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Excellent Chinese in BALT. Does it exist?

namret Jan 3, 2008 03:15 AM

Any possibilties? Got the craving but they're hard to find. American-Chinese is what I need.

Thanks.

  1. m
    maddogg280 Jan 3, 2008 04:46 AM

    Everyone's definition of excellent Chinese food is different, but here is what I can recommend:
    Cafe Zen near Belvedere Square... on the healthier side of most american-chinese and they also do a lot of take out business. It's a casual atmosphere. Prices are lower than you would expect.
    Joey Chiu's in Greenspring... a bit more upscale- white table cloth, nice decor and more polished wait staff. Food is good, and I've never been disappointed. There is a surprisingly crowded scene at the bar there, too. I have no idea what that's about, but you can eat at the bar if you care to.

    1. baltoellen Jan 3, 2008 05:14 AM

      Depends on what kind of American-Chinese you're craving. Personally, for American-Chinese comfort food, I get carry out from Golden Dragon on Liberty Rd, just outside the beltway. It's about as mushy and homey and comforting as I get. (OK. We ate there as kids, and I always only get chicken chow mein and wonton soup there.....)

      Also good on the American -Chinese front and the getting more "authentic" front is Szechunan House in a shopping center on York Road and Seminary Ave.

      I'm sure you'll get more suggestions for American-Chinese. But, sometimes I just crave that mushy, overly salty food at Golden Dragon.....Comfort food cravings are truly a mysterious thing!

      2 Replies
      1. re: baltoellen
        m
        MDicecreamguy Jan 6, 2008 08:46 AM

        Why can't anyone make an eggroll as good as Golden Dragon?
        They are the best ( since Pimlico Hotel went out of business)

        1. re: MDicecreamguy
          baltoellen Jan 6, 2008 09:10 AM

          I always say that about their American-Chinese wonton soup!

      2. h
        hon Jan 3, 2008 05:19 AM

        Szechuan House in Lutherville has Chinese American and real Chinese, both are excellent!

        1. Chowtimore Jan 3, 2008 05:53 AM

          The best American-Chinese I've found in Bmore is the Mandarin Orange Chicken from Trader Joe's.

          That said, if I have a craving for hot and sour soup and General Tso's, I'll get it from Ding How, only because it's the best place that will deliver to my house.

          1. o
            onocoffee Jan 3, 2008 06:50 AM

            Somehow, to my mind, the words "excellent chinese" and "American-Chinese food" do not go harmoniously together. With the latter reminding me of frozen, wok-fried crap that comes in paper or aluminum containers.

            Pretty much, there's no American-Chinese food that's "excellent." Tasty, perhaps, but that depends on your tastes. A Chinese family I know used to own a carry-out on Greenmount that served "Yaki-Mein" - a grotesque mixture of lo mein noodles, egg and ketchup that no Chinese would dare eating himself. However, it was infinitely popular with their clientele. Down in Brooklyn Park, a Chinese carryout I know serves tons of Egg Foo Yung - don't think they eat that either. Then, up here in the Northern part of Baltimore, General Tso's Chicken is a crowd pleaser.

            Personally speaking, I almost never eat American-Chinese food. Overall, I think it's poorly sourced crap. But there are times when I get a hankering for General Tso's (don't ask) and I'll usually venture to Bruce Lee or China Chefs in Timonium and get The General with the sauce on the side (since it's too saucy for me) and maybe an order of Shanghai noodles. Problem is, ten times out of ten, I regret eating that stuff afterwards.

            For good Chinese, I have to give a nod to Szechuan House in Lutherville or Hunan Manor in Columbia. There used to be a great Chinese place on Liberty Road but that closed some time ago. Outside of those places, I like Full Key in Wheaton or Jesse Wong's in Columbia for Sunday dim sum. But the place I really like is Mark's Duck House at Four Corners, Virginia. So good, I ran into my aunt there one afternoon - and we both live in Baltimore!

