Not your grandparents' Chinese restaurant

February 4, 2011 9:00:55 PM PST
Blame it on food television, travel and a desire to break out of the egg roll mode -- eating in Chinatown has become downright exciting, from Hong Kong-style cafes to cozy, intimate dim sum parlors.

Plus, two new restaurants are investing in creature comforts and interior designers hoping to lure a new generation of eaters.

You can tell instantly that this isn't your grandparents' Chinese restaurant. At MingHin Cuisine, located in the Chinatown Square Mall, is one of a handful of new restaurants in the area, attempting to inject a little elegance and sophistication into its modern menu.

"Since there's a lot of restaurants around Chinatown that have been here for a long time and they got influenced by the American Chinese food, and that's why we decided to bring the real Chinese food, which is from the Canton China, to Chicago here," said Tina Mung, co-owner of MingHin.

The seafood alone is beguiling: exotic abalone, sun-dried oysters with XO sauce and whole-steamed turbo -- not to mention the crab with curry -- complement an assortment of barbequed, roasted and fried items, such as Peking duck and the fantastic Macao pork belly, which is simultaneously soft and pliable underneath, while maintaining a crispy exterior.

"I'm from Hong Kong and all my partners are from Canton China -- it's a different style, and it's very hard to find it here in Chicago," Mung said.

Just a block away, Chef Tony Hu has recently opened his fourth Chinatown restaurant Lao You Ju. The decor alone shows he's trying to up the ante when it comes to Chinatown dining.

But the food is also of note. The Three Kingdom Eggs begin as a steamed, eggy custard, and each compartment is topped with a different sweet or savory topping, such as sizzling shrimp or ground pork with chili sauce.

"Because in China the dishes are changing very fast, I go back to China very often to refresh my ideas," Hu said.

Meals might begin with some spicy, sliced radish, topped with fresh cilantro, or Yin-Yang buns topped with plum sauce and slices of roasted duck breast. Like most dishes here, the emphasis is on both presentation and taste.

"I think it's time to, you know, move to the next level. Because a lot of people want to, like me, and a bunch of people want to make Chinatown, make a better Chinatown for people to visit," Hu said.

There's also a tidy little food court beneath Lao You Ju, and right around the corner, a swanky new Japanese restaurant called Lure Izakaya is slated to open this spring.

MingHin Cuisine
2168 S. Archer Ave.

Lao You Ju
2002 S. Wentworth Ave., Unit 100