If there’s one thing George Yu and Michael Lo have taught us, it’s that Chinese food is so much more than sweet and sour chicken and Mongolian beef (just see their veritable menu at Makan, the latest hotspot in Decatur, for proof). In fact, those watered down dishes aren’t even Chinese food; rather Americanized dishes you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere in China.
“The first thing Americans usually miss about Chinese food is how regional it is, and how different each region’s food is,” explains Makan’s co-owner Michael Lo (whose family is from Southern China), noting that there are 23 provinces and eight major categories of cuisine. “Nobody in Atlanta is doing real Hunan or Fujian food, but you can find great Cantonese, Sichuan and Northern Chinese food here.”
Take a look through this slideshow to see where the duo's favorite Chinese restaurants in town are.
Getting to know Makan
At Makan alone, you can find many authentic Chinese dishes, like Taiwanese pork belly buns and Sichuan pork and shrimp wontons. Though Makan also dishes out bona fide Korean bites, their food is not fusion; rather each recipe is either Chinese or Korean. “We’re not claiming to serve our grandmothers’ recipes, but the flavors are authentic and true,” explains chef and co-owner George Yu (a second generation Taiwanese American), whose family-style platters of whole duck, chicken and fish are not to be missed.
In truth, Makan is part of a movement in Atlanta that’s getting away from Asian fusion food and moving towards authentic ethnic cuisines that combine high-quality ingredients with modern cooking techniques, served up in a westernized setting Americans are more comfortable in (think thoughtful décor, a full bar and wine list, English-speaking servers, etc.).
At Makan, Yu serves dinner seven days a week, plus weekend dim sum (Cantonese) and late night service. But when Yu and Lo aren't introducing diners to genuine Chinese food, where do they eat? To find out, I asked the duo to take me on a tour of some of their favorite Chinese spots around town. Read on to find out where their favorite spots are!
Atlanta's Best Dim Sum
Dim Sum is bite-sized Cantonese dishes, like dumplings, traditionally served in small steamer baskets or on small plates, often from pushcarts that make their way around the dining room. According to Yu and Lo, there are three dim sum restaurants in Atlanta that get the most traction:
- Canton House: “You’ll find more non-Chinese people here, but the rice rolls are best here as they’re made fresh to order,” says Lo.
- Oriental Pearl Seafood Restaurant: The guys agree this is the most crowded of the bunch, and the best decorated.
- Royal China: “You’ll find the most Chinese diners here, but little décor or ambiance,” says Lo. The guys recommend the lobster.
“In reality, these three restaurants are all very similar—none have the big fresh tanks of fish you often find in Chinese restaurants in cities like San Francisco, and all can be very hit or miss since dim sum is so volume-based,” admits Lo. “Your best bet is anything steamed, sautéed or in bowls, as the fried items don’t stay fresh as long on the carts,” add Yu.
Atlanta's Best Northern Chinese Food
Northern Chinese cuisine is very carb centric—you’ll find lots of buns, dumplings and noodles, says Lo, who recommends Chef Liu or New Lan Zhou Noodle (it’s inside the Chinatown Mall food court; cash only) for authentic Northern Chinese food, like hand-pulled beef noodle soup, soup dumplings, chive pies, and crullers dipped in a hot sweet soy milk.
On the Northwest side, there's a Muslim-influence to the dishes, like game meats, stews and skewers. The guys recommend Beijing Kebabs for skewers of lamb, fish balls and sausage.
Atlanta's Best Sichuan (or Szechuan) Restaurants
Beloved for its bold flavors, thanks to the heavy hand of garlic, chiles and the iconic and numbing Szechuan peppercorn, Sichuan cuisine is one of the most popular genres in America. When the guys are craving that mouthwatering tingle, they head to one of three Sichuan restaurants in Atlanta:
- Gu’s Bistro: recently closed but planning to re-open in a new to-be-determined location; they also have a dumpling stall at Krog Street Market.
- Tasty China: they used to have more locations but are now down to one in Marietta.
- Chong Qing Hot Pot (located inside the Chinatown Mall food court; cash only): The guys’ favorite dish is the slippery fish in chile oil, though the soybean stir-fry with pork and Chinese leeks is a close second.
Atlanta's Best Cantonese Restaurants
Cantonese food is the most prevalent in America--it's what we often think of when we think of Chinese food and is known for steamed and stir-fried dishes like sweet and sour pork, chow mein noodles and veggies in oyster sauce. Though dim sum is Cantonese, it's usually only served during the day, along with barbecued or rotisserie meats alongside soup, salad and rice (essentially Hong Kong’s version of the American South’s meat and three). The guys recommend Golden BBQ, which also serves made-to-order dim sum.
At night, the banquet food comes out (think seafood, stewed meats, vegetables, and stir-fried rice and noodle dishes). BoBo Garden is another favorite serving Cantonese specialties, like wonton soups and seafood (go for the salt and pepper squid).
Atlanta's Best Chinese Bakery
When Lo and Yu are craving a quick snack or some bubble tea, they head to Sweet Hut, a delicious bakery serving French-style pastries, like red bean filled breads, and savory items, like spam buns and hot dog rolls. Sweet Hut has locations on Buford Highway, as well as in Midtown and Duluth.
Atlanta's Best Chinese Restaurants OTP
Other than Tasty China (Marietta), there are a handful of other killer Chinese restaurants outside the perimeter Yu and Lo rely on. Here’s a list of their favorites:
- East Pearl Seafood (Duluth) for dim sum and banquet food
- Café 101 (John’s Creek) for Taiwanese
- Great Wall Supermarket Food Court (Duluth) for Cantonese and Taiwanese specialties