Category Archives: Chinese

Does Columbus have any ‘real’ Chinese food?

This question finds its way to us with increasing frequency, both online and in person, from dismissive newcomers to Central Ohio as well as jaded locals. We have plenty to say about it, but first, lets talk about this idea of what’s ‘real’. 

‘Real’, in this context, is almost always used as a synonym for ‘authentic’. To the extent that anyone has the authority to categorize any Chinese food as authentic, it certainly isn’t us. 

What we can do, though – with a little help from our friends – is to distinguish the restaurants that are cooking menu items for the Chinese palate from those that are not. In other words, while we’re not fools enough to believe that we can measure any given restaurant’s success in maintaining absolute fidelity to Chinese culinary tradition, we do believe that our merry band of grazers can discern the intent to appeal to a Chinese audience. And, we can share our thoughts on what we enjoy.

OK, so back to the original question. We have to admit that it evokes a mild sense of indignation in us, as we’ve been enjoying the fruits of many of the city’s delicious Chinese kitchens for years – often with Chinese dining companions – and have felt some measure of pride in the range of options available to a city of our size. I mean, ‘Are there any?’ Of course! How many? 

Time to make a list. 

This was a process full of surprises. Once we made our initial list, and then continued searching, we were astounded by how much it grew. There’s an awful lot out there, and far more than we’ve had the opportunity to experience.

Sounds like a new food adventure to us! Over the next year, we’re going to visit/revisit each one of the restaurants on the list (linked below), and we’re going to try them with as many people as is practically possible so we can try as broad of a range of dishes as possible. We’ll post a brief accounting of each here, and hopefully put that pesky question to rest once and for all. 

The List:

Well, almost there. Please bear in mind that while we’re trying to be complete, we may not have caught everything. If we missed something let us know! Also, please understand that some of these restaurants will only have Chinese-American offerings shown on their website. You have to explore their broader menu in person to get the full story – which is exactly what we intend to do.

After the full list (which also includes markets and bakeries), we’ve taken our first stab at categorizing restaurants by their specialties. This will be refined as our adventure progresses, but is intended to illustrate the breadth of regional and culinary specialization found among the city’s Chinese offerings.

Columbus Chinese Food Guide 


Lotus Grill

Crosswoods Commons, 150 Hutchinson Ave, Columbus, 43235

The best reason to go to Lotus Grill is to get the salted pan fried pork. The second best reason is to encounter him. Adorned with bolo tie, long-sleeved country-western button up, and long black hair, he takes customer orders with an economy of words that evinces an Eastwood-esque stoicism, then abruptly punctures this facade as he barks orders back at the kitchen in a furious volley of rapid fire Chinese.

He is in possession of a Chinese menu, written entirely in Chinese. Our first visit to Lotus Grill made it clear he had not given much thought to the idea that anyone who is not Chinese would be interested in this menu. Acquaintance of ours have kindly translated it, and he now possesses that menu as well. We encourage you to ask for it.

Should you do so, you’ll likely be seated. To order from the posted English language Chinese-American menu is to receive counter service, to do otherwise often means full service. He’ll give you time to assemble your order, than he’ll return to the table to take it. Should you have questions, he might or might not have answers. No need to push it, or to sweat it too much – just about everything we’ve tried has been very good, and from our perspective there’s little risk in letting the food answer for him.

For example, ‘salted pan fried pork’ is at best a very incomplete description of our favorite dish, the aforementioned pork cooked with leeks, sliced hot green peppers, and Chinese black beans. With the nice sear on the pork and the pungent kick of black beans, savory doesn’t even begin to describe it. Delicious gets closer.


‘Pork meatball soup’ translates better; it’s a bowl of comforting broth with noodles, tender Napa cabbage, and an abundance of tasty pork meatballs bearing a seasoning not unlike breakfast sausage. Nicely balanced, and perfect on a cold day, this has been another repeat crowd pleaser.


Their stir fried seasonal vegetables are an exceptional riff on a common Chinese dish, featuring all of the expected garlic sauce flavor but a small fraction of the oiliness. Possible vegetable options include bok choy, Chinese broccoli, and ‘a choy’, and all play well with the sauce.


