Slideshow: My 18 Favorite Dishes in Chicago's Chinatown (Non-Tony Hu Edition)

Macau-style Roast Pork at MingHin Cuisine ($8.95)
Macau-style Roast Pork at MingHin Cuisine ($8.95)
Sure, I've eaten pork belly prepared a dozen of different ways, but never have I devoured one quite like the Macau-style roast pork at MingHin. Featuring a golden-hued crust, as crispy and crunchy as it looks, with white and mild meat, this is pure gluttony with no chaser. Instead of covering it in a sauce, only a small saucer of sugar comes along the side. Sprinkle on just enough (but not too much) and that crust starts tasting like pork candy.

MingHin Cuisine, 2168 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-808-1999; minghincuisine.com‎

Baked Egg Tarts at Cai ($3.50)
Baked Egg Tarts at Cai ($3.50)
It's hard to comprehend just how many people dine at Cai on any given Saturday. The massive second floor room is packed with diners, as carts full of steaming dumplings zig zag through the aisles. Waits can be long, but everyone is there for what may be the best place for dim sum in Chicago. I didn't get close to trying everything, but Cai probably wins the title on the baked egg tart alone. Featuring a fine, flaky crust and a sunshine yellow egg filling, that jiggles uncontrollably at the barest movement, it's an indulgence worth braving the crowd for.

Cai, 2100 South Archer Avenue, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-326-6888; caichicago.com

Grilled Fish Hot Pot at Ma Gong La Po
Grilled Fish Hot Pot at Ma Gong La Po
Though Ma Gong La Po has a long menu like every other place, it's the only restaurant I visited where a waiter suggested one specific dish. And if you look around the restaurant, you'll see that he is very persuasive. That, or everyone knows how great the grilled fish hot pot truly is. As others have noted, the fish in question is fried instead of grilled, which explains how the skin of the carp gets so pleasingly crispy. It rests in pan of red chili-laced broth, which grows spicier the longer it bubbles in front of you. Take your time. Slowly, the fish soaks in the broth, becoming more tender and luscious (though be careful for the small bones). Basically every tastes good dipped in the potent brew, so make sure to order some raw vegetable to join the party. The cabbage is especially good.

Ma Gong La Po, 2215 S Wentworth Ave, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-799-9173

Spicy Braised Beef Broth at Hing Kee
Spicy Braised Beef Broth at Hing Kee
It can be hard to keep all the restaurants in the Chinatown Square mall straight, but it's easy to spot Hing Kee thanks to the thanks to the employee making fresh noodles by the front window. While it's fun to watch him work, it's even better to eat the result. The springy, distinct noodles probably taste great in every soup, but I particularly like them submerged in the spicy braised beef broth. Slurping here is encouraged.

Hing Kee, 2140 South Archer Avenue, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-808-9538

Mapo Tofu at Double Li ($8.50)
Mapo Tofu at Double Li ($8.50)
"Double Li's version of the classic Sichuan dish features creamy cubes of tofu suspended in a silky, chile-laden sauce. Luckily, there are also crushed Sichuan peppercorns sprinkled on top, which help numb your tongue to the intense heat of the sauce. It only partly works, but that's half the fun. This dish is about the pleasure of riding the wave of spice. Just as it becomes slightly overwhelming, it cools off." Read more here >>

Double Li, 228 West Cermak Road, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-842-7818

Salt and Pepper Shrimp at
Salt and Pepper Shrimp at "Little" Three Happiness ($6.95)
Best known for inspiring the name for the LTH Forum, the original outlet of Three Happiness (the newer, larger one is located across the street) serves filling, hearty food with a focus on contrasting texture. No dish better sums this up than the fried shrimp. Go ahead and order them with the shells still on. They'll blister in the fryer, forming an extra crispy, yet completely edible, layer around the sweet meat. I've tried so many inferior version with tough shells that stick in my teeth, that I was floored at how great this dish really could be.

