The best thing about Chinatown is that it’s there—always and forever, waiting, crouched and coiled like a bad influence on the shoulder of Center City. It smells weird. It’s confusing, strange, alternately beautiful and ugly, crowded when you’re in a rush and then suddenly silent in those moments when the press of a crowd might be welcomed most.
Some of what we love it for has been branded into Philly’s edible consciousness for years—the oxtail soup and platters of strange pig bits at Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House, the Hong Kong duck from Sang Kee, the beef rendang and wisp-thin roti canai at Penang.
But static Chinatown is not. With its strange magnetism and slipstream sense of the close-but-alien, the neighborhood draws down some of the city’s most interesting new concepts. Where Yakitori Boy trades on the American obsession with all things Asian (call it the Pier 1 Effect), then spins it by offering an izakaya-style dining experience with sushi, sashimi, miso, tempura, salmon neck, pork belly, and skewers of chicken-heart yakitori, the spin-off Ramen Boy (204 North 9th Street) hopes to do the same for noodles. M Kee (1002 Race Street) brought a veteran of Ting Wong (which is awesome in its own right) around the corner to Race Street to open his own duck shop. Meanwhile, just down the street, Hop Sing Laundromat threw the cocktail scene both back in time (retro shoe-shines, drinks sourced from the turn of the last century) and into the future with a very deliberate attempt at building from scratch one of the country’s best new bars. The future of Chinatown: More is what it’s about here: more openings, more surprises, more variety. In a departure from what we’d like to see in so many other neighborhoods, the one thing we really wish for Chinatown’s future is that the big-name restaurateurs stay far away and leave this little corner of the city to develop in its own weird way.