Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year! It’s the “Year of the Ox,” and 2021 is plodding along after 2020, the a-little-too-on-the-nose “Year of the Rat.” In Chinese culture, food can portend good luck, and certainly bring the family together. With that in mind, what better time to order in Chinese food for dinner (or, possibly, eat in-person at the restaurant, depending on current COVID restrictions and availability)? The very thought of succulent Chinese BBQ, plump soup dumplings, savory Peking Duck, and freshly pulled noodles has got me salivating.
From Chinatown to the North Shore, this lineup of dependable favorites get our picks for best Chinese restaurants in Chicago and beyond.
2545 N. Halsted St., Chicago
Oh, the spice! If you are a child of fire — metaphorically, that is — and you really love the tingle of Sichuan peppercorns and assorted fiery chilis, this is the spot for you. And it’s in Lincoln Park, of all places! Who would’ve thunk it? Unusual options like Sichuan-Style Diced Rabbit, Heart-Breaking Rice Jelly (mashed with fresh chili paste… seriously spicy!), Cumin Lamb, and Mapo Tofu with Beef will set your mouth ablaze, but deliciously so.
857 W. Fulton St., Chicago
James Beard Award-winning chef Stephanie Izard may not be Chinese, but the chow at her “Reasonably Authentic Chinese Food” restaurant in Fulton Market is something that you will definitely crave on the regular. We love her Char Siu Pork Bao Buns, Duck and Goat Spring Rolls with Hot Mustard, the Xi’an Goat Slap Noodles with tingly Sichuan peppercorns and plenty of cumin, and Pickled Cucumbers. Don’t sleep on the Veggie Fried Rice!
624 Davis St., Evanston
Sandy Chen has been keeping Evanston well-sated with her Chinese cuisine for over 20 years. In addition to the expansive a la carte menu, she’s doing some specials for the Chinese New Year that are filled with auspiciously lucky foods like Spring Rolls and Dumplings (wealth), Peanuts (long life), Fish and Rice Cakes (increased prosperity), and Lychee (close family ties). You won’t want to miss those Seafood Pan-Fried Noodles (Happiness and Longevity)!
Locations in Chinatown, Uptown, Skokie, Aurora, Highland Park, Evanston, Downers Grove
Long recognized as one of the top Chinese restaurants in the U.S., Lao Sze Chuan spreads the wealth between many locations. The huge menu can be a little daunting — as can some of the ingredients — to the less adventurous amongst us. But dig in and find delights like the Sole Fish Fillet with Mapo Tofu Flavor (spicy!), Toothpicks Lamb, Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce, or Clams in Black Bean Sauce.
2138 S. Archer Ave., Chicago
The Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand was awarded to MCCB (which stands for “Modern Chinese Cook Book”) for their winning combo of Cantonese- and Sichuan-style cuisines. You’ll find their specialty, a street-food-style Charcoal-Grilled Whole Fish, made with wild-caught tilapia in a hot chili broth. Vegetable selections shine here, including Eggplant in Spicy Garlic Sauce, Szechuan-Style Gan Guo Cauliflower, and Peapod Leaves with Garlic. Also excellent: Chengdu Dumplings (spicy!) and Dry Chili Shrimp.
3139 S. Halsted St., Chicago
In my opinion, there’s nothing better than a dumpling, whether it be a crispy potsticker, a plump and juicy soup dumpling, or even a crunchy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside Crab Rangoon. The menu here is filled with such delights (especially the dim sum). Boiled Shrimp, Pork and Chive Dumplings might not be kosher (!!!) but you won’t be able to get enough of them, likewise the Shanghai-Style Xiao Long Bao soup dumplings.
608 Davis St., Evanston
Although fairly new to the North Shore, this downtown Evanston spot has quickly become a favorite. We love their Pan-Fried Chicken and Cabbage Potstickers and the Spicy Beef Noodle Soup, but I also encourage you to look in the “Shang’s Authentic Flavors” section, where you’ll find the Sichuan Fish Casserole (sea bass and napa cabbage in a Sichuan peppercorn broth), Tomato Stir-Fried with Egg (real comfort food!), and Northern-Style Peking Pork Chop with Sweet & Sour Glaze.
5039 N. Broadway, Chicago
Looking for Peking Duck? You’ve come to the right place. The duck feast at this James Beard Award-winning spot in Uptown includes a whole roasted duck to feed a family, carved tableside, and served with steamed bao, hoisin sauce, and crispy garnishes. You’ll also get a delicate duck soup, and duck fried rice. As with most Chinese cuisine, not a morsel goes to waste. Call ahead to reserve yours.
537 Green Bay Road, Wilmette
The food at this long-time North Shore favorite is everything I loved when I first discovered Chinese food growing up in suburban Detroit. Wing Hong was the place, and Sunday was the night for family dinners out. Give me my Bu Bu Platter (filled with Eggrolls, BBQ Spareribs, and Fried Wontons), an Egg Drop or Hot & Sour Soup, an order of General Tso’s Chicken, some Mongolian Beef, and chase it with Almond and Fortune Cookies, and I am one happy gal.
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Julie Chernoff, Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and counts Northlight Theatre and Les Dames d’Escoffier International as two of her favorite nonprofits. She currently serves on the national board of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an advocacy group addressing hunger issues in the U.S. and Israel for the nearly 46 million people — veterans, children, seniors, tribal nations, and more — who go to bed hungry every night.