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Completed with my trusted and opinionated informants
THESE ARE the top eight Chinese restaurants in Metro Manila. They?re what I think are the best restaurants, not as voted by readers or a panel of judges, though I did ask for other people?s opinion, and would not have been able to complete this list without my trusty and opinionated informants.

My criteria for a good Chinese restaurant are the same as my criteria for restaurants in general: that they provide good food in a nice environment, and continue to do so every time one returns.

I?m obviously being simplistic here, but the business of rating restaurants has become so arcane that it?s easy to forget the basics.

Great food doesn?t sit around waiting to be judged on aesthetics or creativity or subtle allusions. It leaps down your throat and smacks you around and shakes you up and makes you eat until you can?t move, then stays in your mind and wants you to come back tomorrow.

And for Chinese, these are the places I go back to.

1. Summer Palace, Edsa Shangri-La

The business of competing for the top spot in this very competitive arena is cutthroat, but this hotel outlet continues to best the competition, narrowly beating its sister restaurant, the Shang Palace at Makati Shangri-La.

It?s great at lunchtime, when you can mix dim sum with mains; but it?s equally impressive in the evenings for ?modern? (mostly Cantonese, but pan-Chinese in its influences) Chinese cuisine.

In terms of dcor, it cedes to its Makati sibling?s dramatic plush interiors, but the noise level remains comfortably low, even in full swing.

The dim sum is excellent, as are the fried prawns coated with cereals, braised ?homemade? tofu, and sweet-sour pork.

2. Crystal Jade, Greenhills Shopping Center

Yes, it?s part of a chain, but we?re not giving out points for originality. And the food is almost as good as its HK counterparts, handily beating the various iterations in Singapore.

The food is a Cantonese take on vaguely northern Chinese cuisine: dumplings, scallion pancakes, and la mien, hand-pulled noodles. And of course xiao long bao, the soup-filled dumplings that Shanghai is known for.

The noodles fried with eel are also excellent.

This isn?t haute cuisine but great caf food in an informal setting.

3. Choi Garden, Annapolis Street

Here we?re back on the same turf as the big palace restaurants, though the smaller dining room has a more intimate feel; you can also sit at the smaller tables along the red-fronted faade, which makes you feel like you?re eating in a photographic darkroom.

The menu has all the usual haute Chinese fare, but we tend to return for the shabu-shabu. They?re also known for their fried pigeon, tofu with seaweed; and for dessert there?s the rarely sighted red bean soup, velvety and lightly scented with tangerine peel.

Burn off the meal as you try to maneuver your car out of the parking nightmare in front.

4. Jasmine, New World Hotel

This is newish but not really, as it?s just a new name and spangly new interiors, and the chef formerly of LiLi, the restaurant at the Hyatt that sounds like a panda.

Elegant, modern interiors, the menu is concise and coherent, service is snappy, and they serve proper teas.

Try the fried prawns with kiwi; the Peking Duck and dim sum are also good.

5. Gloriamaris, Greenhills Shopping Center

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The monolithic building with a Megamall-like exterior (and a mall-like chaos inside) tries to be everything to everyone, and crumbles under its own weight.

It?s still good, but quality is flagging, and you get the impression that they?re attending to a more important table somewhere else.

Come here for the duck salad with watermelon, live fish and lobster (especially the rock lobster steamed with garlic), and a bucket of taho to share for dessert.

6. Hai Kang, Wilson Street

This is what all Chinese restaurants used to feel like: fluorescent lighting, bustle and noise, and a complete absence of interior design.

But because of the no-frills approach, this is the best place to splurge on abalone (cooked with broccoli) as well as shark?s fin: great clumps of thick strands like pomelo; swimming in a soup of guilt, but too good to resist.

Also: egg white with seafood, lapu-lapu with ampalaya, and pumpkin soup.

7. Peking Garden, Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center

Still the best place in town for Peking Duck. You?ll need something starchy to balance the fat of the duck skin, and their e fu noodles, deceptively plain-seeming wheat noodles that are redolent of the stock they?re simmered in, should hit the spot nicely.

If you aren?t too full, round out the meal with the spinach with candied walnuts and bamboo shoots.

8. Szechuan House, Roxas Boulevard

This place feels like it has been here forever, which it has, but don?t let the world-weary atmosphere put you off from one of the great bargain feasts in town.

It hasn?t changed its chef, but has a few new dishes that seem to have crept in from the small northern restaurants that have sprung up all over Binondo, run by the newer migrants from China.

Always order the oxtail hotpot and the fried green beans (these are what are called fine beans or haricots verts, boiled in oil before frying) and the eel in black bean sauce.

Conspicuously off the list is President in Binondo; in fact, none of the Chinatown restaurants made it to the list, even if the area is not short on interesting new places, often owned or staffed by the more recent migrants.

Some new restaurants, like the very promising Lugang Caf on Connecticut St., Greenhills, haven?t been around long enough for us to evaluate their consistency.

It?s a high stakes game, with good chef?s salaries in the hundreds of thousands, and a knowledgeable clientele who have eaten well abroad and demand the same quality and are willing to pay (but not overpay) for it.

And in a year?s time things will all have changed around again.