Welcome to the Year of the Dog. 🐶 Feb. 16 marks the beginning of a 15-day celebration known across the world as the Chinese New Year.
How you celebrate this milestone depends on what part of China you're from, but this is a time for Chinese Tucsonans to come together with their families and wish each other good luck, says Susan Chan of the Chinese Cultural Center.
"It's all about food," Susan says. "At end of 15 days we eat sticky rice ball soup (tang yuan), symbolizing good health."
Other traditional ways to ring in the new year include passing out sticky rice cakes nian gao and the fried loafs of daikon pie or turnip cake ... or digging into a whole roast pig. At the end of the 15 days, it's time to honor 2,000 years of tradition with a glowing lantern festival.
If you'd like to participate in this secular holiday, there are events all over town. The Chinese Cultural Center is holding a festive gala this Friday at the Westin La Paloma. If you'd just like to see a lion dance, head over to Lee Lee Market at 1990 W. Orange Grove 1 p.m. on Sunday. Restaurants like Dragon's View, China Phoenix and The Carriage House are also holding traditional plated New Years Dinners.
To honor Tucson's diverse Chinese food scene, we asked chefs and foodies across town what their "go-to" Chinese restaurant is. You may be surprised by some of the answers: One is in a convenience store? One of them has stinky tofu on the menu. But all of them are foodie tested and lovingly approved.
1800 E. Fort Lowell Road, 520-795-0888
"China Szechwan has such a great menu of traditional and Sichuan specialties. My favorite meal includes these items: spicy water-boiled whole fish (the spicy, garlicky tangy sauce slathered on the fish is so delicious 🤤), Dan Dan noodles, Szechwan spicy green beans, spinach in fresh garlic, It’s such a flavor-packed feast, and thinking about it made me very hungry!"
— Erika Bostick, chef at Miraval
1145 N. Alvernon Way, 520-325-5353
"My favorite is definitely dim sum at Gee’s Garden on the weekend. But as for dinner, China Szechwan on Fort Lowell and Campbell: the crispy pork belly is my guilty favorite (dipping in oyster sauce is a must), and my normal favorites are the house special chow fun and walnut shrimp! It’s always better to go with a few people and eat “family style” so that you can all share a bit of all the dishes! Also, that way you don’t have to attempt to eat an entire hot pot by yourself."
— David Wing Tang, owner of Ordinary Bike Shop
"Gee’s Garden. ... Great dim sum. And if you order of the back three pages of the menu it’s all amazing and authentic, not the Americanized General Tso's chicken ... Also Golden Dragon on 22nd. Never get the buffet or the regular menu. Ask for the pink menu, it’s amazing and fresh."
— Lindy Reilly, barbecue cook at Red Desert BBQ & Catering
2933 E. Grant Road, 520-881-0778
"Even though they're clearly not as amazing as they were in the first iteration, Jun Dynasty is still my "almost always" Chinese joint, followed closely by China Pasta House. Jun really excels in keeping the flavors large in every dish. CPH is the sort of weird neighborhood spot I really get into, too, even though they've grossed me out from time to time. I can't quit them despite of that."
— Anthony Rocco DiGrazia, owner of Rocco's Little Chicago
"Chinese restaurant go-to: Jun Dynasty for Yu Xiang eggplant and for lamb in flaming chili oil. Always delicious and we go often enough that the crew inquired about Beezer (my 3.5 year-old daughter) any time I go for pickup. One of my favorite dishes though is ma po tofu, but I haven’t found any place here that really blows me away. I’m kinda partial to the recipe I developed from riffing off of David Chang of the Momofuku empire and Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food. It’s heavy on pork, and the ma la (numbing-hot) flavor profile, and I throw in crawfish and nian gao rice cakes for umami and textural notes."
