Ni hao, dumpling! Philly’s Chinatown does culture and cuisine right. Here’s your guide on what to see and eat and where to shop—just in time for the Chinese New Year. –Chelsea Karnash
The Chinatown Friendship Gate
10th & Arch Sts
Philly first alert: The Friendship Gate, a symbol of cultural exchange between Philly and sister city Tianjin (China), was the first Chinese gate built in the U.S—despite only dating back to 1984. The Gate is also this section of the city’s most famous attraction, and when you get up close to it, you’ll understand why: The super-ornate structure boasts gorgeous Chinese letters and golden dragons galore.
Lin Zexu Statue
10th & Vine Sts
You’ve seen the oldest; now check out Chinatown’s newest cultural addition, the statue of Lin Zexu. Long before Reagan, Zexu was waging a war on drugs. As China’s anti-opium hero of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Zexu was constantly striving for “high moral ground,” and is viewed as the instigator of the Opium War. Here in Philly, Zexu—along with two foo dogs—welcomes visitors into Chinatown from the Vine Street side.
The Trocadero Theatre
1003 Arch St
While not a part of Chinese culture per se, The Troc is a pretty important part of Philadelphia’s music scene. Opened in 1870 as the Arch Street Opera House, The Troc is the only 19th century theater in the nation that is still operating. It formerly hosted minstrel shows and musical comedies as wells as vaudeville and burlesque acts before being remodeled into a dance club and music venue in the 1980s. Nowadays, The Troc books mainly metal, indie and alternative bands.
Just like the ship, this Hong Kong-style bakery has had fans making frequent pilgrimages for a cheap, sweet treat for countless years. While famous for their egg tarts, the flavored buns and tiramisu cake (yes, tiramisu!) are also big hits that cost chump change.
Joy Tsin Lau
From the sticky rice-wrapped lotus leaves to the pork spare ribs, this restaurant’s dim sum = yum yum. Fans recommend Joy Tsin Lau for its expansive menu (including relative oddities like jellyfish and chicken feet), good service and fresh ingredients. And for those unfamiliar with dim sum, it basically entails pointing at what you want on food-laden carts pushed by the restaurant’s servers. So, you can have a little—or a lot—of whatever delicacy you want.
Chinatown regulars will tell you: If you’re in the mood for a piping hot bowl of noodle soup or a truly delicious Peking-duck, GO HERE. And while some Yelp reviewers have called the place “dirty,” it’s also dirt cheap. Just bring cash; they don’t accept credit cards.
Three words: dim sum brunch. Yes, head here early on weekends, or you’ll be facing a never-ending wait for a table that can only be rectified by heaping plates of Ocean’s yummy dim sum. While the selection can be slightly limited, the offerings are good, and frequent Ocean Harbor diners will assure you that the food comes out fast and is always hot. And FYI, if chicken feet are your thing, they’re supposed to have some of the best around town.
Tiny LHF has some of the most loyal customers in an area filled with loyal customers. Order a hot pot or the pan fried noodles, then sit back and sip on the fresh chrysanthemum tea while you wait. Just don’t forget your wine—this spot is BYOB.
Chinese Culture & Arts Inc
Want to pick up a Chinese magazine or the latest kung-fu flick? Head to Chinese Culture & Arts, where you’ll find a hodge-podge of Eastern goodies that are, shall we say, fresh off the boat.
1st Oriental Grocery
From lychee and durian to ducks and live frogs, 1st Oriental has practically anything you can dream up and is arguably the best Asian grocery store in the city. Even if you have no freakin’ idea what you’re looking for, you’re bound to come out with something…and a few freebies, too.
Plow through mountains of kitsch and you’ll find treasures like huge Chinese vases, embroidered silk clothing, and furniture…even musical instruments! You could spend hours in Shanghai Bazaar, but here’s hoping you have the chance to meet owner Lily Song, who is also an opera singer and an informal ambassador of Philadelphia’s Chinese culture.