Visiting an Old Favorite in Philly’s Chinatown

I’ve posted on visits to old-school Chinese restaurants twice in recent weeks, but it takes more than two meals for me to tire of a favorite cuisine. So when my wife asked if I’d be interested in accompanying her into Center City for a mid-afternoon meal Sunday in advance of her volunteering at the Philadelphia Flower Show, it’s not surprising that I immediately thought of Chinatown. Not only is it a short walk from the site of the Show, but we hadn’t been to a couple of our old favorites there since before Covid hit.

The last remaining restaurant in Chinatown from the 1970s – when I started eating there – is David’s Mai Lai Wah, which I touched on here. It’s likely that we’d have gone there if not for the fact that they open at 4 p.m., as my wife had to be at her assignment by 4:30. But Shiao Lan Kung, which goes back to the early 90s and is one of the few remaining Chinatown restaurants that still at least partially specializes in the style of Cantonese food that I love, opens at 3 p.m. So we opted to go there.

The black and white photo below is from the early 70s and is of the same block on which we ate Sunday. I love all of those signs and still remember the restaurant names. One on the right side of the photo is China City, which was at 932 Race Street. That’s the first Chinese restaurant at which I can recall eating – probably a couple years before that photo was taken. Shiao Lan Kung is at 930 Race Street – next door to where China City was.

This is a shot of the 900 block of Race Street in Philadelphia’s Chinatown – facing east – taken in 1973. That’s the Ben Franklin Bridge, which spans the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey, in the background. Courtesy of Philly Voice.
This is the same block as it looks today – but facing west. The House of Chen has been closed for years. The sign was left there as a historic marker.
The 21st century has seen Chinatown converted to a hub of authentic regional Chinese and other Asian cuisines.
Nan Yang occupies the building in which I may have had the first Chinese meal of my life. It’s certainly the earliest one I can remember.
Shiao Lan Kung has been in business for over 30 years.

We arrived at Shiao Lan Kung just as they opened and had the place to ourselves for most of our meal. The interior appears more modern and spiffier than I recall. For one thing, the old carpeting has been replaced by hardwood flooring. 

The menu has also changed. It’s been condensed since the last time I ate there, which must have been at least five years ago. I’m guessing Covid’s impact on their business had something to do with that. One of the dishes I planned on ordering – shrimp with scrambled eggs – is no longer available. But there were still plenty of good options from which to choose. 

There was carpeting on the floor the last time I ate at Shiao Lan Kung.

The first item to arrive was my egg roll. It was fried to perfection and featured the sort of old-school crust that I love. While I’d have liked to have seen a little pork inside, it was still a great egg roll.

This was a fantastic egg roll.

Next up were roasted pork, ginger and scallion noodles and string beans in spicy garlic sauce. My regular readers know I don’t normally get real excited about green vegetables, but I can usually find a dish I like at a Chinese restaurant and felt the need to have something healthy after splitting those massive cheesesteaks at Curly’s Friday.

The flavor of the thin rice noodles was accented by ginger throughout, but it wasn’t overpowering. We both enjoyed this dish very much.

The garlic sauce in which the string beans were served had a bit of a kick to it, but also a nice flavor that worked well with the beans. 

Roasted pork, ginger and scallion noodles
String beans in spicy garlic sauce. The other items mixed in are mushrooms.

As I previously mentioned, the other dish I planned on ordering wasn’t available, and I didn’t have a plan B for a change. I knew my wife wouldn’t be interested in either of the shrimp dishes that I usually order at Cantonese restaurants, so I threw out the suggestion of Lychee Duck. It’s essentially sweet and sour duck with the addition of lychee nuts and pineapple and was a favorite dish of my father’s when we’d eat in Chinatown for some sort of special occasion during my youth.

Lychee Duck

This was a solid version, but not the best I’ve had. The pineapple chunks were cold and the duck itself was just okay. Some of the pieces had a bit too much breading and not enough meat. 

But I enjoyed eating it in that setting nonetheless. As I said in my last Chinese food post, it’s comfort food for me.

A little of everything.

Shiao Lan Kung is the second restaurant in Philadelphia’s Chinatown that I’ve posted on. Sang Kee Peking Duck House was the first. There are a couple more I want to get to at some point, including the aforementioned David’s Mai Lai Wah.

I intend to visit South Philadelphia for a Roast Pork Italiano sandwich and report on that in my next post, which will be up Wednesday.

Published by BZ Maestro

I live outside of Philadelphia and have been food-obsessed for as long as I can remember. After toying with the idea of starting a blog for a fairly long time, the extinction of a food-themed message board that I frequented for years prompted me to finally take action. Thank you for taking the time to check out what I've been up to - and eating. If you've enjoyed what you have read and seen, please consider clicking the "like" button and signing up as a follower.

2 thoughts on “Visiting an Old Favorite in Philly’s Chinatown

  1. And shrimp toast’s on the menu!!

    The beans look like something I’d be interested in. How toothsome were they? I generally prefer my beans to be fairly soft.


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