When you think of the unique neighborhoods around the City of Pittsburgh, chances are there’s no ‘Chinatown’ that comes to mind. Sure, we’ve got the Lotus Food Market in the Strip District, and my favorite place to get sweet puffy buns (Bubble Pi) in Squirrel Hill. But there’s no bustling Chinatown marketplace like you find in San Francisco or New York. What you may not know about Pittsburgh, however, is that there once was.
We would probably have never heard about the existence of such a place if we hadn’t gone on the Just Ducky Tour last year and had it pointed out. All that remains of this area are a few buildings on Second Avenue (one of which houses a take-out spot), and one delicious Chinese restaurant on Third.
That restaurant is the Chinatown Inn, and it’s where we decided to pop in for lunch one afternoon.
Despite having worked Downtown for years, I somehow never knew this place existed. It’s a cute little restaurant with friendly staff, giant pots of hot tea, a full bar, and a list of lunchtime specials.
While they also offer takeout, it seemed when we were there that much of their clientele is the Downtown lunch crowd. I can understand why – our food was served promptly, and even with an appetizer, we were in and out in under an hour.
We started with an order of their wonton soup, which was one of the best I’ve had in the city. Interestingly, their wonton soup does not feature filled wontons – just yummy floppy egg noodles, with thin strips of chicken and scallions throughout and just the right balance of salt.
And then, since I can’t resist a plate of crab rangoons on a menu when we visit a restaurant for the first time, we ordered these. This plate was probably the highlight of our meal for me. These crab rangoons were so crispy on the outside, and so creamy on the inside, they were exactly how crab rangoons were intended to be made. The dipping sauce was a perfect complement (and now I’m craving them just looking at this picture and typing about them)! Even better? This huge plate was under $5!
We also ordered a ‘jumbo’ shrimp egg roll to split, instead of ordering two individual ones. And that, we were told, would take a little while. Fair enough, we didn’t mind waiting with all the other delicious appetizers!
Then our meals were served, and we forgot about the jumbo egg roll entirely. I got the sweet and sour chicken. Again, they mastered the blend of a crispy outside with a juicy inside. The chicken bites were in just the right amount of sauce, which meant that they heated up for leftovers just as they were served fresh – no sogginess there!
Michael got the General Tso’s chicken, and I snagged a few bites of it. I was impressed at how they got the sauce just right in both of our meals, which helped the chicken remain crispy and crunchy from start to finish of the meal. The General Tso sauce was sweet and with just a hint of a spicy kick.
And then, about midway through our entrees, the egg roll arrived. The tea cup is there to give you perspective of how jumbo the jumbo egg roll is. Suddenly, it became clear how this could take extra time to make! While the shell of the egg roll was excellent, I think next time I would either skip the egg roll completely, or maybe try the smaller egg roll, as the inside was a little too mushy for me (Michael, on the other hand, thought it was pretty perfect).
All told, our bill was well under $30, even with the two appetizers. If I worked downtown and was craving Chinese, Chinatown Inn would definitely be my go-to spot. They’re a little off the beaten path, but if you find yourself downtown and in the mood for some delicious Chinese food in what was once Pittsburgh’s own Chinatown, this is the place!