Photo courtesy of author.
Unlike its close neighbor Rockville, Baltimore isn’t exactly known for authentic Chinese food. I am still in search of the elusive dim sum, which ironically could not be found in Canton, a neighborhood named after dim sum’s birthplace. However, in the midst of the pandemic, I did discover a few places worth frequenting.
Located on the university campus on 33rd street, this cafe has become my favorite to order delivery from while on call. Many dishes come with Chef Lee’s personal recommendations: the pork and egg fried pancake is a “rarely known delicacy,” while the baked cold noodles will “bring you back to the innocent school days.” When I talked to him recently, Chef Lee mentioned that his goal is to bring classic Chinese street food to Baltimoreans. Your culinary adventure should start with savory Chinese crepes with eggs (only available on weekdays 11am to 3pm) and roujiamo (Chinese burger with meat wrapped in flat bread). If you love dumplings, try Chef Lee’s handmade dumplings with special sauce and various fillings. Spice up your day with the mouth-watering spicy hot pot and wind down with the warm handmade egg tarts. You can now order Colala’s boxed lunches at the coffee bar in the JHU library, which may be enough reason for me to visit the library for the first time since the pandemic.
Despite its unassuming name, this place offers authentic Sichuan style Chinese food, which is known for uniting divergent flavors (spicy, sour, aromatic) in a harmonious symphony. There’s nothing more comforting than a bowl of hot beef sirloin noodle soup during a cold winter day. Classic Sichuan dishes such as sautéed shredded pork in spicy chili sauce (my personal favorite) and double cooked pork also won’t disappoint. For the more adventurous, try the quick fried pork intestine with chili or fish fillet in cumin chili sauce. There are over 200 items on the menu divided into 13 sections, so chances are you will be back for something different each time. There is even a section for American Chinese cuisine, where you would find the standard General Tso’s chicken and beef with garlic sauce.
Red Pepper Sichuan Bistro (Towson)
Another authentic Sichuan restaurant is a bit of a drive from Baltimore. The food makes the drive more than worth it though. In fact, during my first visit, I thought I had been teleported back to China. The menu, with its elegant hardcover, colorful pictures, and detailed descriptions of every dish, is a true page turner. Every dish I’ve tried has been a happy memory. And the fact that they play contemporary Chinese pop as opposed to songs from the 80s is a triple plus. I highly recommend the smoked tea duck, sour cabbage fish fillet soup, and fragrant ribs. The spicy grilled fish, which combines the spices with hotpot, is more than deserving as the centerpiece of a family dinner much like the turkey on Thanksgiving.
Water Song Yunnan Kitchen
Located in Federal Hill, this place specializes in food from Yunnan, a lesser known area of China. The staple of Yunnan food is mixian, rice noodles with fresh meat and vegetables cooked in a piping hot broth. The addition of special herbs and spices really elevates this noodle soup to the next level. While the menu here is not as extensive as the aforementioned places, this is probably the best mixian place you will find in the Baltimore/D.C. area, Rockville included! Appetizers to try include the roasted beef shank slices, golden pig trotters, and grilled tofu pudding, served on clay with a basket handle. On a cold day, the huo piao beef hot pot with beef brisket, beef shoulder, and vegetables will warm you from head to toe.
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