If you’re open to the idea of eating unshelled shrimp (and in Lotus Grill’s hands, you should be) then their salt & pepper shrimp are a must. Battered and fried to an almost tempura-like effect, the shells were far less tough than expected and added a distinctly edifying intensity of flavor. A plate of these disappeared quickly.

Previous visits led to encounters with red-cooked beef, mustard greens with pork shreds (pictured below), kung bo fish, stir fried dry string beans, and more. All were solid, most were significantly better than, and our aggregate experience leaves us eager to explore even more of the 28 item menu.


On our last visit, he was wearing a Star of David bolo with matching belt buckle. Struggling to put it all together – Chinese background, country western garb, conspicuous Jewish iconography, all one person – I finally had to ask.

“I like confusing people” was the reply.

I smiled. As you can probably gather from his prominence in this write up, a bit of harmless confusion suits me fine. Also, I really enjoyed Firefly.

Secret Vessel

Secret Vessel

2620 N High St, Columbus, OH 43202
(614) 636-4720

Hot pot is a term that is thrown around fairly freely in local Chinese restaurants – if a dish has a soup base and a source of heat beneath it to keep it simmering, most will list it as hot pot (at least in the English translations). As we understand it, however, Chinese patrons have a different definition, and it involves a significantly more elaborate set up. Secret Vessel is first restaurant in town to focus on cook-at-the-table hotpot.

Before we get into what that is exactly, it needs to be said that we stumbled into being Secret Vessel’s absolute first paying customers, and it was clear that they were not yet entirely up to full operating standards. They handled this with immense grace, and the food displayed so many unique and wonderful traits that we felt we needed to share our experience even at this early point in their evolution.


So, back to hot pot, Chinese style, which is the vast majority of what Secret Vessel does. Broken down to its basics, there are 3 distinct elements – a broth simmering atop a table top induction burner, prepared ingredients on the side to dip into the broth, and sauces that you can dip your prepared ingredients into after they come out of the broth. All of these are customizable, and many options are available for each.

There are four broth options – Szechuan, Tomato, Hong Kong satay, and a clean, light Signature flavor. All can be had at one time in a bowl divided into quadrants. We did this, and found ourselves particularly enjoying the tomato broth, less than fond of the satay broth, and perfectly content with the other two. As broths become depleted, the attentive servers refill them. As far as we could tell there was no vegetarian broth option.

chinese hot pot in Columbus ohio

The range of ingredients is vast, and is divided into 8 distinct categories – meats, seafood/fish, meatballs, bean products (essentially tofus), fungi (mushrooms), vegetables, ‘other’, and finally, combinations (assembled plates from the previous categories). We ordered the ‘angus boneless ribeye combo’ (beef slices, tripe, beef balls, tofu, cabbage, bean curd, white mushroom), and were given a couple of extras (shrimp balls, lamb slices) to, I suspect, gauge our reactions to them.


Across the board, we were impressed with the freshness of the ingredients – it was conspicuous in the flavor of everything we tried, and elevated it well beyond anything we’d had before in a hot pot (or ‘hot pot’) setting. The lamb and beef were lovely, and both the beef balls and the shrimp balls were hand made in house (a rarity). Both were genuinely among the best things I’ve tasted in some time. Even the mushrooms and the tofu were transformed from something ho-hum into perfect flavor-packed bites after a few minutes of bathing in the tomato broth.

A wide range of sauces were clearly laid out on a bar, and as it was explained to us, the idea is that a customer who opts for the sauce bar ($2.99/person) can ladle multiple sauces into a bowl and mix them to their satisfaction. Being new to this game, we asked the owner to mix a couple up for us. We dutifully dipped our simmered mushrooms and the like into the sauces, admired the owners ability to concoct such edifying combinations, and ultimately appreciated the flavor of the simmered ingredients without the sauces (they struck us as good, but they served to cover the exceptional flavor of the ingredients themselves).


