Sunday, March 3, 2019

Best Chinese Food in Austin, 2019



This is the fourth year I've written about Chinese food for the Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide. If you've been reading this blog for long, you'll know I grew up eating my mom's excellent Chinese food nearly every day, so I am a bit...opinionated when it comes to this category! Austin still doesn't have the quantity or quality of Chinese restaurants as you might find in New York, San Francisco, or even Houston, but we are slowly getting more and better options here for very good Chinese food.

CANTONESE

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Salt & Pepper Squid at Din Ho = "the usual"
If you live in or near Central Austin, Din Ho Chinese BBQ (8557 Research Blvd., Austin, TX 78758) is probably your go-to for Cantonese food. Over the twenty plus years I've been going there, the food and service has varied a bit in quality; even so, I've yet to be unhappy about a meal I've eaten here. Our standard order here always includes salt & pepper squid (called "fresh and dried squid in special salt" on their menu) and sauteed snow pea leaves; other favorites are their flavorful won ton soup, Peking duck (served with steamed buns rather than the traditional pancakes), orange beef, and Singapore style rice noodles.

If you need a spot to host a large banquet or wedding, there are only a couple of options: New Fortune Chinese Seafood Restaurant (10901 North Lamar Blvd., Ste A-1, Austin TX 78753) or China Spice Seafood Restaurant (9710 North Lamar Blvd, Austin TX 78753). Of course, both are open for regular business as well. I'd give a slight edge to China Spice based on my experiences at both, though it can be hard to tell how a banquet experience will translate to a regular dining experience.

Great Cantonese food can also be found at First Chinese BBQ (10901 N. Lamar, Austin, TX 78753) and Ho Ho Chinese BBQ (13000 N. IH-35, Austin, TX 78753). If you find yourself out in Lakeway, I've also had some truly outstanding meals at Pao's Mandarin House (2300 Lohman's Spur, Austin TX 78734). Hot tip: Pao's has a secret menu with some of the more traditional dishes on it that I've found you have to ask for unless your party is predominantly Asian.


SZECHUANESE

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Sichuan Spicy Sizzling Lamb at Sichuan River
When you start talking Szechuanese food, most people are familiar with the popular Asia Cafe (8650 Spicewood Springs, Austin TX 78759), known for their spicy fish. Ditto A+A Sichuan (13376 Research Blvd., Austin TX 78750), a little ways further west of Asia Cafe. But few people seem to have heard of my favorite two Szechuanese restaurants, China Family Restaurant (two locations: 1914 Guadalupe, Austin TX 78705; 6801 Airport Blvd, Austin TX 78752 - note that the website does not yet show the new Airport Blvd location, but it is there!) and Sichuan River (4534 Westgate Blvd, Austin TX 78745) down south. I've loved pretty much everything I've eaten at both these restaurants, but my favorites at each are the chongqing chicken at China Family and the cumin lamb at Sichuan River. I'd recommend sticking to the Chef Specialties menu at China Family if you want a less Americanized experience.

Finally, a friend who lives north of town swears by Sichuan Garden (110 N. IH-35, Suite 240, Round Rock, TX) in Round Rock.


UPSCALE

Teddy Bear Passionfruit Sorbet at Lin Asian Bar
In the last few years, hipper, younger restauranteurs have brought more modern versions of Chinese food to Austin. New to the scene in 2018 is Lin Asian Bar (1203 W. 6th Street, Austin TX 78703)  where you can find an attention to presentation that is rare in Chinese restaurants. The lamb chops here are my favorites. Lotus & Cleaver (Domain Northside, 11501 Rock Rose, Suite 152, Austin TX 78758) also joined the Austin Chinese food landscape in 2018, bringing a small menu of Cantonese dishes to the Domain. These folks stepped up to donate noodles for last year's Austin Food Blogger Alliance Noodle-Off, and I would love to see the community supporting them the way they supported the community.

Another newer hot spot, Wu Chow (500 W. 5th St., Austin TX 78701), from C.K. Chin of Swift's Attic, offers dishes from all eight styles of Chinese cuisine. You pay a premium for the beautiful surroundings and the downtown location, but there are certainly circumstances that justify the extra expense.

