18 must-try restaurants in Boston’s Chinatown

Find dumplings, noodles, roast duck, and more in one of the most delicious pockets of the city.

Xiao long bao (soup dumplings) at Dumpling Cafe. Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Given its location in the heart of a rapidly changing city, it feels like a small miracle that Boston’s Chinatown has remained independent, authentic, and blissfully chain-free (mostly). From no-frills mom-and-pops to slick outposts of the growing Shojo empire, here are 18 spots that will satisfy your comfort-food cravings, test your taste buds, and maybe even remind you of home.

1. Avana Sushi
One of several standalone restaurants crammed into a tiny food court on Beach Street, Avana stands out for being one of the best budget-sushi options in town. A $7.50 lunch special that includes miso soup, a roll, and two sides (and another roll for $4 more) reliably packs its limited counter space with sushi-craving students. (42 Beach St.)

2. China Pearl
China Pearl’s sign is a Tyler Street landmark, but its second-floor dining room is hidden from street view. Once you ascend those stairs, you’ll find an old-school, lantern-and-dragon filled dining room straight out of a Hollywood set. The weekends draw a big crowd for dim sum, which can be accessed via the menu, a rolling cart, or a small buffet of hot-and-ready classics. (9 Tyler St.)


Dishes at Dumpling Cafe.

3. Dumpling Cafe
A 2 a.m. closing time makes Dumpling Cafe one of the neighborhood’s preeminent night owl haunts, and local dumpling seekers are enamored with the menu, which is stocked with Chinese and Taiwanese favorites. If you haven’t yet experienced the bursting-mouth sensation of biting into a soup dumpling, this is an excellent place to start. (695 Washington St.)

4. Empire Garden
As far as dim sum offerings go, the plates at Empire Garden don’t quite measure up to those of China Pearl or Winsor Dim Sum Cafe, but its setting and history are worth a visit alone. It’s housed in a theater that dates back to 1903 and saw use as a vaudeville hall and a martial arts cinema before conversion to its present restaurant form, where you can now dine on Chinese classics and slurp a sugary scorpion bowl while admiring the faded beauty of the decor. (690 Washington St.)

5. Five Spices House
Upon first glance, the centrally located Five Spices House may appear nondescript from the other Chinatown eateries, but spicy Szechuan dishes like dan dan noodles will argue otherwise. A lunchtime special comes with a main, white rice, and the daily soup for $8.50, or three mains for $21.95. (58 Beach St.)


6. Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe
Purists may point out that Gene’s technically sits in Downtown Crossing, but this hand-pulled noodle joint on Chinatown’s border is too good to exclude. Students and State Street workers alike line up for its inexpensive Xi’an-style noodle bowls bursting with garlic and hot spices. (86 Bedford St.)

Sliced Szechuan fish at Gourmet Dumpling House in Boston.

7. Gourmet Dumpling House
No matter the time or day, there’s almost always a line outside the door at Gourmet Dumpling House. You can chalk that up to the cult following garnered by its many dishes, which range from exceptional takes on American-Chinese comfort fare like kung pao chicken to the fan-favorite spicy Szechuan fish soup (and of course, dumplings of all kinds). (52 Beach St.)

8. My Thai Vegan Cafe
The second-story My Thai Vegan Cafe is a godsend for animal product-abstaining locals. It features a mix of expected dishes like pad thai alongside more ambitious fare such as whole coconut stuffed with veggies and red curry, and a fried taro root “bird’s nest.” A solid selection of bubble teas, vegan cakes, and sweet rice-based desserts help to satisfy vegan sweet tooths, too. (3 Beach St.)


9. New Jumbo Seafood
In a neighborhood known for its competitive lunch special pricing, New Jumbo Seafood might take the cake. A meager $5.79 supplies rice, hot-and-sour soup, your choice of appetizer, and a comfort-classic entree like sweet-and-sour chicken or beef with broccoli. Outside of the set lunch, a wide-ranging menu offers everything from sizzling hot pot to roasted pigeon. (5 Hudson St.)

10. Peach Farm
Peach Farm’s extra generous hours — it stays open until 3 a.m. every day of the week to satisfy your late craving for Peking ravioli — has made it something of a local legend and an industry hangout. While its menu is enormous, Peach Farm earns high marks for seafood dishes such as clams in black bean sauce and the sizzling flounder house special. (4 Tyler St.)

11. Penang
Penang stands out in Chinatown for its Malaysian focus and bamboo-filled, faux-village dining room. Try Malaysia’s national dish of nasi lemak, which pairs coconut rice with chili anchovies, curry chicken, and hard-boiled eggs. Penang’s varied menu showcases the diversity of Malaysian cuisine with selections like Hainanese chicken rice and nasi goreng (fried rice with shrimp paste, egg, peppers, and meat or shrimp). (685 Washington St.)

12. Pho Pasteur
Pho Pasteur may not win the same points for authenticity that the Vietnamese eateries of Dorchester are awarded, but its central location, heaping bowls of pho, and remarkably fast service have made it a favorite of college students, tourists, and locals. Though often passed over, the broth-less, vermicelli-based bún chả dishes are worth a taste. (682 Washington St.)


Paitan ramen at Ruckus.

13. Ruckus
Ruckus boils down Shojo’s signature blend of pan-Asian flavor and irreverent attitude into the form of noodle shop. The noodles are house-made, and dishes run the gamut from Laotian khao soi to paitan ramen. Eclectic starters like pork belly onigiri and marinated duck egg yolk represent the non-tubular offerings. (5 Tyler St.)

14. Shabu-Zen
There’s no shortage of hot pot in Chinatown, but Shabu-Zen is still a local favorite. There’s a selection of eight broth styles (standouts include the Japanese miso and Szechuan-style spicy) and main courses range from simple pork and chicken dishes to a $78 Wagyu strip loin. (16 Tyler St.)

15. Shojo
The low-key, mom-and-pop atmosphere that permeates most Chinatown restaurants isn’t on display at Shojo. Here, you’ll find a bumping hip-hop soundtrack, a back wall covered in graffiti art, and an anarchic, ever-changing menu that produces dishes like kung pao chicken sandwiches and “shadowless” duck fat fries smothered in ground beef, mapo tofu, and “kimcheese.” It’s the perfect fare for soaking up the Asian-influenced cocktails and extensive Japanese whiskey collection. (9 Tyler St.)

Pork with preserved mustard greens and fresh bean curd at Taiwan Cafe.

16. Taiwan Cafe
With a 1 a.m. closing time, Taiwan Cafe is another entry in the Chinatown late-night dining club. Taiwanese dishes served family style are the specialty here, including pan-fried pork buns, stinky tofu, and beer-braised duck. (34 Oxford St.)

17. Wai Wai
Wai Wai is hidden in a tiny, lower-level space on Oxford Street with just a handful of tables and minimal decoration. You’ll see the menu from the moment you walk in: a hanging roast duck and suspended cuts of roast pork, barbecue pork, and chicken. Any, or all, can be chopped up for you and spread over rice with scallions, or served in a noodle soup. Bring cash. (26 Oxford St.)


18. Winsor Dim Sum Cafe
Winsor lacks the elaborate decor — and extra space — of China Pearl and Empire Garden, but its weekend wait times are a testament to the quality of its dim sum. There’s nothing showy about the service, and you won’t see any carts, but you will receive made-to-order egg yolk custard buns, shumai, and steamed pork buns. Unless your party can fill a whole table, expect to share your meal with dim sum-seeking strangers. (10 Tyler St.)