Quality has a price, and in this case it was just under $60.00 for two. For all we were provided, the obvious labor involved in creating it, and the satisfaction provided, we’d call it a solid deal. We’re looking forward to returning, and especially to trying the full meatball assortment.

Jie’s Good Tasting

chinese restaurant grandview

1413 Grandview Ave
Columbus, OH 43212
(614) 824-4657

In the former Grandview location of two short lived businesses – Yogi’s pierogis and Yi’s Bento Express – a new Chinese restaurant, Jie’s Good Tasting, has opened. They have 24 seats for dining in, though due to the cramped accommodations and chaotic, disorganized service, they’re probably best suited to take out.

Despite these caveats, there is a good reason to visit Jie’s, namely homemade dumplings that are easily some of the best in town. Ignore the menu and ask which flavors they have, as the menu is not necessarily representative of much of anything if our visits are any indication. On our last trip there were four types available: San Xian (our favorite so far – a mix of pork, shrimp and chive), pork and napa cabbage, pork and pickled cabbage (our number 2 pick) and pork and celery. 16 come to an order, they’re priced in the $7-8 range, and are served with a pleasant soy/vinegar dipping sauce. What makes them good is the thick but tender wrapper and the juicy and flavorful fillings. They go quickly.


Also worth ordering are the dumplings in hot and sour soup and the spicy dumplings (smaller portion of 8 dumplings) pictured behind.

chinese dumplings columbus

The pan fried pork buns seemed to be popular with the large groups of Chinese students frequenting Jie’s but we found them a little too chewy and thought that the bread to filling ratio erred too far on the bread side.


The menu offers a lot of the standard American Chinese take-out dishes (General Tso is present and accounted for) and a few more interesting choices. We enjoyed both the cumin chicken and the cumin beef. Both dishes are moderately spicy, fragrant with cumin and comprise chunks of meat with fried potatoes. Steamed rice must be requested separately.


The za’ jing noodles, similar to Korean jajagmyun noodles, are boiled noodles served with a black bean sauce and here with your choice of tofu or shrimp.


The tomato and egg soup claims to be made with homemade noodles but on the day we visited we were skeptical of the claim.

Jie's good tasting

If you love dumplings like we do, then a trip to Jie’s is worthwhile… just set your service expectations low. On both visits we found them to be more or less unfamiliar with diners basic expectations (flatware, water, bowls for soup etc).

Sichuan Hotpot

chinese food osu campus


1644 N High St (entrance is on Chittenden Ave)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 397-7493
Open 7 days a week, lunch and dinner.

Click here to map it!

Sichuan Hotpot is the latest addition to the campus area’s lineup of Chinese restaurants. Located in a tiny walk-up space on Chittenden Avenue that seats around 24 people, the owners have opted to provide a small, focused menu based upon, as their name suggests, hot pot. No General Tso’s, no orange chicken, just steamy, brothy noodle stew served with this disclaimer; ‘please be aware all hotpots are hot and spicy and may cause discomfort in some individuals’.

hotpot restaurant columbus ohio

All of the hot pots at Sichuan Hotpot include cellophane noodles (made from mung beans), seaweed, wood ear mushrooms (auricularia auricula), lotus root, dried beancurd skin, Chinese cabbage and bok choy. From that starting point, you can choose your protein (or a vegetarian option). There are 10 hot pot options in total: beef, lamb, shrimp, fish ball, shrimp ball, octopus ball, fish tofu, beef tendon ball, luncheon meat (aka spam) and veggie. All are priced between $5.99-7.99, and you can add additional proteins or enoki mushrooms for $1 each.

chinese restaurants in columbus

(clockwise from top left: fish tofu hotpot, beef tendon ball hotpot, lamb hotpot, luncheon meat hotpot)

Among our group of five, the favorites were the beef tendon ball (think flavorful meatball) and lamb (very lamb-y), with a couple of votes for the fish tofu (think mild fish cake) and the luncheon meat. The broth was very flavorful and would probably be classed as a medium spice level – additional chili sauce is available. Temperature-wise, all of our hot pots came to the table steaming and seemed to retain their heat surprisingly well. One bowl makes for a reasonably substantial meal.