            14 Replies
            1. re: onocoffee
              monkeyrotica Jan 3, 2008 07:50 AM

              I used to feel the same way about American-Chinese food, until I travelled around and tried chop suey sandwiches, chow mein sandwiches, and the "St. Paul sandwich" (basically, egg foo yung on Wonder Bread with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and pickles). They're like the American-Chinese equivalent of a cheesesteak or an Italian beef. Unfortunately (or not, depending), you can't find any of these around DC.

              I've had some decent standards at Mayflower Chinese Buffet on Greenmount, but that was years ago.

              1. re: onocoffee
                w
                Wangus Jan 3, 2008 10:55 AM

                I think American-Chinese food is still developing, and we'll all be surprised soon when it really takes a life and taste of its own. Granted, around here I doubt you'll find anything too 'Excellent'. My own nod would be to Szechuan House as well. The food is mostly Americanized (even the ones that they pretend are not) but I don't think I've yet to find a place that matches the taste of their food.

                Onocoffee, didn't the Full Key in Wheaton change hands a few years back? I remember being extremely unhappy the few times I tried it back then and have refused to go back since.

                1. re: Wangus
                  monkeyrotica Jan 3, 2008 11:37 AM

                  That's the great thing about ethnic cuisine in America. It's in a perpetual state of development. It's constantly evolving and adapting to its clientel. Pick any Chinese carryout in any city, and you'll find Chinese immigrants making "soul food" like fried chicken wings, pork chops, and even some pretty decent steak subs, for African cab drivers. I wouldn't be surprised if some Chinese places started offering chicken tagines with preserved lemons or falafel sandwiches. Yet chop suey remains a standard on most menus.

                  1. re: monkeyrotica
                    baltoellen Jan 3, 2008 01:29 PM

                    I wholeheartedly agree with you, and I would take it further to add that most of the cuisine in the planet is in a constant state of flux, too, as people move around the globe, and adapt familiar cuisines to new ingredients. I just read Why We Eat What We Eat, and the author essentially makes the point that there's really no such thing as "authentic" cuisine, since Columbus and other explorers traveled around the globe. Pretty exciting stuff to think about.

                    Regarding hyphenated Chinese food, I've had Indian-Chinese in Queens. That very interesting food is from the Chinatown in Bombay adapted to the foods available in that borough.

                    And, more of my 2 cents: I ate at Paul Kee in Wheaton about two months ago, and actually thought Szechunan House was superior.

                    1. re: baltoellen
                      monkeyrotica Jan 6, 2008 05:24 PM

                      If cuisines didn't adopt to changing tastes, we'd still be eating cold dead woolly mammoth in a cave. And as soon as someone starts cooking it with fire, ther'd be some chowhound right there complaining how it's not authentic to cook with fire. You simply have to eat your raw mammoth in a cave to appreciate it. Maybe with some sabertooth tiger coulis and cave moss frissee.

                  2. re: Wangus
                    h
                    Hal Laurent Jan 3, 2008 04:09 PM

                    I don't have a problem with a cuisine adopting local ingredients, assimilating local styles, etc. But what I see with an awful lot of American-Chinese food is just dumbing down the cuisine because they think Americans won't like it if it's authentic. And in many cases they're right about that, unfortunately.

                    1. re: Hal Laurent
                      baltoellen Jan 3, 2008 04:29 PM

                      I've been thinking about this a bit lately, and not sure that changing the tastes to suit particular palates is necessarily "dumbing down." Sometimes I appreciate the level of chilies, say, being moderated to someone like me, who can't take that five alarm fire in my mouth burn......

                      I do have issues when there are certain items--ie. the Chinese that you can't read on the menus--that smack of, well, you're not going to like this anyway, so we won't bother translating this for you.

                      1. re: baltoellen
                        h
                        Hal Laurent Jan 3, 2008 04:35 PM

                        I'm not talking holding back on the chilies as much as I'm talking slathering everything with the same gloppy sauce and vegetables. And serving fried rice instead of steamed rice.

                        But this probably belongs on a different board, although I'm not sure which one.

