Despite its name, Chinatown is much more than delicious Chinese food. This is the Asian food hub of Sydney, where you can find everything from Cantonese cuisine to Malaysian, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean barbecue. Dine in dumpling houses, fill a tray to bursting at an underground food court, indulge in a tucked-away fine-dining restaurant, brunch on yum cha and much more.
From Cantonese to Szechuan, if you are craving the cuisines of China, then it’s no surprise that Chinatown's food experiences are as authentic as they get. Not sure where to start? Hit up the classics. Emperor’s Garden makes some of the best Asian-style roast meats and its famous 60c cream puffs, which you grab hot from the oven from a separate shop window, bring in lines that extend around the block. Chinese Noodle House is great for dumplings and hand-pulled noodles like what you’d find in north-western China. Spicy Joint has one of the most extensive menus in the entire city – with just one dish per page – and all the Sichuan-style plates are a delight. For Uighur fare – an ethnically Turkic group of people living mainly in far-west China – look for the hole-in-the-wall Kiroran Sil Silk Road Uyghur Restaurant.
Roasted duck hanging in restaurant window, Chinatown
After almost 40 years of beloved service, Sydney said goodbye to yum cha institution Marigold in 2021. But never fear: Chinatown still offers incredible yum cha options aplenty. Sussex Street’s East Ocean offers enough rotating dishes to fill the bellies of family and friends many times over. Expect dim sum, rice noodle rolls, pork buns, crispy wontons and mango pancakes. Their live seafood cooking session is especially popular.
Since launching in 2011, The Eight has already made a name for itself as a serious contender for the best yum cha in the CBD, so expect a queue from approximately 9am onwards on weekends. With a capacity of 750 people, the dining room is as enormous as the menu. Not sure where to start? Try the wu gok (a pork and mushroom dumpling encased in a thick layer of taro batter), lop cheung bao (a light, fluffy bun filled with savoury Chinese sausage), Peking duck and baked custard buns.
Yum cha options at The Eight, Haymarket - Credit: Natarsha Brown
Cheap & cheerful
If you want to do as the locals do, eat your way around Asia at Eating World, Sussex Centre and Dixon House, three of the best food courts in Chinatown. If you are visiting on a Friday evening, the Chinatown Night Markets on Dixon Street are a taste of a bustling outdoor Asian food hall.
Of course, more cheap eats abound outside of food courts and markets: try the curry fish balls at Kowloon Cafe, soup dumplings at Nanjing Dumpling, rou jia mo (aka the 'Chinese burger') at Xi'an Cuisine, the signature beef homemade noodles (topped with wontons and chilli oil) at Mr Chen Beef Noodle and chilli-laced fish soup at Xing Xing Sichuan Dish.
There is much more to Chinatown than Chinese fare. The area around Pitt and Goulburn Streets is known as little Thaitown, while Pitt and Liverpool Streets are nicknamed Koreatown. Korean favourites include Arisun, which is all about Korean fried chicken, and Dae Jang Kum, open until midnight for Korean barbecue, as well as bulgogi, bibimbap, kimchi and other staples.
For Thai, head to the beloved Chat Thai, which has been dishing up regional dishes for more than 30 years. The quirky Thanon Khaosan always has a selection of delicious Thai desserts – think mango sticky rice and khanom mor kaeng – laid out at its front-of-shop tuk-tuk. Khao Kang Maruay’s menu boasts more than 100 Thai regional specialities. Or check out Show Neua for Chiang Mai street food and Mangkon Rd for Sino-Thai flavours by two ex-Long Chim chefs.
Thanon Khaosan, Haymarket
More multicultural cuisine
For Malaysian, Mamak is known its wafer-thin roti and satay, and Ho Jiak is a Sydney institution thanks to its innovative Malaysian menu – the char kway teow with spanner crab and indomie goreng with lobster are must-try’s.
Meanwhile, people line up for hours at Gumshara to taste its renowned tonkotsu ramen, and Mother Chu’s Taiwanese Gourmet has been filling the bellies of Sydneysiders with Taiwanese dumplings, noodles, fried rice, soups and omelettes for decades.
XOPP, the upmarket sequel to the legendary Golden Century, is named after its sibling’s most famous dish, the XO pippies – once heralded by David Chang as “the best in the world”. The restaurant is in fact overseen by Billy Wong, the son of Golden Century restaurateurs Eric and Linda Wong, and the eponymous pipis live up to the fanfare, alongside an exciting menu of other Cantonese classics. Think roasted duck, Peking-style shredded beef, clay pots of black pepper and garlic king prawns, salt and pepper squid, and chilli mud crab.
The 30-seat Porkfat may be new to the scene but is already making a name for itself thanks to its punchy take on Thai street cooking. The restaurant sources the freshest ingredients daily from its local farmers and seafood markets, and – as its name suggests – the chefs use pork fat as its main cooking fat, a staple of Thai cooking until commercial cooking oil became popular. The results are, simply, spectacular. If you aren’t sure what to order, you can’t go wrong with the tamarind wings, larb, green curry of tiger prawn and deep-friend whole barramundi.
All that dining will work up a thirst. Bancho is a small bar with a focus on whisky and cocktails, Nakano Darling is inspired by traditional Japanese izakayas and serves up Japanese whisky and sake (as well as excellent kaarage and gyoza) and Batch Brewing Company is bringing their beloved Marrickville craft brews to Darling Square at the new taproom. Don’t miss Matcha-Ya for some, well… matcha-flavoured anything, from matcha lattes and matcha fondue to matcha ice-cream and matcha udon noodles.
Banchō - Credit: Jeremy Plaisance | Osaka Trading Co.
Sydney isn't the only global city with a Chinatown, but this one is bigger, better and boasts more than most thanks to the Chinese immigrants that started arriving in the 1800s. You can find everything here, from small specialist stores and sprawling Asian grocers to noodle bars in hidden food halls and tucked-away fine-dining restaurants. Not to mention lively markets and late-night karaoke.
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