One of the first things you'll notice at Northern City Chinese, just off the main drag of Halsted at 31st Street in Bridgeport, is the dough. Not necessarily rice-based, like so much of what you'd see in Cantonese cooking, but rather, wheat-based dishes, including a bread basket of sorts, but also thick, nubby potstickers, as long as an iPhone, and plenty of sturdy, starchy dumplings, filled with all sorts of savory combinations, although hard to go wrong with ground pork and garlic.
There are several ways dishes arrive, but almost always, they tend to be milder than their Szechuanese relatives to the south.
"Salty and sweet. We cook in different styles, like roasting and deep-frying," said Meichun Chen, the owner of Northern City.
EXTRA COURSE: Sweet and sour pork dish at Northern City Chinese in Bridgeport
Lamb makes several appearances here, often seasoned with cumin. You'll see it ground-up, formed around long skewers, then quickly deep-fried, but not too long, so that the interior stays juicy. There are wok-fried dishes as well, and it doesn't matter if it's boneless or bone-in, the usual accompaniments include onion, carrot and jalapenos, followed by a large spoonful of chili, cumin, and more dried red chilies.
Chicken stew is comforting, especially when those inky black mushrooms are imported from China, and slowly braised along with pieces of bone-in chicken and crunchy bok choy. Chen said guests often have one important decision to make when ordering lamb or chicken dishes.
"They have two choices: one with bone and one without the bone," said Chen.
So Chinatown might have a lot of Szechuan and Cantonese dishes you're more familiar with, but it's absolutely worth coming a little bit west of the neighborhood, to check out some of these great flavors from North China as well.
In Steve's Extra Course Video, he takes a look at a sweet and sour pork dish that has no spice whatsoever - a real crowd pleaser.
742 W. 31st St.