                        1. re: Hal Laurent
                          monkeyrotica Jan 4, 2008 04:36 AM

                          Maybe this can get bumped over to the high-fructose corn syrup discussion, as that's why I can't eat any sweet-and-sour Chinese dishes. The last time I had General Tso's Chicken, it tasted like candied Mcnuggets.

                          1. re: monkeyrotica
                            baltoellen Jan 4, 2008 06:34 AM

                            Well, there's American-Chinese that's good, and then there's the fried stuff swimming in neon orange sauce. I guess Chinese buffets in strip malls pretty much showcases this sort of stuff.

                        2. re: baltoellen
                          c
                          charmedgirl Jan 4, 2008 03:34 AM

                          That reminds me of the first (and so far only) time I tried dim sum. The restaurant had been highly recommended on chowhound, and after I was seated I realized it fit the old cliche that if you're the only non-[insert ethnic group here] at an [ethnic group] restaurant, you know the place is probably doing the cuisine right. Anyway, most of the servers didn't seem to speak English, and I had never been to dim sum before, so I didn't know what I was doing. The best I could figure to do was politely flag down the people pushing the carts as they walked by and gesture that I'd like to see what they had. This one server, who seemed to speak more English than most, each and every single time I motioned that I was interested in what was in her cart, would shake her head and say "this is not your favorite." And I'd say, "well what is it?" And she'd say, "it is not your favorite." And I'd say, "ok, but what IS it?" and we'd go on like that a few rounds until I got out of her what it was. It was so frustrating! The whole reason I went was to be exposed to new and different kinds of food. Anyway, I totally agree with you, Baltoellen. (On the plus side, my friends and I have gotten a lot of joke mileage out of the phrase "this is not your favorite"!)

                    2. re: onocoffee
                      d
                      dining with doc Jan 3, 2008 11:04 AM

                      I prefer Paul Kee in Wheaton as well as Hollywood east.

                      1. re: onocoffee
                        c
                        chowsearch Jan 3, 2008 04:44 PM

                        I think Mark's got sold last summer. The supervising women were all distinguished but new, with no Mrs. Mark. The dim sum was still great.

                        1. re: onocoffee
                          w
                          Whitemarshjohn May 16, 2008 05:58 PM

                          Mark's Duck House looks like a heavy hitter. I looked up their website and they have numerous awards and I also checked Zagat - they look like one of the best around. I'll have to put them on my list of places to go when I find my self down in that area.
                          http://www.marksduckhouse.com/

                        2. b
                          BaltimoreBoi15 Jan 3, 2008 01:28 PM

                          Jumbo Seafood Pikesville MD

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: BaltimoreBoi15
                            j
                            jes Jan 3, 2008 03:39 PM

                            I ate at Jumbe Seafood for the first time recently and wasn't impressed. I found everything had too much sauce and felt I'd had better of the same dishes at other places. The wait staff was super nice and very attentive despite them being packed but I found the food to be only eh.

                            1. re: BaltimoreBoi15
                              w
                              Whitemarshjohn May 17, 2008 06:39 AM

                              It looks like Elizabeth Large of the Baltimore Sun liked Jumbo Seafood as well:

                              http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/enter...

                            2. t
                              thedanny Jan 3, 2008 06:17 PM

                              Chinatown Cafe on Park Ave.

                              1. o
                                onocoffee Jan 4, 2008 01:01 PM

                                Wangus- I think you're right about Full Key changing hands. I haven't been there in quite some time since I prefer to make the trek to Mark's Duck House if I'm really in the mood for Chinese.

                                Another place I went to a couple months ago was Good Fortune Restaurant in Wheaton. My friend was having a Chinese Banquet there for their newborn son. That was some good eating and a full banquet spread, which is something I appreciate.

                                Overall, I find that "American-Chinese" food is horrifically "dumbed down" for the American palate. To my palate, it is just gross, frozen, commercial food that's casually prepared without much thought and a lot of sauce.

                                And I don't subscribe to this notion of "adjusting the tastes to suit palates" as acceptable practices. Reminds me of my experience at Three... where a menu item listed as "sashimi" was really seared tuna (seared on all four sides). Black and Blue Ahi, yes - "sashimi"? No. It would be akin to taking a classis French dish, such as Duck Confit, removing the skin, not preserving it in fat and making a saute of the meat in a pan - at what point is it no longer "duck confit"?

