of star anise, cinnamon, ginger, and onion. The noodles were cooked fairly well, though perhaps just slightly more overcooked than I liked. The slices of beef were heavenly, seasoned well and just rare. They were also generous with the slices of meatballs, which was an added bonus. The egg rolls came later, and those were done superbly as well. It was crunchy without being too oily and the filling was dense and well seasoned, without being overwhelming. I was disappointed that they did not include more slices of pickled daikon and carrots, as well as leaves of lettuce to wrap the egg rolls in. However, that is just a minor error in an overall superior meal.

The service was efficient, but friendly as well. They generously refilled water, even as busy and moderately understaffed as they were. When I requested a little sauce plate for my sriracha and hoisin sauce mixture, they were eager to oblige. Finally, the check was delivered right after I was finished and I paid up at the counter as is customary.

Overall, I would say that Orange County is still the place to beat in terms of Vietnamese food, and pho in particular, but Houston gives a good run for the money. The prices were comparable as well, which was satisfying to my wallet. The best pho of my life still remains at Pho Nguyen Hue in Westminster, but Houston is certainly a destination for Vietnamese food in America.

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Fung’s Kitchen, Houston

Fung’s Kitchen
7320 Southwest Freeway #115
Houston, TX 77074

Normally I would spend the Lunar New Year back home in San Diego with both sides of the family. However, this year I had the opportunity to go to Creating Change in Houston which just so happened to fall the same weekend as the Lunar New Year. While I was initially somewhat sad that I would not be eating at Emerald or Golden City for the traditional Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner, I became excited at the prospect of exploring Houston’s Chinese food scene and eat a Lunar New Year meal not in Southern California.

I researched the internet, flipped through a Zagat guide, and even took a peak at tour guides. While there seemed to be a number of options, I ultimately picked Fung’s Kitchen and placed a reservation for Lunar New Year’s Eve, knowing that nearly all restaurants would likely be full. I invited a couple friends of mine that were also going to the conference from New Mexico because the Lunar New Year, of all holidays in the Chinese calendar, is the holiday to be celebrating with family (chosen, biological, or otherwise).

At about 7:30PM we drove my rental car to the restaurant. We arrived nearly 30 minutes before our reservation and, as expected, the place was packed. Nonetheless, because I made the reservation we secured the next open table. After waiting about 5 minutes, we were seated and ordered chrysanthemum tea and a couple glasses of water. We looked at the menu and inquired about special Chinese New Year dishes. Unfortunately, all the specials were in Chinese and given that my Chinese reading skills aren’t quite that good (especially when half the Lunar New Year dishes have auspicious names instead of actually telling you what the dish is) we settled on regular menu items.

Fung's 1

We initially ordered stir fried pea sprouts, “Buddha’s Delight” which is basically stir fried vegetables and fungus (which is traditional to eat for the new year), and seafood crispy chow mein as fish is a must for the Lunar New Year as a symbol of prosperity (fish is a homonym for fortune). One of my friends spotted dumplings so we ordered vegetable dumplings as well. Finally, as we were waiting for our food the owner came to our table and generously upsold us on scallops.

Fung's 2

The scallops came first. Despite the price tag of $5,99 each, they were actually pretty good with a nice and light garlicky sauce. The vegetable dishes came next. The textures for the vegetables turned out perfect but I wished both the pea sprouts and the “Buddha’s Delight” had a little bit more seasoning. I ended up having to dab the vegetables with chili oil to make things more palatable. The vegetable dumplings were pretty well made and played very well with a vinegar and soy sauce dip. The final dish to arrive was the chow mein, which was done nearly flawlessly. The play between the crunchy noodles with the noodles softened by the seafood and sauce sublimely danced in my mouth.

Aside from slower service during the beginning of the meal, the attention by the restaurant was spot on. They quickly refilled our water glasses and teapot. The owner was also very friendly, though definitely pushed us to also buy more dessert. Knowing that the bill was already going to be about $25 a person, I politely but firmly declined.

For dessert, we headed further down Houston’s Chinatown instead. We ended up going to a lovely boba place that had great almond milk tea. Upon one sip, I was instantly transported back to Southern California.

My meal may have not been as great as I hoped, but the end note to this experience was perfect: drinking boba with friends and having a good time. The year of the Horse started on a great note.

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