By Katie Andrews
It’s a rainy day, and you rush to make the T in time for class. You smile to yourself when you make it just as the doors are closing until you realize: you left your lunch box on the counter at home.
What to do? Rather than waiting in the salad line at Sackler, why not give the restaurants in Chinatown a try? Located on the other side of Harrison Ave. are amazing lunch spots with cheap, delicious eats, vegetarian options, and even some tropical cocktails. Fellow Friedman student Allison Knott and I spent the last 4 months taste-testing each restaurant reviewed below, and we hope you’ll take the opportunity, while studying in this mecca of Asian food, to do the same.
We highlighted our favorite spots with special awards for their winning features.
* Best place to get cocktails when you want to pretend you are on a beach vacation
690 Washington St.
Empire Garden is a great place to get the kind of cocktail that demands a small umbrella. The space is set up as a large ballroom, so don’t be surprised if there is a wedding going on while you’re there. If you can’t make it for lunch, or aren’t comfortable ordering a Mai Tai before class, drop in for happy hour dim sum. The pork buns and steamed shrimp dumplings are delicious and will set you back a mere $3 each.
16 Hudson St.
The deal at Ginza is good, although not the best in the neighborhood. For $14 you can get 2 sushi rolls, miso soup, salad, and a drink, but the quality of the fish isn’t as consistent as other local spots. Instead, try the Nabeyaki Udon for $9.95 with salad (picture below). The noodles are thick and satisfying and the shrimp tempura is just barely fried, providing a light, crunchy texture.
* Best place to hydrate on a hot, summer day
40-44 Harrison Ave.
As simple as it sounds, The Juice Bar offers made-to-order juices perfect for a hot summer day. I highly recommend the watermelon juice when something cold and refreshing is in order.
682 Washington St.
While the service leaves much to be desired, Pho Pasteur is cheap and one of the few Chinatown restaurants that can handle parties larger than 4 people. The tofu noodle soup is a giant portion loaded with veggies and will only set you back $7, but if you have the inclination to walk about 20 feet around the corner, I recommend trying Xinh Xinh instead.
* Best “hidden gem” for avoiding the lines at Pho Pasteur
7 Beach St.
As I was saying, I often wonder why people wait in the lunch line at Pho Pasteur when there is tastier food around the corner. The Mi Hoanh Thanh (Wonton Yellow Noodle Soup) was salty and satisfying, with bite-sized pork wontons that were perfectly softened by the rich broth. The Dau Hu Kho To (Spicy Tofu Hot Pot) was strangely salty and sweet at the same time, and though tasty, did require some serious H2O to wash it down. Next time I’ll skip the $4 Sing To Bo, an avocado “Fresh Fruit Shake” that was a far cry from the refreshing drink I imagined. A double-wide straw was necessary to consume this thick combination of sugar, half and half, avocado and ice!
* Hands down, best vegetable dumplings ever eaten
52 Beach St.
From the waitress pulling out the live lobsters 5 feet away to the plates piled high with steaming buns, the experience at Gourmet Dumpling House is multisensory to say the least. There were lots of vegetarian options available on the extensive menu, as well as some choices for the braver diner (pork intestine, kidneys, liver and pig’s blood all appear). But definitely don’t miss the steamed buns, vegetarian dumplings (10 to an order!) or the eggplant with basil. And for 4 dishes at $24, it almost felt like we were robbing them blind.
695 Washington St.
Dumpling Café, located just steps away from Tufts Medical Center, does little to entice customers from the street. But, once you get past the dated yellow awning there is a good meal to be found indoors. The menu is practically identical to Dumpling House around the corner. Although the Café cannot compete with House’s steamed dumplings, the Braised Tofu with Scallion and Vegetables is better here, with bigger cuts of creamy tofu and whole mushrooms. The Pan Fried Noodles with Mixed Vegetables were a hit with my dining companions, but I found the clear, jelly-like sauce a bit off-putting. It was a good meal for the price, but not the best of the neighborhood.
60 Beach St.
Unlike many of the restaurants in the neighborhood, the menu at China King has very few vegetarian options (no veggie dumplings). Unfortunately, while the portions are colossal, all the beige food left us feeling hungry but not wanting to eat more of the same. The scallion pie appetizer was definitely the highlight of the meal.
74 Kneeland St.
New King Fung Garden can be a bit challenging to find, so if you feel as if you are walking into an abandoned building, you’re probably in the right place. The menu is full of $5.95 lunch specials which all come with either tangy hot and sour or egg drop soup. Beware of the meat with the Ma Po Tofu and skip the overly doughy dumplings. Overall, there is better out there, but it’s hard to beat that price.
* Best place to over-order on sushi and work your hardest to complete every delicious bite
8 Kneeland St.
If you want a cheap and tasty sushi lunch in Chinatown, this is the deal: soup, salad, and 3 maki rolls for $11 (the price goes down to $8 for 2 rolls). Needless to say, Allison and I were a little over-fed. The soup and salad are a bit lackluster but the meal is completely redeemed by the delicious sushi. Irashai offers you over 10 options for the maki rolls, including a couple special rolls, which is rare with these deals. Dine in at the sushi bar or order take-out online to ensure your sushi is ready for pick-up when you arrive.
696 Washington St.
While this is the closest and most convenient banh mi to Jaharis, it isn’t the best. New Saigon offers a solid serving of tofu on the appropriate crunchy bread, but there is no “wow” factor (lacking in the spicy mayo!) The price is a quarter higher ($3.25) than the two banh mi contenders below, but not as tasty as the competition. If I went back I would try the noodle lunches or fresh rolls with peanut sauce instead.
66 Harrison Ave
For $3, 163 Vietnamese Sandwiches delivers a delicious tofu banh mi with tangy aioli and a generous serving of pickled vegetables. Conveniently located next to The Juice Bar (reviewed above), it’s the perfect two birds with one stone lunch stop. However, if you’re on the hunt for the best banh mi in Chinatown, you must continue on to Mei Sum Inc.
* Best sandwich for prompting everyone in Jaharis to say “where’d you get that?!”
36 Beach St.
Take everything I’ve said above about 163 Vietnamese Sandwich, $3 price tag, big serving, tangy in-house mayo creation, and fresh cilantro, then add some thai chilis. Then smile. Mei Sum Inc serves the best banh mi in Chinatown. I struggled with whether to let everyone in on this secret for fear of ruining the perfection. But, now that you’re running over there, don’t be confused when you walk in the door. Yes, it looks like a pastry shop/hang out spot for the Chinatown locals, but just walk up to the counter for your made-to-order sandwich. You’ll thank me later. Oh, and thai chilis are spicy! My lips tingled with delight for hours, but be warned, ordering your banh mi “spicy” is no joke at Mei Sum Inc.
*Photos by author.
Katie Andrews is a dual Nutrition Communications/DPD student in her final semester here at Friedman. This is sadly her last issue writing for The Sprout, but she’ll continue to be an avid reader as she begins her dietetic internship at MGH in September. You can still follow her writing at www.theaspiringrd.com. Thanks Friedman for a great 2 years!