While many of us fall back on familiar chain Chinese restaurants when looking for an easy takeout dinner, there’s a whole world of remarkable Chinese cuisine out there to explore. And while you might think your local Chinese restaurants are generally serving the same dishes, that’s not the whole picture. Chinese food spans many different regional variations, with each region producing its own distinctive culinary delights.
There are eight predominant culinary traditions in classical Chinese cooking. Cantonese cuisine is sweet, favoring rich dishes and mild sauces. Sichuan cuisine is hot and spicy, and uses lots of chili, garlic, and ginger. Zhejiang cuisine favors fresh, raw dishes highlighting seafood. Jiangsu features tender meats, fresh seafood, and visually artistic presentations. Hunan cuisine is even more hot and spicy than Sichuan. Shandong cuisine focuses on salty, crispy seafood. Fujian or Min cuisine is known for great seafood and soups, as well as experimenting with exotic delicacies. Anhui cuisine uses wild foods and herbs, favoring hearty, stewed dishes.
And many of the dishes you’re most familiar with, such as General Tso’s Chicken and Beef Broccoli Stir-Fry, are not native to China at all. When Chinese immigrants first started cooking their ancestral dishes in the United States, they were forced to adapt them, replacing traditional ingredients with ones easier to find in the U.S. and sweetening flavors to appeal to the American palate. These tweaks led to a whole new category of Chinese cuisine called American-Chinese, which quickly became a staple in American diets and spurred the rise of takeout and delivery culture.
The next time you’re craving Chinese takeout, it’s worth considering branching out. Try a Chinese regional cuisine that you haven’t had before, or a new American-Chinese restaurant. Here are some of our recommendations for those looking to expand their takeout horizons.
Nanjing Bistro specializes in Jiangsu cuisine, a Chinese cuisine that can be difficult to find in many restaurants. Derived from the cooking styles of the Jiangsu province, the dishes are characterized by fresh seafood and soft, rich meat that melts in your mouth. At Nanjing Bistro, you can experience the best of Jiangsu cuisine by trying their “Wuxi Style Big Ribs” that combine tender pork and a slightly sweet sauce. Nanjing Bistro’s menu is diverse enough to satisfy all, with options from noodle soups to spicy fish filets to classic stir-fries. Nanjing Bistro offers both eat-in dining or takeout and delivery. 11213 Lee Hwy. Ste. C, Fairfax
If you’re seeking your favorite American-Chinese dishes, look no further than Lucky Danger. A proud server of authentic American-Chinese dishes, Lucky Danger’s takeout- and delivery-only Arlington location is sure to be flooded with orders from Chinese-takeout fanatics. The new location, the sequel to their first restaurant in DC, is happy to announce an expanded menu, including classic favorites such as General Tso’s Chicken alongside more unique offerings like Duck Fried Rice and Blue Catfish with Garlicky Red Chili. 1101 S. Joyce St., Arlington
Chef Peter Chang is a local treasure, with his signature dishes earning accolades from major news outlets like The New York Times and Washington Post. His Arlington restaurant serves Sichuan cuisine (also known as Szechuan), known for its bold flavors, spiciness, and abundant use of garlic and chili peppers. A few of Chef Chang’s signature dishes, hailed on the restaurant’s website as his “finest culinary creations,” include Soup Steam Pork Buns, handmade and served with vinegar dipping sauce; Crispy Pork Belly, stir fried with scallion, cilantro, dried chili pepper, and peppercorn; and Duck in Stone Pot, a spicy dish of duck stewed with vegetables, tofu skins, and leeks in Ma La (“hot and numbing”) sauce. Is your mouth watering yet — or your eyes? At Peter Chang’s, you’re in for tasty and spicy delight, whether you choose to dine in or takeout. 2503 N. Harrison St., Arlington
Hong Kong Pearl
If you’re looking for an authentic dim sum experience, Hong Kong Pearl is the place to go. Dim sum is a Cantonese cuisine tradition of eating a range of small dishes shared among a table. Dim sum dishes have a broad span of flavors and ingredients, with soy sauce, garlic, and ginger being most common. The dishes often emphasize seafood, especially shrimp. At Hong Kong Pearl, indulge in classic dim sum dishes like Steamed King Prawn Dumplings and Baked Roast Pork Buns. If you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, try the Creme and Pineapple Flavor Bun, a popular traditional dessert (just don’t expect to actually taste the pineapple; they’re only called that because of their pineapple-like shape). Hong Kong Pearl does offer takeout and delivery, but for the full dim sum experience, bring family or friends and share the traditional lunch meal with them in the restaurant. 6286 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church
To enjoy Yunnan food, a lesser-known regional cuisine created by ethnic minority groups in Southwest China that specializes in rice noodles, braised meats, and savory broths, look no further than Yunnan by Potomac Noodle House. This restaurant is known for serving Mixian, a light and fluffy rice noodle referred to as “the soul food of Yunnan.” Mixian bowls are the core offering here, and you can’t go wrong with any of the seven bowl options, which include a range of broths, meats, and vegetables complemented by delightful Mixian noodles. Aside from bowls, you can also order a wide variety of dishes, including bao buns, jiaozi dumplings, and tiandian sweets. Contemporary Yunnan cuisine has never looked better. Noodles to go, anyone? 814 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria
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