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: onocoffee
                                  w
                                  Wangus Jan 5, 2008 07:03 AM

                                  Cool. I would recommend against going back to the Full Key then. It used to be my go to place every time I was driving back home for college. I'd slip in at 11pm or midnight, take an empty seat, order a wonton soup and a roasted pork. The last few times I went weren't 'bad' necessarily, but definitely not close to the level of food that I had grown to expect.

                                  Also, the Good Fortune isn't bad at all. I used to eat their dim sum fairly regularly: it was extremely decent, which is honestly all I look for in dim sum around here. You can order a lot of really good food from the kitchen as well. They pretty much seem to be able to make anything that comes to the top of your head.

                                  You know, I wish I could agree with your 'adjusting the tastes...' view. In practice it's right; I wish that people didn't do it. However, from a business perspective it's hard to ignore. During one summer after my first year of college I worked at a Best Buy. Everyone there ordered from this Chinese Carry Out, 'best in maryland' they'd say, 'really authentic' was the claim. My lord it was revolting. Everything was seemingly swimming in a pool of sugared syrup. They even managed to screw up your basic fried rice: disturbingly salty, like someone accidently poured a vat of soy sauce on it. All this and YET, their phone lines were busier than ours at best buy and people could be seen lining out their door for their carry out everyday.

                                  Even better was this: There's a small chinese delivery/carry-out inside the campus of the college I went to. The owners were southern Chinese, immigrated about 15 years ago or so. Really nice people. Whenever I'd go there they'd let me have whatever was usually cooking for the workers, and it was really decent authentic food. Now my family is fairly business oriented so I would talk to the owner about how business was from time to time. He told me that probably 75 percent of the orders that came for him were for either General Tso's chicken or Sesame chicken. He ventured a theory that if he only made those two, one type of fried rice, one time of lo mein, and eggrolls, he'd make even more money because the tiny loss of business from the other items on the menu would be completely surpassed by the amount of money he'd save by not wasting ingredients. These guys definitely knew how to make good food, they just had to good reason to do so. Yeah, I know things are a bit skewed considering a majority of their clientele were college and grad school kids, but the point is still there. Can we really blame these Chinese-American places for sticking with what they know will make them money? The demand for 'authentic' or for 'a truly developed personal flavor' just isn't great enough yet.

                                  1. re: Wangus
                                    baltoellen Jan 5, 2008 07:22 AM

                                    My point was a bit different. I was trying to make the point that that American-Chinese is its own cuisine, and not some 'dumbed down' version of authentic Chinese. (The same with Italian-American, or Tex-Mex, or British Indian.) Of course, as with any cuisines, there are some places that are good at it, and some that aren't so good. And, just because it's some version of "authentic" doesn't mean it's good. (Frankly, I don't really agree that there's any such thing as "authentic" cuisine anywhere, but that's another topic....)

                                    To get this back to local chow, I remember eating at the now closed Oriental Manor not long before a trip that included a "food safari" in Melaka, Malaysia. The friends I met in Melaka were all ethnic Chinese from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. One of them saw a place that she said had excellent che cheong fun (spelling?). And, I said, well, yes, I know what that is, I just had it at Oriental Manor. Well, the stuff I got at this little hawker stall was so amazing and although it was technically the same dish as the 'authentic' stuff I had in Ellicott City, it bore no resemblance really at all.

                                    I travel to Vietnam often, and while the most common dish Vietnamese dish served in the US is pho tai, it's hard to find in VN, and when one does find it, it's not as good as the stuff you get here, since we have a higher quality of beef. I've also had better banh mi sandwiches at Banh Me So in the Eden Center than I've had from numerous street vendors in HCMC. So, just because you're eating it the "source" where it's about as "authentic" as one can get, doesn't always make it superior.

                                2. BmoreHound Jan 6, 2008 06:14 AM

                                  Believe it or not, I think the best Chinese in Baltimore is Ding How - which, I should note, is not saying much.