— Devon Sanner, Executive Chef at The Carriage House
China Pasta House
430 N. Park Ave., 520-623-3334
— Coralie "Chef Ghini" Satta of Ghini's French Caffe
2522 E. Speedway, 520-795-9811
"Old Peking has definitely been my go-to spot for 30 years maybe. Seems like it's always been there. Consistently delicious even through what I believe was an owner/management change many years ago. I used to swoon over the General Tsao's chicken. But that was one of the changes. It's still delicious but not the dark glistening balls of awesomeness from years back. These days I always get the Singapore noodles. Damn, I want some right now. Also you can't go wrong with the duck noodle soup. You can also ask for the Sichuan menu and try the pork and dried tofu or the pork belly in garlic sauce. Other notables would be the fish filet in vinegar and Mapo tofu."
Obadiah Hindman, chef at the Mountain Oyster Club
3720 W. Ina Road #106, 520-744-2817
"Jade Garden on Ina rd at Thornydale. They have been in that location for years and my wife and I always order the chef's special Pad Thai. So good."
— David Martin, owner and pitmaster of Red Desert BBQ & Catering
Wei Asian Cafe
9450 E. Golf Links Road, # 102, 520-722-1119
"My absolute go to for Chinese food in Tucson is Wei Asian Cafe. It is a family-owned restaurant close to me. (Golf Links and Harrison). Surprisingly, this area of town is ripe with Chinese restaurants, and I have tried them all. Wei without a doubt is the best! They nail the old standards like Kung Pao Chicken, Mongolian Beef, and BBQ pork lo mein ... but also have some surprises like fried tofu with hot peppers. Always great service whether you dine in, order delivery or pick up, and always great food. They delve into other regional cuisines such as Thai or Korean with less success; however stick to the Chinese menu and you will never be disappointed."
— CJ Hamm, executive chef at Classic and Saguaro Corners
Ba-Dar Chinese Restaurant
7321 E. Broadway, 520-296-8888
"Mine is Ba-Dar: they have the most flavorful food, a large variety, and everything on the menu is great! If you order $35 worth of food (which is extremely easy in my opinion) you get a free order of crab puffs! I always order something different and have yet to be disappointed! By far my favorite Chinese restaurant in Tucson! My favorite dishes include the pan-fried pork dumpling, the Kung Pao chicken dinner which comes with an egg roll, pork fried rice and egg flower soup (their soup is my favorite in town too), and the chicken lettuce wraps!"
— Kara Hranicka, executive pastry chef at Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch Resort
"I've been going to Ba-Dar since the '90s and they are still around. I like to order salt and pepper crispy squid and can never find it in other Chinese restaurants ... I think they are consistently good. The fact that they are still around proves it."
— Vanessa Moon, owner of Phoenix Salt & Spice company and private chef
Golden Phoenix and Dragon's View
Golden Phoenix, 2854 E. 22nd St., 520-327-8008
Dragon's View, 400 N. Bonita Ave., 520-623-9855
"My go to Chinese food spots are Golden Phoenix on 22nd Street near Country Club, and Dragon's View on Bonita near I-10. Both are Cantonese style and SUPER delicious. At Golden Phoenix I suggest the Cantonese house chow mein, pan fried noodles with barbecue pork slices, chicken, seafood, and greens, and the spicy salty shrimp, batter-fried shrimp seasoned with salt, chiles and jalapeños. For Dragon's View, try the pan-fried sea bass, delicate fish bursting with flavor and a homemade sauce, and the tomato beef chow mein, pan-fried noodles with a saucy tomato, beef and veggie mix."
— Stephanie Lew, Tucson Chinese Association Volunteer
1754 W. Ajo Way, 520-889-2563
"Bamboo Terrace. The house lo mein and the Mongolian beef: great flavors and pretty consistent"
— Ruben Soto, chef and caterer at Catering International
Food Spot Chinese Deli
5256 S. Nogales Highway, 520-294-4042
"My go-to spot for Chinese food would have to be the mom-and-pop store Food Spot Market & Deli located on South Nogales Highway just one block south of Irvington Road. Me and my family have been going there for many years for the great choices of Chinese food. ... The lo mein is amazing: Always have to order it when we call in for takeout. If you want to really sample some great takeout on the southwest side of town, check out Food Spot Market."
— Armando Duarte, personal chef