If I had to count how many times I’ve started/ended a night out in Chinatown it’d take me a while. There’s just too many to count. Offering up incredibly affordable meals that don’t scrimp on flavour, it’s no wonder why.
But walking through the laneways of Chinatown can be a daunting experience for first-timers. The combination of neon lights, hoards of people and foreign scrawl can be overwhelming but take some deep breaths because it’s so worth it. And to give you a little helping hand, here are the best restaurants (and our personal favourites) to eat at in Chinatown.
Daruma Japanese Restaurant
This low-key Japanese gem located on the first level of the Prince Centre has been keeping hungry uni students and office workers alike for a while now. The bento boxes are both filling and affordable and tempura lovers won’t be disappointed either. Daruma is also home to one of Chinatown's most insane drinks list with bottles upon bottles of sake as well as a number of Japanese beers on tap. Side note: 1.8 litre sake bottles are a whole lotta fun.
Specialising in the heart-warming meals of the Shaanxi region, Noodle King is an unassuming hotpot of delectable noodly-ness. The dried handmade noodles are an absolute must and the pan-fried green onion pancake is the perfect hangover cure. Like most great Chinese restaurants in Sydney, there’s no 30-minute staggering time between courses, the food comes out fast, which means your appetites are satisfied in no time at all.
Right near Market City lives Marigold which really should be renamed to Yum Cha heaven. They’ve got all your favourites, from light and crispy spring rolls to har gow (shrimp dumplings) and chicken feet if your dare (don’t knock it till you try it!). And at dinner the food is no less delightful, ask for the Beijing style duck noodles (it’s not on the menu) and you won’t be disappointed.
Another yum cha mainstay, East Ocean has all the dim sums you could ever want. But what’s kind of awesome is that they’ve extended their yum cha hours beyond lunch with their moonlight menu available after 9pm. Beer and dumplings…is there a better way to spend an evening? Throw in some Peking duck pancakes as well and it’s virtually an unbeatable night.
You can trust the place where Sydney’s favourite chefs go to dine after they’ve clocked out. Open incredibly late, seafood is king at Golden Century. If we had a bottomless wallet, we’d order the lobster with ginger and shallots every time we visited. Other Chinese gems include the pippies with XO sauce (ask to get it with vermicelli noodles) and the salt and pepper tofu. It’s got that whole crispy on the outside and silky on the inside thing going on. Bliss.
Bring a big appetite for this one. One hot contender for the best ramen in Sydney, Gumshara’s tonkotsu ramen has been described by some as artery clogging, coma-inducing deliciousness. It’s probably the thickest ramen broth you’ve ever encountered which is the result of one mega pot of pork bone and marrow that’s been cooking down for a week. Come hungry.
Our expectations of food court dining were raised high after having experienced the bowls of magic coming out of Ramen Ikkyu. Offering the four main variations of ramen: shoyu, shio, tonkotsu and miso, whatever your choice, rest assured that Chef Haru has you covered. The noodles are cooked perfectly and there’s plenty of toppings for you to add if like (we never say no to extra cha-shu). Hot tip: take advantage of the free kaedama and present your receipt to get a new bowl of noodles for your leftover broth.
Okay if you’re here late, expect to wait in line. But by that litmus test you’ve got to know that Mamak delivers. What’s all the fuss about? It’s the roti canai. Think fluffy yet crispy piles of roti and perfectly spiced curry dips that’ll have you licking your fingers. Other highlights include the kangkung belacan (stir-fried water spinach); perfect for those you aren’t afraid of some heat, and the chicken satay which is a sure-fire people pleaser.
Home to incredible laksa, a visit to Happy Chef is the perfect respite from a cold winter’s day. It’s creamy without being too rich and has just the right amount of heat. That winning combination has garnered it a loyal following with some people continuing to come back for more for over 20 years. With that kind of praise, add this to your hit list when you’re next in the city.
Shancheng Hot Pot King
Shangcheng Hot Pot King is the perfect go-to for when you’ve got a group that needs to say warm. Specialising in the Sichuan speciality that is the hot pot, you have your choice of three: the chicken soup, spicy soup or one that has both. Where the rest of your night goes is up to you with your choice of fresh seafood, meat, dumplings, noodles and vegetables to add depending on what you’re craving.
With restaurants dotted around Sydney, Chat Thai has become a beloved staple when it comes to Thai cuisine. The pad Thai is one of the best and manages to be not too sweet and not too oily. And the Thai basil chicken is always a steal at lunch. Watch the chefs in action while you wait with their kitchen in full view and be sure to order the fried banana for dessert, it’s one of life’s guilty pleasures.
678 Korean BBQ
Another one where you’ll need a group to really appreciate it, 678 Korean BBQ is great for when you want to get a little more hands-on with your food. Must orders for the grill include the marinated short rib and pork belly and be sure to taste the kimchi before jumping right in, you’d be surprised by the amount of heat that thing packs.
Do Dee Paidang Thai
Stepping into Do Dee Paidang, you feel like you’re coming home to family. Don’t be daunted by the Thai script because the staff are incredibly friendly and ready to guide the way should you need it. The noodles here are top notch and come in a number of variations so everyone is catered for and for a refreshing hit order up the papaya salad. Beware though, this place is always incredibly popular so it’s best to get in early.
Emperor's Garden Cakes & Bakery
So Asian desserts generally are an acquired taste. Taro is a lot more savoury to what we’re used to and the sight of red bean soup is not my idea of a sweet ending to a meal. But while the cream puffs from Emperor’s don’t look like much on the outside, they may just change the way you look at Asian desserts. Filled with piping-hot custard they’re cheap ($1 will get you four), wonderful and just simply delicious.
Twisted Noodle Bar
Another family-owned Chinatown restaurant, Twisted Noodle Bar is a Yunnanese, well, noodle bar serving up more spice than you can handle. This is a choose your own adventure situation, but we suggest you bring a crowd, then order a big bowl of noodles before adding in as many side accompaniments that you little noodle-loving heart desires. At this point, you’ll select your level of spice and sour so you can go hard or you know, not.
Chinatown Food Courts
Oh, and the food courts in Chinatown kind of put those shopping centre renditions to shame. Here are a few of the best:
- Eating World—you can sample a bit of everything at this one but the whole fish from Soya King and the banh mi from Phoung are absolute standouts.
- Sussex Centre—home to some of the best noodles around, plonk yourself down at this food court and enjoy the spoils.
- Dixon House—This is order by numbers with some of the best results possible. From Malaysian to Chinese to Indonesian, eat your way around Asia here.
Craving Korean? Here are our fave Korean BBQ restaurants in Sydney.
Ramen Ikkyu | Image credit: Anita Wilhelm