                                  For some reason, authentic Chinese restaurants in Baltimore can't survive. By that I will include Szehaun House (if you compare the dumplings of Ding How versus Szehaun House, that will tell you all you need to know). But I have not been to Chinatown Cafe recently as I've heard horror stories from multiple different sources.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: BmoreHound
                                    t
                                    thedanny Jan 10, 2008 06:05 AM

                                    Yeah, you're not gonna find mindblowing Chinese food in Baltimore. But Chinatown Cafe is pretty good.

                                    1. re: BmoreHound
                                      t
                                      tombradyqb Jan 10, 2008 11:17 AM

                                      Szechuan House hung in there for many years though. Are you talking about Ding How in Mays Chapel, Timonium or Fells Point? Anyone know if they are the same?

                                      1. re: tombradyqb
                                        BmoreHound Jan 10, 2008 12:48 PM

                                        Fells Point. I didn't even know that there were other restaurants named Ding How.

                                        1. re: BmoreHound
                                          w
                                          Wangus Jan 10, 2008 03:43 PM

                                          Haha, yeah, I think you'd only know about the Timonium one if you happen to live near the area. When I first heard talk about Ding How I thought to myself 'Why would so many people go to this tiny little carry-out all the way out here next to our Graul's for chinese?' until I realized there was a place in Fells Point.

                                          I am almost certain the two aren't related in anyway.

                                    2. e
                                      es1355a May 14, 2008 09:10 PM

                                      I would like to echo the couple of posts for Chinatown Cafe. I didn't go there for a couple of years because I had a couple of so/so experiences, but I just went back again for another shot last week. The dim sum was quite good, sticky rice actually rivaling some of the best dim sum spots in NY. And, the steamed pork buns were right up there as well. So, buoyed by this experience, I went back again last night. I had steamed whole fish with ginger, which tasted very fresh and had tons of ginger/garlic flavor. The only downside is that the atmosphere is positively depressing.

                                      1. i
                                        insidecharmcity May 15, 2008 11:23 AM

                                        Chopstix, 5002 Honeygo Center Dr, Perry Hall is where I usually go the most often.

                                        They also own China Wok in the Giant shopping center next to White Marsh Mall.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: insidecharmcity
                                          f
                                          frequentcrasher May 15, 2008 01:27 PM

                                          people on the south side of town can consider trying a little dive named Grace Garden on rt 175 right across from the Fort Meade main entrance. its a true mom and pop shop but the pop is a very talented chef who decided come out on his own and try his luck. im talking about some pretty excellent authentic chinese stuff but nothing that would freak out non-adventurous people either. example you ask? noodle made from minced fish meat stir fried lightly with bits of meat and veggie. a beautiful home made tofu that seems to be a blend of tofu and stock braised with a light sauce. whole marinated duck, deboned(while retaining the entire duck form), stuffed with sticky rice and seasoning and slow cooked til the meat melts in your mouth. picture the juice and fat from the duck soaked into the sticky rice with all the seasoning and herb goodness. some stuff like whole ducks and whole chickens needs pre-ordering. the shop is in a scary strip mall with a tattoo joint, coin-op laundry, bar/liquor store and a cluck-u wings so dont expect any ambience whatsoever though.

                                          1. re: frequentcrasher
                                            baltoellen May 15, 2008 02:12 PM

                                            This SO sounds like my kind of place. Must do recon to see its potential for chow outing....

                                            1. re: baltoellen
                                              m
                                              matt8313 May 16, 2008 07:50 AM

                                              Yeah, this sounds terrific. Can't wait to try it based on the menu on their website: http://gracegardenchinese.com/index.html

                                              1. re: matt8313
                                                baltoellen May 16, 2008 07:57 AM

                                                Thanks for the link. I'll try to get there soon, but can't wait for other reports!

                                            2. re: frequentcrasher
                                              baltoellen May 17, 2008 06:40 PM

                                              Ah, frequenetcrasher: A million thanks for this tip! (And, nice meeting you & your friends--how funny!)

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