18 Dishes to Steer Clear of at Chinese Restaurants

Chinese immigrants to the U.S. brought with them their delicious and varied cuisine, which has proved very popular in America, even amongst those who aren’t of Asian descent. Chinese takeout offers traditional dishes alongside modern revisions, but not every dish on the menu is guaranteed to please you — here are 18 dishes you might want to skip at a Chinese restaurant.

Orange Chicken

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This Americanized dish features deep-fried chicken pieces coated in a sticky orange sauce. Unfortunately, the citrusy sauce is often made with orange juice concentrate, sugar, and food coloring, resulting in a brightly colored goo with the overpowering taste of sugary oranges. Order something more authentic and less greasy for a tastier (and healthier) meal.

General Tso’s Chicken

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This ubiquitous dish is similar to orange chicken but tends to be spicier. The sauce is made from soy sauce, vinegar, and chili peppers. However, it isn’t authentic Chinese cuisine, and the deep-fried chicken is typically covered with an overly sweet sauce, often laden with extras like syrup or ketchup! It frequently lacks nutrition and is packed with harmful fats and sugars.

Crab Rangoon

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Priced at around $6–$8, this commonly offered appetizer features fried wonton wrappers filled with a cream cheese and imitation crab mixture. Mental Floss claims that the dish is American, despite its Burmese name, and was created by chef Joe Young of Trader Vic’s in California. It’s also made with poor-quality ingredients and quickly becomes soggy unless eaten immediately.

Sweet and Sour Pork

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This dish is made by breading and deep-frying chunks of pork before serving them with a sweet and sour sauce made with pineapple, peppers, and vinegar. Some people enjoy the combination of sweet, tart, and salty, but the dish is often described as overly sweet with an artificial flavor. There’s also limited nutritional value, with far too much sugar and unhealthy fats.

Broccoli Beef

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This classic takeout option can cost as much as $12 (without rice or noodles) and features broccoli florets and strips of beef in a gravy-like sauce thickened with cornstarch. It’s simple, and the fresh vegetables are a plus, but the quality of the beef is typically suspect, and the brown sauce is often bland and unimaginative compared to other, more complex Chinese flavors.

Fortune Cookies

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Although you can, technically, eat these, they’re more of a novelty than a culinary experience. They are typically offered for free after a meal, but that doesn’t mean you should eat them anyway—they’re not even Chinese! Originating in San Francisco in the early 20th century, they often contain vague, generic fortunes and are often dry, flavorless, and insubstantial.

Mapo Tofu

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This Sichuan dish is best avoided unless you like very spicy food! Serious Eats says it’s made “with simmered medium-firm silken tofu flavored with fermented bean paste, beef, plenty of red-hot roasted chili oil, and a handful of Sichuan peppercorns.” The authentic version will knock your socks off, while the watered-down Americanized take will be disappointingly bland.

Egg Foo Young

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This dish is an authentic import from the southern Chinese coastal province of Guangdong and may seem like the perfect choice for egg lovers. Typically priced below $10, it features an omelette filled with chopped vegetables and meat or seafood. However, the eggs are often of poor quality and rubbery, and the end result is flavorless, necessitating additional sauces or condiments.

Pu Pu Platter

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A pu pu platter is a high-profit sharing appetizer that involves an assortment of fried items like egg rolls, spring rolls, chicken wings, and ribs. As with many dishes on this list, the meat used is generally fatty, tough, and of poor quality, while the focus on deep frying everything can make every component taste the same—particularly when dipped in the same ubiquitous Chinese sauces.

Wonton Soup

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This standard starter isn’t too pricey (at around $4–$6) and features wonton wrappers filled with a small amount of ground pork or shrimp, served in a clear broth. The tiny amount of low-quality filling can make the wontons bland, whereas the simple, salty broth is something you could make at home for a few cents rather than have as an exciting restaurant item!

Dan Dan Noodles

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Michelin Guide claims these authentic noodles are named for the hawker’s pole (a dan) from which they were served in 17th-century China. While we recommend trying them in their native Sichuan or Hong Kong, Americanized versions often rely on sugar or chili alone to flavor the dish, neglecting the spicy yet authentic taste of peanuts, sesame paste, and chili oil.

Chow Mein

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This stir-fried noodle dish is offered at every Chinese food establishment and often comes with your choice of meats, seafood, vegetables, or a mix of various ingredients. Prices for a portion tend to be low, but the dish can be a real hit or miss. Some restaurants use overcooked noodles that lack texture and pile on the oil and soy sauce, making for a greasy, bland, and unhealthy meal.

Kung Pao Chicken

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This Sichuan dish features stir-fried chicken with peanuts, vegetables, and chili peppers. It sounds flavorful on paper, but the real deal is often less than appetizing. Instead of a delicious mix of spicy, savory, and nutty flavors, Americanized versions tone down the spice, add sugar, and overcook the vegetables, resulting in a high-calorie meal with a uniformly mushy texture.

Wu Geng Chang Wang

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Unless you’re a big fan of offal and blood, we don’t recommend ordering this spicy stew of sliced pork intestines and tofu in a sauce of preserved mustard and congealed pork blood cubes! The offal can be slippery, chewy, and off-putting, especially for the uninitiated, and the cubes of jelly-like blood are an ‘acquired taste’ most of us will never acquire!

Spring Rolls

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These deep-fried rolls can be delicious when homemade but tend to be soggy, overpriced, and disappointingly bland in Chinese restaurants. The SCMP claims they originated in China and that other Asian countries have adopted them and made their own versions. Most American spring rolls are greasy, have a cheap, low-quality filling, and need additional sauces to give them flavor.

Sesame Chicken

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This Americanized dish isn’t the cheapest, at around $10–$12 without rice or noodles. It consists of deep-fried chicken pieces (again!) coated in a sweet and savory sesame sauce. The sauce can be delicious when made well, but in most Chinese restaurants in the U.S., it relies heavily on excess sugar for a one-note flavor, overpowering the nutty, toasted sesame seeds.

Lo Mein

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While similar to chow mein, lo mein features thicker wheat noodles that are also stir-fried with vegetables, meat, or seafood. Despite the wholewheat nature of the noodles, they’re often overcooked—mushy, slimy, and without texture. This usually results in a ball of bland, featureless, overly greasy food that tastes almost exclusively like soy sauce!

Beef with Black Bean Sauce

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Traditional black bean sauce has a rich and savory flavor when made well, but remains a divisive addition due to its strong, sometimes bitter, aftertaste. In most American restaurants, the beef used in this dish is tough or chewy, and the black bean sauce is overly salty and lacks the fragrant aroma of properly fermented black beans that give it its distinctive flavor.

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