No two Chinatowns are cut from the same cloth and some, such as Sydney’s, are a cut above the rest.
Sydney’s first Chinese citizens stepped foot on its shores in the 1800s and today around 10% of the city’s residents claim Chinese heritage. It’s this deep-rooted culture that makes Sydney’s Chinatown particularly authentic, whether you’re slurping broth from a Cantonese hot pot or sipping on some bubble tea.
Stretching from Darling Harbour all the way across to George Street, Sydney Chinatown makes up a big chunk of the central Haymarket district and is instantly recognisable for its red lanterns, neon signs decorated with Chinese characters and, of course, restaurants offering up numerous, mouth-watering delights. Not sure what to do in Chinatown Sydney? Let us point you in the right direction…
What to do in Chinatown, Sydney
Before you make a beeline for the popular Paddy’s Market to pick up some cheap and cheerful souvenirs, it’s worth noting that there’s far more to this vibrant neighbourhood than bargain basement shopping. Why not:
Check out the Sydney Chinatown Night Market
There are several markets in Chinatown – from the previously mentioned tourist trap that is Paddy’s to Market City that’s more like a shopping mall rammed with discount designer shops. If you’ve got an evening in Sydney to spare (specifically a Friday), we strongly recommend you get down to the Chinatown Night Market.
Located halfway down Dixon Street, it hosts dozens of stall holders selling everything from local arts and crafts to delicious street food. Seek out Colotako for some fresh Japanese Takoyaki: griddled octopus doughballs that’ll blow any seafood lover’s mind.
Sing your heart out at karaoke
Whether you’ve got the voice of an angel or your style is more akin to a screeching cat, you can’t say you’ve had a proper Sydney Chinatown experience until you’ve belted out your favourite tune at a karaoke bar. The city has a hefty range to choose from, but our top picks are D1 Karaoke (has private rooms if you’re feeling a little shy) and Lantern by Wagaya (doubles up as a Japanese restaurant, so you can tuck into sushi as you sing).
Take a turn down Kimber Lane
This unassuming lane just off Hay Street is home to one of the coolest street art installations in Sydney. Titled “In Between Two Worlds”, the blue cloud murals adorning the alleyway’s walls and floor are the design of Sydney-born artist, Jason Wing, who drew upon both Chinese and Aboriginal art and symbolism.
Don’t forget to look up as you stroll down this inconspicuous lane, either. The thirty floating figures are half human, half spirit, and supposedly represent the four main elements: earth, wind, water and fire.
Jump on the bubble tea bandwagon
If you’ve ever ventured to one of Asia’s huge metropolises, you’ll know bubble tea (or boba) is a bit of a craze. It all started in Taiwan in the 90s, when someone added tapioca beads to iced tea and has since taken Sydney (and, indeed, the world) by storm.
Beau Tea in the Sussex Centre looks more like a beauty salon than a café, but it has some zingy citrus-based bubble teas which are perfect refreshers on hot summer days. For something a bit different, check out The Alley Lujiaoxiang for milky bubble teas made with their signature brown sugar syrup and homemade tapioca balls.
Seek out the Dr Chau Chau Chuk Building
Sydney Chinatown’s iconic arched gateways (known as Paifangs in Cantonese and Mandarin) are hard to miss at either end of Dixon Street. If you’re a bit of an architecture whizz and want to see more than just ornate dragons, venture south of Paddy’s Market to Ultimo Street, where you’ll find the super unique Dr Chau Chau Chuk Building.
Designed by well-known US architect, Frank Gehry, the easiest way to describe it is a crushed paper bag with windows. The quirky structure is part of the University of Technology Sydney campus, so be prepared to dodge around a few students.
Top places to eat in Sydney’s Chinatown
We challenge you to resist the sticky BBQ pork ribs, steaming bowls of chow mein and delicious dim sum served on every street in Sydney Chinatown. It’s not just Chinese cuisine that’s up for grabs here, either. On the fringes of the vibrant district, you’ll find micro pockets of other Asian foodie havens, including Thaitown and Koreatown.
So, whether you’re wondering where the best cheap eats in Chinatown are, or you’re keen to treat yourself with an Asian-inspired seafood feast, the following serve up the goods:
If you want a glimpse of what eating out in the future might look like, get down to Spice World. This hotpot restaurant doesn’t just focus on the food (although it’s pretty tasty), but the overall experience. Dishes are delivered to your table by robot waiters and the presentation is far from ordinary. Spice World is one of several eateries in Chinatown known for being wanghong dian (internet famous) and we’re certain a video of a melting teddy bear will rack up some likes on your Instagram.
Can’t stop dreaming about digging into a big bowl of steaming noodles? Chinatown’s Happy Chef is the one. Handily located within the Sussex Centre food court, its cheap and huge menu is exclusively dedicated to noodles.
If you’re really craving crispy Peking duck, get yourself BBQ King. The barbecue specialty restaurant has been a fixture in Chinatown since the 80s and has universal appeal thanks to its taste bud tingling menu. Other must-try dishes include the roast suckling pig and the salt and pepper prawns. Oh, we almost forgot to mention that the menu contains over 10+ variations of roast duck. Who knew there could be so many?…
One of the best cheap eats in Sydney Chinatown is the not-so-secret (but oh-so-delicious) cream puffs from the Emperor’s Garden. The restaurant has a hole in the wall outlet next to its main venue on Hay Street which dishes out piping hot puffs stuffed with custard to long lines of hungry customers. They’re 100% worth the wait and you can’t fault the 35-cent price tag.
And as for other cuisines…
Switch up the menu with some moreish Malaysian grub from this award-winning restaurant. Queues build up quickly outside its doors on Goulburn Street, with most punters dreaming of Mamak’s rotis – crispy on the outside yet fluffy on the inside breads served with a duo of fragrant curry sauces.
The satay at Mamak is also arguably some of the best in the city, plus there’s plenty to satisfy non meat-eaters. If you happen to visit Melbourne while you’re in Oz, pop into Mamak’s sister restaurant on Lonsdale Street for round two.
You’ll spot loads of places around Haymarket where you can try Korean BBQ. When it comes to tasty Korean fried chicken though, few eateries in the area make it better than Arisun. Here, they manage to strike the perfect balance between crispy and tender, plus you can choose to dip your chicken in melted cheese for an extra $7. Attempt to be healthy with a side of Arisun’s homemade kimchi or wash all that greasy goodness down with a beer – they sell it by the keg.
Whether you’re a Pad Thai person or you prefer a dish that’s a little bit more unusual, Chat Thai has one of the best ranges of Thai food in Sydney. Its Campbell Street branch in Thaitown is a great spot for lunch and you can even watch the chefs as they whip up awesome dishes like crab fried rice and spicy Massaman curry. Finish your meal off with a bowl of sweet rice and mango drenched in coconut cream or a decadent Thai coffee made with condensed milk.
Orbzii tip: If you’re hoping to book a getaway to Sydney in February, don’t shy away from the Chinese New Year crowds in Chinatown. Sure, it can get pretty busy, but few places outside of China have a more authentic celebration.