A Pittsburgh Chinatown Relic

Chinatown Inn is all that remains from the area Pittsburgh’s Chinese immigrants first settled in.


Miller Orris

NASH senior Grant McKissock anticipates a fine meal at Chinatown Inn.

Miller Orris, Staff Writer

An established Pittsburgh institution, Chinatown Inn has served its customers from downtown on Third Avenue since 1943.

In the early 1900’s, the Chinese immigrant community of Pittsburgh settled in the blocks of Grant and Ross Street and Second and Third Avenue. The area was small in comparison to the large Chinatowns of New York City and San Francisco, but it held many thriving businesses and restaurants that showcased Chinese culture.

Visiting the area today, one Chinese-owned business is left standing: the Chinatown Inn. It’s a testament to the quality of the food, the efficiency of the staff, and the traditions that the restaurant is built on.

When the restaurant first opened, it catered primarily to the Cantonese population of Pittsburgh, featuring traditional dishes such as Chop Suey and Chow Fun. As the restaurant entered the 1960’s, the menu was expanded to offer more typical Chinese-American options such as fried rice and General Tso’s chicken. 

The restaurateurs pride themselves on maintaining a steady supply of fresh ingredients and making sure the recipes are passed down exactly as they were made when the restaurant opened. To this day, the dishes are prepared in a traditional Cantonese wok, even the filling for their egg rolls. The filling is prepared three times a week, whereas most restaurants would purchase the filling pre-made. The continued practice of tradition is what has allowed Chinatown Inn to remain open this long.

Many restaurants and businesses of Pittsburgh have a tendency to change ownership at some point, resulting in a drop-off of quality. The Yees, on the other hand, are the only family that has ever run Chinatown Inn. A change of ownership would mean changing the traditions and practices of preparing Chinatown Inn food and disrupting the careful process that goes into the preparation.

The restaurant itself emits a feeling of a past Pittsburgh, one that was brimming with energy and open until 3AM, like the Inn itself once was.

Dining there is honestly a bit of a surreal experience. Entering Chinatown Inn is like being thrust back through time to when a real sense of community existed. The nightlife of Pittsburgh is simply not as it was, and Chinatown Inn is a slightly solemn reminder of this.

The ambiance of the restaurant makes it a place to easily spend two hours with the right people. The food itself is incredible. A large bowl of rice is placed in the middle of your table, and enormous plates of wok-prepared food are laid out in front of you. Typical favorites such as the General Tso’s chicken are on point, likely the best you’ll ever taste, but the restaurant excels at its traditional Cantonese fare. The chow mein is truly excellent, with the traditions at play paying off.

While the Szechuan Chicken is my favorite dish, the spicy dishes in general are just phenomenal. The flavor profiles are far above just “being spicy.”

Many lessons can be learned from Chinatown Inn. Above all, it’s proof that sticking to tradition is a guaranteed way to provide an amazing product to customers.