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Last modified on February 5th, 2019 at 11:16 am
“Dragon” is to Chinese restaurant names as “beto” or “berto” is to Mexican restaurant names. Sure, there are a few gems with those words included, but more often than not, it’s an indicator of an uninspired generic restaurant.
While Tucson doesn’t have the Chinese population of many west coast cities, the Chinese population here has a lengthy history spanning back to the 1860s. The University of Arizona has also contributed significantly to the Chinese population.
As a result, we actually have a nice selection of restaurants from a few regions of China. Cantonese and Sichuan restaurants are the most prominent here, so hopefully, we’ll see the other regions rise to prominence in the near future as well.
Here’s our list of some of the best Chinese restaurants in Tucson.
Now excuse me as I open a Chinese-Mexican fusion drive-thru restaurant called Dragonbetos.
Americanized Chinese food tends to be gloppy and sweet, but when done right, it’s a revelation. Of all the culinary regions of China, Canton was most influential on American Chinese cuisine — so look for Canton-trained chefs for a glimpse into the roots of American Chinese cuisine.
Asian Spice executive chef Phillip Tan spent his formal culinary years in Shenzhen, China, known for its fresh and tender Cantonese food. The freshness translates well at Asian Spice, with Canton Style Pan-Fried Noodles tasting light and delicate. Tan uses less oil and you won’t miss it at all.
For more information, visit asianspiceaz.com.
Eastside restaurant China Bamboo recently changed ownership and chefs. As a result, they added a comprehensive Sichuan menu with hot pot and several classic dishes.
Order the Hot Pot with your choice of two meats and four vegetables. Also order the Rattan Pepper Beef, a fragrant numbing dish that we haven’t found anywhere else in Tucson yet.
For more information, call (520) 203-8126.
China Pasta House’s owners are from Dandong, China, located in northeast China just across the river from North Korea. A signature dish from the area is “Chinese sauerkraut,” which is more like a stripped down, mild cabbage kimchi — eat it with pork on top of rice or in soup with house-made noodles.
What really keeps us coming back are the house-made steam buns and dumplings. The Pork Steamed Buns are not actually buns — they’re soup dumplings. Let them cool down just a bit, then pop the whole thing in your mouth for an explosion of gelatinous porky broth.
Last but not least, add a $0.50 Tea Egg or two to your order.
For more information, call (520) 623-3334 or visit chinapastahousetucson.com.
While China Szechwan has one of the most generic restaurant names, their Sichuan cuisine stands out. Just make sure to order off the Sichuan menu.
The Water-Boiled Fish also has a boring misleading name. The fish is poached, and it’s not just water — it’s a spicy, aromatic broth with napa cabbage, celery, and copious amounts of garlic.
Pro tip — take home the leftover broth and use it as a vessel for instant ramen noodles.
For more information, call (520) 795-0888 or visit chinaszechwan.weebly.com.
With a combination of Sichuan and Shaanxi specialties, Fatman Kitchen has quickly become one of the hottest new restaurants in Tucson.
The Xian Oil Splashing Noodle features house-made biang biang noodles the length of your arm in garlicky, spicy chili oil with scallions and bean sprouts.
For one of the best soups in town, order the Spicy Lamb Noodle Soup.
For more information, call (520) 882-3059.
A midtown Uber driver once told me that a significant portion of his riders were Chinese folks going to Jun Dynasty. That’s a good sign.
Sichuan dishes intermingle with the American Chinese dishes on the menu, but you’ll want to go for the Sichuan specialties.
The Cumin Lamb here is outstanding — fragrant with floral, citrus notes from the abundant use of tongue-tingling Sichuan peppercorns and cumin. Chopped onions provide sweetness. Don’t be fooled by the dish’s simple appearance.
When it’s in season, don’t miss out on the Crab in Hot Spicy Sauce.
For more information, visit jundynasty.com.
Kung Fu Noodle is another case of a restaurant with a generic-sounding name with surprisingly authentic options.
While you should really visit for the Northern China-influenced specialties such as the Chinese Beef Burrito (beef slices and herbs wrapped in a scallion pancake) and Jingdong Meat Pie (think a savory empanada, but Chinese Muslim-style and with chopped meat), they also offer a selection of Sichuan dishes. The house-made noodles and dumplings are the main selling point.
