American diners have long headed to their local Chinatowns in search of Peking duck and dim sum carts, but a new generation of chefs is opening fine-dining restaurants that elevate the classic cuisine with contemporary touches—while still paying homage to neighborhood history. Here, a few of the forerunners that are making sure you don’t forget about Chinatown.
Mister Jiu’s, San Francisco
Chef Brandon Jew grew up frequenting San Francisco Chinatown’s restaurants, and in particular he had been a regular at the banquet-style Four Seas. When he got a chance to take over that space, he jumped at it, and the result is Mister Jiu’s, a high-end spot serving Chinatown classics with a contemporary, California-inspired twist. He transforms chicken feet into a silky terrine, pairs wontons with Monterey squid, and makes oyster sauce out of local bivalves. “I want to recapture those glory days of Chinatown,” Jew explains, “while still imparting my culinary training and my belief in farms and local food systems.”
Chinese Tuxedo, New York City
Located In a former opera house on New York Chinatown’s famously crooked Doyers Street, Chinese Tuxedo is an upscale celebration of Chinese regional cuisine, with nods to the city’s melting pot (look for pastrami-style ox tongue in the beef and broccoli or jerk-style prawn toast). “We’re taking those old-school restaurants Chinatown is so well-known for, and remixing them, merging them all together in a modern way,” says co-owner Jeff Lam. The design incorporates some preserved theatrical elements, like balconies scrawled with Chinese characters, while adding jet-black banquettes and a plethora of plant life. As for the food, the crispy Chinese eggplant with Sichuan and peanut caramel is one of the best things you’ll eat in the neighborhood.
The Peterboro, Detroit
Detroit Chinatown lost its destination status after it relocated from downtown in the ’60s to make way for a freeway. The Peterboro, a Chinese-American fusion spot in the heart of the new Chinatown, is slowly changing that, serving thoughtful takes on dishes once seen as iconic to Detroit Chinatown, like almond boneless chicken and bacon-wrapped shrimp, with additions like a pink peppercorn sherry sauce for the shrimp, and a batter made from a local IPA for the chicken. “We have people coming into the restaurant daily telling me that they grew up here and had no idea there was a Chinatown in Detroit until they came to my place,” says managing partner Chuck Inchaustegui.
Tchin Tchin! Wine Bar, Honolulu
This bar’s name is derived from the expression Qing-Qing, a Chinese toast that was spread around the globe by European soldiers coming back from the Opium Wars. That international blending is evident in the bar’s concept, which manager Thomas Tarpley calls “European wine bar touched by Chinatown.” The menu consists of French reds and dishes such as pork belly with sunchokes served against a classic red-and-black backdrop that pays homage to the vibrant Honolulu Chinatown of the ’60s, when this space was a jazz club frequented by the neighborhood’s Chinese, Filipino, Thai, and Vietnamese residents. “We wanted to bring back that rustic, underground feel the space used to have,” Tarpley says.