We love Chinatown because the fortune cats never fail to wave and say hi.
But right now — the chill settling in and Chinese New Year around the corner — a man can be reminded that Chinatown is one of the most adventurous neighborhoods to belly up to winter’s best friend: the almighty soup.
So, that’s what we did.
From traditional flatbread mutton soup from the sub-arctic provinces of Northern China, to the latest contender for best soup dumplings, below are three belly-warmers you need stat — all posted up in and around the Chinatown Gate.
This little eatery is among a few restaurants in Chicago hawking northern Chinese food. It’s named after the capital of the Shaanxi province in northern China, a region known for its Muslim influence, hand-stretched noodles, flatbread “burgers” and its Terracotta Army (FYI: who come to the Field Museum in March).
You’ll want a few things here, but start with a piping hot bowl of this deceptively subtle mutton stew with crumbled flatbread and rice vermicelli. Drizzle some chilli oil over it, give it a toss and enjoy. Also hit the lamb and cumin skewers and any of the flatbreads — marinated cuts of meat thrown between toasty-fresh bread rolls.
Umai Aji Ramen
Strings Ramen Shop
The secret behind Strings’ winter special is in the gochujang — a fermented chili paste all too familiar to the kitchens in Korea. It brings a balance to Strings’ shoyu dashi to make a soup that’s both savory and sour, sweet and spicy, then finished with fried scallions, cilantro and spinach. Also: simmered beef tongue that comes whole in the bowl. But don’t let that deter you. It’s got some bite, but quickly gives after a few chews, thanks to the broth. A delicious complex bowl that’ll run most likely 'til March.
Qing Xiang Yuan Dumpling
The Reader called them the best soup dumplings last year, and that was when Qing Xiang was located in the Richland Center’s basement food court. Now, they have a new street-level space just a few doors down. Its claim to fame: guantang jiaozi dumplings, a kind of miniature version of the guantang bao — the giant bao in which you drink the broth through a straw.
But no straw needed at Qing Xiang Yuan. These little pot-stick variants come in bamboo steamers ready to burn your mouth if not careful. Your order: beef and onion. Beef and coriander. Pork and pickled chinese cabbage. Green pepper and egg. Another protip: mix the chili oil and garlic vinegar for your dipping sauce.