chinese food ohio state

There are a few sides/appetizers to snack on while you wait for your hot pot to cool down: crunchy fried chicken, chinese cruller, spring roll and glazed crispy mantou (deep-fried Chinese steamed buns). The chicken was a little more greasy than crispy although the flavor was good, the spring roll was fine but not especially memorable and the mantou, served with a sweet glaze, could almost be a dessert. The cruller is light and crispy and works well dunked into the hot pot. The last (untranslated) item on the sides menu is a sweet Chinese herbal ice tea.

sichuan hotpot Left: glazed crispy mantou and spring roll, right: Chinese cruller 

For those in the campus area Sichuan Hotpot is a nice additional takeout lunch option.

Asian Taste

Chinese restaurant in New Albany ohio
Cuisine: Chinese (Shanghainese/Cantonese) & Asian
5505 New Albany Road W, New Albany, OH 43054
614.933.8888 – 614.933.8802 – Fax: 614.939.9800
This is a guest post from our good friend and go-to person for all things Chinese, Choosygourmand. It’s a longer than average write-up, simply because it documents a veritable feast that 8 of us shared with him one evening at this new New Albany Chinese restaurant.
As it is with so many serious restaurants around Columbus, don’t be put off by its strip mall location (in the Giant Eagle shopping center north on the New Albany Road exit of Route 161), or its simple decor. Also, its pan-Asian name and menus hide the fact that Asian Taste offers some seriously authentic Shanghainese and Cantonese food.
After trying some dishes over a few visits, I invited a group of Chinese and Caucasian foodie friends to be able to sample more of their dinner offerings. We bypassed the standard menu and went directly to the 2 Xeroxed special menus offered by their two chefs. Owner/Chef Wu’s focus is Cantonese, presented on a two-sided typed menu; Chef Cui – a former owner/chef of King’s Garden – offers Shanghai specialties on a hand-written menu.
best chinese food in New albany
We began with some appetizer dishes. Scallion Pancake ($2.95) was nicely crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The salty/savory/flaky/crispy pancake wedges are a perfect accompaniment for drinks (Asian Taste offers beer). In Shanghai, street vendors sell scallion pancakes piping hot from their food carts as a snack food. Hard to make just right – I keep trying – these were almost as good as the ones that my godmother made for me.
best chinese food in Columbus, ohio
The same type of pancake is offered as a wrap around ham and cilantro, jellyroll style, with a black vinegar and ginger dipping sauce: Scallion Pancake Rolls ($4.50). The toothiness of the ham offered a nice contrast to the crisp chewiness of the scallion pancake. This simple dish is a good example of the Chinese food principle that a dish should stimulate the senses, offering contrasts of sight, texture, aroma, taste, and even sound (crunch!).
good chinese food in new albany
Soy Duck ($8.95) is characteristic of Shanghai cooking: meat braised until tender in a salty and sweet sauce, the duck’s fat adding the other characteristic component: oil. The duck meat, presented in bite-size bone-in pieces, was succulent and moist, oozing umami.
new albany chinese
You have to be able to handle fish bones to tackle the Smoked Fish ($8.95), but it’s worth it: beautifully prepared, moist, tender chunks of white pomfret meat and skin with a smoky-salty flavor. Reminded me of what my godmother made for me in her home. Delicious!
 cantonese food in columbus
The Bean Sheet Roll Stuffed Mushroom ($8.95) is a classic vegetarian dish, using sheets of bean curd skin (yuba) to wrap a core of mushrooms, offering Buddhists and other vegetarians the chewy sensations of meat. In this case, enoki mushrooms replaced the traditional Chinese mushrooms and it’s offered as a hot dish in Shanghai braising sauce rather than cold. Very tasty.
Shangainese food columbus ohio
Our one cold appetizer was from the Shanghai menu, a dish in Chinese untranslated after the Bean Sheet Roll. It’s a cold salad of Spicy Arctic Surf Clams with cilantro and lettuce ($8.95). The colorful red/orange slices of clam should be familiar to sushi aficionados as Ark Shell Sushi, but the price for the dish was less than 4 pieces of nigiri sushi. Here again, the contrasts are wonderfully apparent, chewy-crunchy with a light spicy-hot sesame oil dressing binding the flavors together. It’s not a traditional Chinese dish, but illustrates the inventiveness of the chefs, willing to take diners to new experiences. I love the sophistication and luxury of this dish!
On to main courses!
asian taste
Dry Tofu & Bamboo with Pork ($8.95) is a characteristically Cantonese stir-fried dish, quickly and simply cooked to let the components tell their story: contrasting colors, textures, and tastes of julienned ingredients, with peppers adding a hot touch to the deliciousness!