China native Albert Yan is a fan of the Spicy Interesting Noodles and Szechwan Chili Pig’s Ear.
Keep up with Kung Fu Noodle on Facebook.
If you enjoy pork, absolutely order the Chaoshou Dumplings. The dish is simple with pork wontons in a vinegary chili oil with scallions, but it’s executed exceptionally and worth daydreaming about.
The Sichuan Spicy Beef noodle soup features house-made wheat noodles in a spicy and numbing beef broth, topped with chunks of beef (probably beef shank), bok choy, green onion, and cilantro.
For something not as intensely spicy, order the Dandan noodle soup. It’s not listed as spicy, but beware: it actually is. House-made wheat noodles mingle with a rich broth with sesame paste, which is then topped with minced pork, sliced cucumber, cilantro, and crushed peanuts. If you’re a fan of tonkatsu ramen, this interpretation of Dandan noodles will be right up your alley.
You can’t go wrong with the menu here. I’ve ordered about 80% of the menu so far and crave it on a nearly daily basis.
For more information, visit noodleholics.com.
While the main menu has a few popular Sichuan items such as the house-made Szechuan Cold Noodles, peruse the Sichuan menu. It has no English translation, so hopefully, you have a Chinese-speaking friend to help — but items such as “fragrance octopus,” “two steel gongs,” and “ten burn this negative” simply don’t translate well. From what we can translate, we can recommend a few dishes.
Beggar’s Chicken in China is traditionally a whole chicken wrapped in lotus leaves and clay and baked for hours. The Panda House version, wrapped in foil, instead features chunks of chicken with baby corn, peppers, garlic, and a sauce with potent mala and aromatic allspice.
Chairman Mao’s Pork, also commonly known as red-braised pork, is a dish that features tender, slightly sweet pork belly fragrant with star anise and ginger.
The House Spicy Prawns are fried whole, crispy enough to eat shell and all, so keep the flavor on by keeping the shells on. Don’t try to eat the massive pile of chili peppers, but definitely snack on the toasty peanuts.
Last but not least, try the crispy Chong Qing Chicken. The chef is from Chongqing.
For more information, visit pandahousetucson.com.
You wouldn’t expect a place called Sushi Lounge to be on this list, but they actually make the best dim sum in Tucson.
Dishes from dim sum cart restaurants taste stale in comparison to Sushi Lounge’s freshly cooked dishes. The Shrimp Rice Roll was supple and delicate, melt-in-your-mouth without being mushy. The Sugarcane Shrimp had a light crispness to easily soak up soy sauce and chili oil. The Soup Pork Dumplings (xiaolongbao) erupted with broth all over my forearm when I poked it with my chopstick (my fault). The Chicken Feet had more fermented savoriness and less sweetness than at other joints in town.
While the dim sum dishes are prepared from scratch in-house, about a third of them are available only on the weekends, made from start to finish the same day — these delicate items are marked with a “Sat/Sun” sticker on the menu and are where you’ll notice the most significant difference in freshness.
Keep up with Sushi Lounge on Facebook.
Rather than offering any Americanized Chinese cuisine, Yu Zi Wei specializes in Chongqing Whole Fish Hot Pot.
Customers choose between grilled or paper-wrapped (we recommend grilled), choose a flavor, choose a fish (two pounds of medaka or three pounds of flounder), and choose add-ons for an additional cost. Next, choose from several add-ons such as potato, lotus root, or tofu skin.
The spicy house broth has a generous amount of garlic and floral, grassy notes from the Sichuan pepper and celery.
Learn more about Yu Zi Wei in our October 2018 article “Yu Zi Wei” brings authentic Chongqing cuisine to former Szechuan Omei.
Zing Zing’s specializes in the fiery cuisine of Hunan — Sichuan and unAmericanized Cantonese cuisine are also available. While you can be adventurous on the menu with Cold Chicken Gizzards and Pickled Chitterlings, the combo plate is a deal difficult to pass up.
Go with the Fast Food Combo with One Meat and One Vegetable and choose from the Panda Express-like heat lamp trays. Instead of super-sugary Orange Chicken and generic vegetables, Zing Zing’s offers options such as braised pork belly and stir-fried eggplant and peppers.
Learn more about Zing Zing’s in our May 2018 article Zing Zing’s joins the hot pot of authentic Chinese cuisine off Sixth Street.