How to Spot a Good Chinese Restaurant

Grant YSeptember 7th, 2000
By: Grant Y

(Page 2 of 5)

When In Rome (or Chinatown), Do as the Chinese Do


Good, bad or ugly?

Choosing the right restaurant is not an easy task. In Seattle’s Chinatown (a.k.a the International District), there are literally a dozen places a person can find dim sum. So how do you go about figuring out where to eat? Your first clues should be the actual restaurant building. Most likely, you can tell whether or not the food is going to be good just by looking at the outside of a building. The experienced foodie can deftly navigate the dangerous waters between a diamond in the rough and a trip to the bathroom with usual telltale signs. The same goes for Chinese restaurants as well.

Good: Lots of Chinese characters and symbols on the sign and the windows. A lot of Chinese characters is a good sign that they’re catering to the local Chinese population. Remember: More symbols, the better.

Bad: Small restaurants. This might seem counter-intuitive to most foodies, but dim sum is very time and labor intensive; dim sum requires hours of preparation before serving. This means that small restaurants can only make a limited variety of dim sum, and the food is probably not as fresh as the batches that the larger restaurants keep producing. It’s thus of no coincidence that my best dim sum experiences were all at fairly large restaurants.

Ugly: The word “Golden? or “Dragon? and other super cheesy restaurant names, coupled with garish red walls and pagoda-like structures. These restaurants are targeting the unsophisticated diners or tourists. As most Chinese people avoid these type of restaurants like the plague, so should you.

The More Native Customers, The Better

Once you’ve found a restaurant that seems to fit these criteria, your next step is to go inside and look for the next major sign people! Here’s the breakdown:

Good: Lots and lots of Chinese people both staff and customers. It’s no great secret that a crowded restaurant is a good sign. However, when you’re at an ethnic restaurant, there should also be a high concentration of the corresponding minorities for several reasons. For example, seeing a lot of Chinese people at a Chinese restaurant is a good indicator that the food is good, even by native standards. There should also be several waiters with steaming metal food carts roaming about (these carts contain the dim sum). More carts means that there is still a lot of food, and that it’s likely fresh.

Bad: Casual pace, few people and carts. This is not a good sign because if the waiters are just lounging about and there aren’t many people, you’ve either come at the end of the dim sum rush, or the restaurant is not popular. In either case, you don’t want to stay there long, because you’ve probably got a limited choice of foods and it’s probably not very good.

Ugly: “Do you want the dim sum?? If that’s the first thing you hear, then chances are that you definitely do NOT want the dim sum. That’s like walking into an Armani boutique and being asked if you want to buy Armani clothing. Why else would you have come to the restaurant at this particular hour on the weekend, other than for dim sum? Good restaurants know why you’re here, and mediocre restaurants do not. Skip on both the dim sum and the regular food.

Now that you’ve picked a good restaurant that is bustling with Chinese people, chances are you’ve hit the right spot. You should now go and get seated, or if there is a line, put yourself on the waiting list (don’t wait to be asked, you probably won’t be, because Asian restaurants aren’t exactly known for quality service).

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