alt eats columbus, guide to ethnic food Columbus
Harmonizing with the crunch of the baby vegetables, Deep Fried Stuffed Shrimp Tofu ($10.95) – in Chinese, “Pei Pa Tofu,” reflecting the lute shape of the tofu balls – provide a crisp fried outer shell surrounding the light, soft tofu and shrimp mixture inside. Another delightfully stimulating composition of contrasting harmony!
guide to chinese food columbus
Flounder fillet pieces are stir fried in Superior Pickle Sauce Fish ($11.95). Overcooked fish is the bane of most Chinese, but no problem here. The fish is cooked to perfection, providing ethereally light pillows with the crunch of black tree ear fungus, snow pea pods, and artistically carved carrot slices. Another feast for the eyes, mouth, and ears!
Asian Taste restaurant new albany ohio
Hot Spicy Squid ($11.95) provides the zing of peppers to the curls of fried squid. The pieces of squid provide a toothier feel than the typical fried squid rings and cooking them properly offered tenderness here instead of rubberiness.
3 cup chicken asian taste
Three Cup Chicken ($9.95) is another classic preparation. Chunks of bone-in chicken are stewed in equal quantities of sweet soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, and sesame oil (not necessarily an entire cup of each), with sugar and basil leaves. It’s a richly flavored dish – put some of the delicious sauce on rice – but you have to be able to negotiate chicken bones.
Authentic chinese food columbus ohio
After all that meat, we need a vegetable dish to balance the meal. Always ask what’s fresh that evening. Our server Anita – Chef Wu’s spouse – recommended Chinese You Cai ($8.95), quickly and simply stir-fried with garlic to maintain its crunch and color.
canonese restaurants columbus
Hong Kong Pan Fried Noodles ($9.95) is another comfort food dish for Cantonese diners and is prepared very nicely here. The crispiness of the outside layer of noodles girds the tender inside layer and is softened by the sauce of the stir fried shrimp, scallops, chicken, pork, snow pea pods, baby corn, carrot slices, and Chinese celery cabbage. This all-in-one dish is a good one to consider if you’re going to order only a couple of dishes because it offers seafood, meat, vegetables, and starch.
A classic Shanghai noodle dish is Pan Fried Rice Cake ($11.95). It’s a must-have dish around Chinese New Year, because the oval coin-shaped rice cake pieces symbolize pieces of silver, wishing everyone who eats it prosperity during the year. It’s offered year-round as a noodle dish, the rice cakes providing a nice, chewy alternative to wheat or rice noodles. Here, they’re cooked with shrimp, pork, and yellow Chinese chives that provide a mild garlic note.
Asian taste new albany
Most Chinese prefer desserts less sweet than westerners are accustomed to and many of those desserts come in soup form. Jiu Niang Dumplings ($5.95 for a bowl that can serve 2) are small glutinous rice flour dumplings in a sweet broth made from fermented rice, with egg white drops and pineapple. The chewy rice dumplings contrast with the crunchy pineapple and silky egg white pieces.
chinese desserts at Asian Taste
Sesame balls ($1 each) presented with artistically carved orange wedges. As tempting as it is to dive directly into the seductively crispy, freshly fried sesame balls, always eat the orange wedges before other sweet things, for if you eat the orange second, it will taste sour. (Try it! Take a bite of the orange, then the sesame ball, and then the orange again.) The sesame balls are made from glutinous rice flour and have a lightly sweet red bean filling. When they’re fresh out of the fryer – and piping hot, so be careful as you bite into it! – the sesame layer provides a marvelous crunch that marries perfectly with the chewiness of the sticky rice and the softness of the bean paste. Ah, Chinese comfort food!
Somehow, 9 of us managed to consume 16 dishes, an instructional feast of classic and innovative Shanghai and Canton dishes, for under $20 per person.
Asian Taste also offers two classic Shanghai/Taiwan breakfast items: Soy Bean Milk (Dou Jiang) and Long Fried Bread Stick (You Tiao). This is the only restaurant in the Columbus area in which I’ve found the “salty” version of Soy Bean Milk: a thick savory soup with little bits of preserved vegetable, dried shrimp, pork, and soy sauce with spicy-hot sesame oil for flavoring. Accompanied by the freshly fried You Tiao torn into pieces and put into the soup, it’s a hearty and comforting start to the day.
It’s wonderful that we in Northeast Columbus can now get such a marvelous variety of real Chinese dishes in our own part of town! And it’s worth a trip from elsewhere for those looking to delve deeper into the wonders of Shanghainese and Cantonese cuisine.

