$20 & Under: Chinese Food
Interestingly enough, while I tried (unsuccessfully) to introduce Persian cuisine to my elementary school classmates, my already-adept palate was enjoying char siu bao, homemade wonton soup, and moon cakes thanks to the Wons, our neighbors and longtime family friends who lived across the street. Whether it was hitting the neighborhood Sichuan spot or making a trip into the city for some high-end Hong Kong cuisine, Chinese food was never "just" take-out to me.
When I first moved to New Orleans almost 20 years ago, I was pretty disappointed by what was offered in the way of Chinese food, but I was here for the gumbo, was I not? After trying a few spots around town, restaurants for which locals had sung high praises, I decided to keep my mouth shut and save my whining about the city's lack for those who secretly shared in my dismay. But as they tend to do, things began to change. Not only did new restaurants open, but my knowledge of what was actually out there broadened and now I am pleased to say we've got some pretty excellent, and affordable, options.
Where to Find Tasty NOLA Chinese
Now with two locations, one in Metairie and the other (newly opened) in Uptown inside the old Cafe Luna on Nashville, Wishing Town Bakery is a go-to for Chinese pastry and dim sum. Though grabbing lunch or dinner was pretty much take-out by necessity at the tiny Severn Avenue locale, patrons can now dine in the dappled light under a great oak tree, sampling plate after plate of dumplings at their leisure. Although the menu is extensive, fan favorites include their Dragon Shrimp Dumplings, mini-steamed bao with ground pork and cabbage, and salted egg yolk puff pastry in flavors like sweet red bean and (my favorite) coconut.
Launched in 2019, Dian Xin is a newcomer that seems to be growing quickly into a local chain with two locations in the French Quarter: one on Decatur and the other on Conti. While dumplings and bao are what most folks seek at Dian Xin, like the crab meat and crawfish bao (oh my!), it would be a mistake to miss out on their five spice fried pork ribs, hot and sour soup, or char siu jian bing (a.k.a Chinese crepes). Just exercise a modicum of self-control or the tab can easily get out of hand!
Zhang Bistro is yet another newcomer that opened up last year inside the space that formerly housed Angeli's. This corner restaurant in the French Quarter bills itself as offering both Thai and Chinese cuisine, a somewhat monumental accomplishment considering the complexities of both. Zhang Bistro, co-owned by Peter Zhang and Lily Rueangnuy, steps up to the task. Just try the spicy Sichuan Hot Wok, Kong Pao Chicken, or Honey Walnut Shrimp and decide for yourself. It wouldn't hurt to add a side of roti, and while you'll be overjoyed by the flavor, it will definitely put you over budget.
If you're willing to take the trek across the Mississippi River into the wilds of the Westbank, Hong Minh Restaurant in Harvey will make it well worth the trip. Located next to a Vietnamese market in a grungy strip mall on 8th Street, this little hole-in-the-wall offers phenomenal, authentic Hong Kong cuisine at a ridiculously affordable price. Dine in and get half a roast duck for $17, a huge bowl of wonton soup for $11, or, if you're there for lunch, take advantage of their specials like BBQ pork or mango chicken that come with steamed or fried rice—a huge amount of food for only $11! Be sure to ask about their specials. Without paying attention, you could miss out on meals like a killer Cantonese eggplant and salt fish hot pot featuring a complex depth of flavor that will keep you eating long after you're full.
Last, but certainly not least, Bao & Noodle is stereotypically only offering takeout for now, but we can only hope for full dine-in options in the future, and hope we shall. Owner and chef Doug Crowell offers some of the finest Sichuan and Cantonese cuisine in the city, and if we have to get it in boxes, so be it. Located in the Marigny on St. Claude Avenue, Bao & Noodle is only open 5-9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, but get in there whenever you can and take home his big-enough-for-a-meal fried and steamed bao stuffed with ground pork, ginger, and garlic, or his house made Dan Dan noodles with Sichuan pepper, ground pork, and pickled mustard.