Had a bonus day off today and decided to take the train downtown and see what’s up in Chinatown for the first time in many moons. Stopped first down a bit out of the way towards NE Med and had some spicy wings at Cha Kung Fong, a place that seems like a wannabe franchise. The model for a lot of these corporate style Chinese or Chinese-American places seem very similar to me–clean, bright, a few plants, graphically forward signage, a little wood paneling, and a focused menu with the ubiquitous tea and fruit drinks. While I don’t always love these joints (and this one was kind of middle of the road) something that Jacqueline Church wrote in a recent Sampan review of the Chinatown branch of the franchise 10 Second Noodles made me think maybe I should be less cranky about them:
While some family-owned businesses are closing, some corporate franchise operations are bringing fresh tastes and new life to Chinatown. We have come to accept that Chinatown is changing. With so many empty spaces where businesses once thrived, it’s exciting to have new businesses filling out our quieted streets.
Still and all, the wings here were only OK. They came out hot and juicy (though they took close to 20 minutes to arrive) but were a little greasy and fairly nondescript as far as seasoning goes. Not bad, but a little unexciting.
I tried next to go to Su Su Gourmet around the corner on Tyler for a Taishan rice roll, but it was a little crowded (and the place is tiny) so I left that for another time.
Otherwise, I mostly tromped around to see how the landscape looked. Some old stalwarts survive and look busy much as they always have–Hong Kong Eatery, Taiwan Cafe, Windsor Dim Sum, Mei Sum bakery, Great Taste etc. seem in good shape. Got a Portuguese egg tart at the latter and it was good as ever, though here’s a pro tip: don’t take your egg tart down to the plaza and try to eat it near the swaying bamboo. The sky rats down there will make you feel like Tippi Hedren in The Birds!
There are some empty storefronts, but many things that left have been replaced. The aforementioned 10 Second Noodles is where China King was, there’s something happening in the spot where BLR by Shojo used to be, Banh Mi Hu’O’ng Que is in the old New Saigon Sandwich location (and looked promising) and anything else that went out of business has been replaced by a bubble tea spot. Well, not really, though there are a lot of these and one wonders just how many the neighborhood can support. I went with the flow and bought a Black Sugar Boba + Pearl Milk with Cream Mousse at Tiger Sugar and I’ll admit that it hit the spot. (Side note: it cost $5.50 though! I imagine that there is a Chinese Suze Orman somewhere castigating young people for throwing away their future on these drinks).
I saw people in the streets and others buying lunches all over, so all in all I’d say there’s life to Boston’s Chinatown yet. You can feel it getting squeezed a bit on the margins, but for now it’s hanging in there and there’s good eats to be had. It was nice to be back.