Helen’s Asian Kitchen

Cuisine – Chinese

1070 E. Dublin Granville Rd. 43229

Click here to map it!

In a nutshell, there are 3 things worth knowing about Helen’s:

1) They serve some great Chinese dishes including soup dumplings, the first we’ve encountered in Columbus.
2) As good as Helen’s is, it promises to get better in some interesting and exciting ways.
3) Well… we’ll leave #3 to the end of this write up.

Regarding point #1 – Dumplings are a distinct specialty of the house. There are quite a few on the menu – shao mai (AKA shu mai),  boiled pork, shrimp, and vegetable varieties, and steamed beef.  All of these were enjoyed, with special nods going to the boiled beef dumplings and the Shanghai style shao mai.

But the dumpling we came for was the xiaolong bun (aka xiaolong bao, and spelled either way they’re the aforementioned soup dumplings). They’re the rage in Chinatowns all over the US, and some in our group of 6 had been craving them since visiting China and trying them there. An uneasy mix of anticipation – I want a good soup dumpling! – and dread – these are going to be a disappointment, aren’t they? – lingered at the table.

Xiaolong Bao - Soup Dumplings

And then they arrived. To my eye they didn’t look like anything special, but then again, from my perspective Chinese dumplings rarely do. They’re delicate, and partially filled with a broth, so great care is required in moving them from the steamer basket to your plate without puncturing the wrap and creating a leak. The pros in the group took a small bite out of the wrapper, slurped from the rich broth contained within, and… declared Helen’s soup dumplings a winner.

It’s easy to see why. The broth is unfathomably rich and delicious, and the experience finishes with eating the wrapper and the pork-sausage-like nugget within that’s been marinating in the broth. Absolutely memorable, and a steal at 10 dumplings for $7.50.

Having more than satisfied our dumpling desires, we moved on to a few of Helen’s other dishes. Her crispy pork pan-fried noodles were deemed an excellent example of the genre, and the Chinese broccoli dish made for a satisfying counterpoint to all of the richness that came before.

On to #2 – Good as it already is, Helen made a point of letting us know that her restaurant is a nonetheless a work in progress. House-made noodles are an anticipated addition, Chinese hot pots are a promised future offering, and even dim sum may be in the cards. Some of these additions sound as though they’re related to the impending arrival of Helen’s husband from China.

Alright, now for #3. It a point that seems silly to make much of, but once inside it’s something that’s hard to ignore. Helen’s occupies a large and meticulously clean stand-alone space… that clearly was previously a strip club. Mirrored walls, a stage, and some curious lighting are clear indicators of the building’s previous purpose. Once seated, this may strike you as curious, entertaining, or perhaps even vaguely unsettling, but it won’t go unnoticed and it’ll very likely lead to some lively dinner table conversation.

At least until the food comes out, at which point I feel confident in saying that Helen’s kitchen chops will quickly become the focus. We’re thoroughly enthused by her current offerings, eager to see what’s to come, and highly recommend checking Helen’s Asian kitchen out.