Global Appetite: Chinatown
March 23, 2023 @ 12:00pm
Inside some of Chinatown’s most delicious mainstays.
Once a bustling hot spot of Chinese culture, D.C.’s Chinatown has seen its fair share of ebbs and flows over the past 150 years. Now, Chinatown is a vibrant and unique part of the city, home to many restaurants, shops and cultural events — both old and new.
Over years working in restaurant kitchens downtown, I’ve frequented many Chinatown establishments catering to the late-night crowd — a balanced mix of young party people, night owl regulars and, of course, restaurant workers.
I recently met with two of the most prominent and active players advocating for the preservation of this iconic neighborhood, Ted Gong and Yeni Wong, and asked them to share some of their favorite spots in D.C.’s Chinatown.
Gong, a retired foreign service officer, is the executive director of the 1882 Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and celebrating D.C.’s historic sites and providing educational and recreational programs highlighting the city’s rich cultural heritage. He believes in Chinatown’s unique potential to create a national Chinatown research and history center.
Long-time D.C. resident Wong burst through business barriers to become a successful entrepreneur, philanthropist and community leader. She first came to Chinatown to partner with the historic Golden Palace restaurant, eventually taking over the entire operation before it closed with the arrival of the MCI Center (now the Capital One Arena). Currently the owner of Wah Luck House, affordable housing units that house the most densely concentrated group of Chinese residents in D.C., Wong donates weekly hot meals from her restaurant, Chinatown Garden.
After sitting down with me and sharing how their personal stories intertwine with Chinatown’s, Gong and Wong were kind enough to offer up some of their favorite places that have withstood the test of time and remain some of the heavy hitter establishments which make up the spirit of the neighborhood.
This straightforward standby keeps it real with affordable bites and their famous fresh noodles (which you can buy on their own to take home) and beautiful sauces. Some favorites here are the beef chow foon and roasted pork noodle soup. Gong recommends anything with their broad rice noodles.
815 6th St. NW, DC
On the first floor, guests dine on Cantonese dishes amid traditional Chinese decor. The chicken Szechuan is a must. Upstairs is 618 Cocktail and Whiskey Lounge that opened right before the Covid-19 pandemic and turns into a nightclub on Friday and Saturday nights. If you catch Wong here, as I did, she will treat you like family. Everything from the hot and sour soup, the walnut shrimp and green pepper pork is flawlessly executed and served family style. Come hungry.
618 H St. NW, DC; chinatowngardendc.com; bar618.com
Joy Luck House
This is the real-deal, OG Chinese bakery in the District. Joy Luck House serves traditional Chinese breakfast, snacks and a vast array of desserts and pastries. They’re known for their fresh pies, soup dumplings and fried chicken. Gong and Wong recommend the shredded beef and the thousand year-egg porridge. 748 6th St. NW, DC; joyluckhouse.com
Reren Lamen & Bar
Yes, lamen, not ramen. Correctly pronounced “la mian” in Mandarin, lamen translates to “pulled noodles.” This small restaurant is known for their soup bowls, house-made noodles and dragon dumplings. Flavors are bold and balanced, the prices are beyond accessible and the portions are very generous. I had the sesame noodles, but Gong made sure to order the spicy kung fu noodles, too. The handmade dumplings are the perfect start, middle or finish to your meal. 817 7th St. NW, DC; rerenlamen.com // @rerenlamen
Wok and Roll
Wok and Roll’s menu offers a wide variety of Chinese food at good prices and rooms with karaoke for all the singers out there. The menu spotlights Chinese-American classics like beef and broccoli and seafood fried rice. However, Gong emphasizes the curry chicken on rice is a must.
604 H St. NW, DC; wokandrolldc.com // @wokandrolldclife