Three Happiness Restaurant, 209 West Cermak Road, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-842-1964

Fried Silverfish at Go 4 Food ($11.95)
Fried Silverfish at Go 4 Food ($11.95)
"Strikingly duo-chrome in presentation, the wispy strands of whitish fish are set off simply with the same green pepper-jalapeño-scallion garnish as the shrimp. Fishy flavor is faint at best--think of these as sort of oceanic Cheetos. A quick dip in spicy chili oil rendered the fish the most popular dish at the table." Read more here >>

Go 4 Food, 212 West 23rd Street, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-842-8688; go4foodchicago.com‎

Salt and Pepper Chicken Wings at Sweet Station ($5.95)
Salt and Pepper Chicken Wings at Sweet Station ($5.95)
The salt and pepper fried wings at Sweet Station are tiny things that are absolutely covered in MSG. But they are also greaseless, extra meaty (thanks, MSG!), and very crunchy. Their size means that you won't feel guilty about devouring a pile of these before the main course arrives.

Sweet Station, 2101 South China Place, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-842-2228; mysweetstation.com‎

Portuguese Pork Chop Sandwich at Sweet Station ($4.25)
Portuguese Pork Chop Sandwich at Sweet Station ($4.25)
"The bun is pillowy and extra soft, almost like a Martin's potato roll. When topped with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato, this sandwich comes off tasting shockingly like a burger from the Shake Shack—you know, just without the smashed beef." Read more here >>

Sweet Station, 2101 South China Place, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-842-2228; mysweetstation.com‎

Lamb Yakitori at Crazy Pot ($5.00 for 3 skewers)
Lamb Yakitori at Crazy Pot ($5.00 for 3 skewers)
Crazy Pot also serves some solid grilled skewers, including these very tender lamb ones. Marked with some nice char from the grill, the straightforward and assertive flavors are a nice balance to the crazy complexity of the hot pots.

Crazy Pot, 2002 South Wentworth Avenue, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-225-8892; crazypotchicago.com

Laoganma Chili Paste with Beef at Snack Planet ($3.50)
Laoganma Chili Paste with Beef at Snack Planet ($3.50)
As the name suggests, Snack Planet serves dozens of aggressively seasoned snacks, most of them remarkably affordable. That's definitely true of the laoganma chili paste with beef, where thin slices of beef arrive topped with a spicy bean paste. I should note that Snack Planet is also located in the basement food court of the Richmond Center, a relatively new place that I hope attracts even more creative restaurants like this one.

Snack Planet, 2002 South Wentworth Avenue, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-842-9390

Xiao Long Bao at Hing Kee
Xiao Long Bao at Hing Kee
Though the noodles get most of the attention, Hing Kee also serves an admirable soup dumpling, so plump and bursting with liquid, that it's hard to consume without puncturing. It's worth the effort and threat of staining your clothes, though I would suggest letting these cool a bit before digging in.

Hing Kee, 2140 South Archer Avenue, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-808-9538

Dumplings at Phoenix
Dumplings at Phoenix
I realize it's kind of a cop-out to list dumplings as my pick from Phoenix, because there are so many different kinds of dumplings to choose from. But that's the point. At this very popular dim sum spot, the carts of steaming dumplings come fast and furious, and it's best to take whatever you get. Not all the other dishes are worth the effort, but the dumplings are usually a satisfying bet.

Phoenix, 2131 South Archer Avenue, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-328-0848; chinatownphoenix.com‎

Stir-Fried-Clams in Black Bean Sauce at Lee Wing Wah ($11.80)
Stir-Fried-Clams in Black Bean Sauce at Lee Wing Wah ($11.80)
I'm unsure exactly why, but the food at Lee Wing Wah tastes better the colder it gets. In fact, the optimum time may be one of those bitterly cold days when the temperature never climbs above the ten degree mark. That's exactly when I went and was rewarded with one warming, satisfying experience. I especially liked the stir-fried clams in black bean sauce, a classic dish that is usually sabotaged by a gloopy sauce that completely covers the flavor of the clams. But here, the funk of the black bean paste plays off the tender clams. Also, for whatever it's worth, Lee Wing Wah was by far the friendliest restaurant I visited.

Lee Wing Wah, 2147 South China Place, Chicago, IL 60616 (map); 312-808-1628