Pork rib appetizer at Old Thousand
Old Thousand (1000 E. 11th Street, #150, Austin TX 78702) is another upscale option, with the slogan "Dope Chinese Food." Their menu offers a little something for everyone, and their flavors will please both traditionalists and those who seek something a little more contemporary. Full review here.

The old guard favorite in this category is Chinatown Restaurant (three locations: North, 3407 Greystone Dr., Austin TX 78731; Downtown, 107 W. 5th St., Austin TX 78701; and Westlake, 2712 Bee Caves Road, Ste 124, Austin TX 78746). The first Chinatown restaurant opened in 1983, which I suspect makes it one of the longest-running restaurants in a dynamic and very competitive Austin restaurant scene. Like the others in this category, Chinatown's food tilts away from the traditional in many respects, but perhaps owner Ronald Cheng's penchant for keeping things fresh is what has kept his regulars coming back all these years. 

NOODLES

Chinese handmade noodles are a beautiful thing. Here are my favorite spots in town to find them.

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Beef Noodle Soup at Rice Bowl
Rice Bowl CafĂ© (11220 N. Lamar, Austin TX 78753) serves up a GIGANTIC bowl of handmade noodles with beef and veggies for just $9.50; they also have my favorite scallion pancakes in town.

Combination Noodle Soup at Chen's Noodle House
Chen's Noodle House (8650 Spicewood Springs Rd., Austin TX 78759) and Chen Z (6705 Hwy 290, Austin TX 78735) both offer a variety of wonderful handmade noodle dishes in delightfully divey surroundings. Full blog post about Chen's Noodle House can be found here.

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Xian Noodles at Xian Sushi & Noodle

Xian Sushi & Noodle (Two locations: Mueller - 1801 E. 51st St., Bldg C 370, Austin TX 78723 and Northwest - 13201 RR 620 N. Ste U208, Austin TX 78717) is the only place in town where you can watch a chef hand pull your noodles before serving them. You can choose the thickness of your noodles; I think the texture of the thicker ones like the pappardelle adds a bit of oomph that makes the noodles taste more homemade.


Julie's Handmade Noodles
Julie's Handmade Noodles, 8557 Research Blvd., Ste. 110, Austin TX 78758 - this longtime fixture near UT campus, formerly housed in a food truck, transformed into a brick & mortar north of 183 this year. Expect generous portions made with love.


DIM SUM

Dim Sum at Wu Chow
The field for dim sum in Austin is pretty small, though again, slowly broadening. For traditional dim sum with the push carts (note: push carts only available on weekends; other times the selection is more limited and must be ordered off the menu), my favorite is New Fortune Chinese Seafood Restaurant (10901 North Lamar Blvd., Ste A-1, Austin TX 78753). I also really enjoyed my first dim sum experience at China Spice Seafood Restaurant (9710 North Lamar Blvd, Austin TX 78753). 

New in 2018 is Fat Dragon (8650 Spicewood Springs Road #109, Austin, TX 78759), whose menu is, frankly, a bit all over the place and includes Japanese offerings as well as Chinese food. There aren't push carts here, either. But we had some fantastic soup dumplings and dry fried green beans here, so don't let the confusing menu keep you away.

For more upscale dim sum experiences, check out Lin Asian Bar (1203 W. 6th Street, Austin TX 78703) or Wu Chow (500 W. 5th St., Austin TX 78701). Again, no push carts, but that just means that everything arrives at your table freshly cooked.

I have yet to visit newcomer dim sum restaurant Sweet Chive (I can't seem to find a website for them, so this links to their FB page)(2515 East Cesar Chavez, Austin TX 78702), but food blogger friends have raved about it.

Other dim sum spots in town include Shanghai (6718 Middle Fiskville Rd., Austin TX 78752) and Chinatown Restaurant (dim sum only offered at two of their three locations: North, 3407 Greystone Dr., Austin TX 78731 and Westlake, 2712 Bee Caves Road, Ste 124, Austin TX 78746). Full blog post about Chinatown's dim sum can be found hereBao'd Up (1911 Aldrich Street, Austin TX 78723) offers a variety of both sweet and savory Chinese bao at their counter service spot in Mueller.

Did I leave out your favorite spot for Chinese food? Leave a message in the comments!

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