HOME > Chowhound > Washington DC & Baltimore >
Do you create unique foods? Get great advice
TELL US

DC/ NOVA Help with Chinese Food

ktmoomau Aug 6, 2008 10:03 AM

Hello All,

So I need a little help with finding a good place to start my foray into Chinese food and also what to order. When I was young I would get quite sick when I ate a lot of "Chinese" food and mainly stuck to wonton soup when my parents decided to go out to our local establishment, but that was in quite a small town, and I want to try it again. It can't be msg since I eat other products that has MSG and I have eaten at places with no msg and have still gotten sick and that tends to be a myth. I think there must be some other ingredient or preservative that does it. But I don't want to rule out a whole cuisine after a few bad apples.

I would like a place that isn't very americanized, as a lot of the sticky sweet americanized things were what I used to get sick off of. And if you could recommend a place and some dishes to try at those places I would be really appreciative. And I know a lot of the good places are in Rockville, and Montgomery County, but I just don't really get up there all that often, so if you could start me off in DC or NOVA I would be even more appreciative.

Some things I like: I really like Pho, I tend to get the veggie because the meat isn't the big draw for me, I like the broth, noodle, veg and spice. I like stir frys, and pho-esq noodle concotions I make at home. I really like spicy things. And I really like a lot of Thai food. I tend to like things that are not sweet, that are either spicy or savory. I really enjoy my veggies, and when I eat Thai I tend to stray away from the fried with lots of sauce and go more for curry or noodle or with veggie dishes. I can eat Peking Duck and tend to like that. I thought about starting out with Dim Sum, so I could kind of look and choose, and thought Mark's Duck House might be a good place to start, does anyone have favorite things I should try there?

Thank you in advance for all your help, I really want to try and find a good place with things I like.

  1. m
    mattm Aug 6, 2008 10:45 PM

    Be aware that China is a big place, and there are distinct cuisines within Chinese cooking. The regional variations are substantial, and the variety available in the DC area is diverse enough that you should be able to tell the difference. You'll probably find you prefer some styles over others.

    Also be aware that just about every Chinese restaurant has Americanized Chinese food on the menu. If you want to avoid it, just don't order it.

    Sichuan (Szechuan): Known for the hot, numbing spicy dishes, though there are other things as well. Examples: Joe's Noodle House, China Star, Hong Kong Palace (apparently, though it cracks me up to hear Hong Kong associated with Sichuan).

    Cantonese: Usually when people say dim sum, they mean the Cantonese version. I also think of crispy noodle and fat noodle dishes. Examples: Mark's Duck House.

    Taiwanese: I don't really know it well enough to describe it. Maybe someone else can help here. Examples: A&J's, Bob's Noodle House.

    Shanghai: Known for xiao long bao (steamed soup filled dumplings), crab, and sweet dishes. I don't know any good local examples.

    There are other categories as well, but I don't know them well and definitely can't provide good examples of local restaurants.

    1. s
      Steve Aug 6, 2008 01:41 PM

      Good for you that you are willing to undertake this foray. The possible rewards are well worth the experimentation.

      However, some of the best stuff might be a bit of a shock to your system. The first time I had some truly spicy Sichuan food, I had to fight through the heat. But it was delicious and rewarding and really paved the way for me to enjoy so many other things that were previously off-limits. To some extent, you have to trust that it is going to be a life-changing attempt at expanding your horizons.

      In Nova, I think you could do well at China Star in Fairfax with the following meal:

      Dried tofu with shredded pork, eggplant in garlic sauce, watercress sauteed with garlic (or any other leafy green vegetable, does not have to appear on the menu, just ask), and the lamb in sizzling wok.

      Only the lamb will be blazing hot. The other dishes are not spicy. Both the lamb and the tofu dish are dry-fried, meaning that they have no sauce. The leafy green vegetable is very simple and traditional with any Chinese meal.

      The other good thing about this meal is that it avoids some of the very delicious but 'funky' ingredients that you may not be used to.

      We'll get to those later!

      1. x
        xdcx Aug 6, 2008 12:41 PM

        a&j in annandale would probably be a great place to start, as well as Mark's.

        10 Replies
        1. re: xdcx
          m
          MikeR Aug 6, 2008 01:26 PM

          A&J is probably "too Chinese" for one just learning about Chinese food. You kind of have to either know pretty much what you want or be willing to pick something off the menu that sound interesting and maybe you'll like it, maybe not. Mark's Duck House is a little better. Hong Kong Palace is probably the best bet for getting things that are authentic but not too odd, even if you're not sure what you're ordering.

          If you search the hundreds of posts about Hong Kong Palace here, you'll find some dishes that everyone seems to like. My favorite is twice cooked pork with garlic leaves, Steve likes a cold noodle disk and tiger skin peppers, Chengdu kung pao chicken and the ziran (cumin, apparently) dishes are also good.

          1. re: MikeR
            x
            xdcx Aug 6, 2008 01:45 PM

            see, i can't really thing of any off the top of my head that would be particularly intimidating at A&J. The soups are great and not dissimilar to pho. The dumplings aren't exotic or "weird".

            1. re: xdcx
              s
              Steve Aug 6, 2008 02:29 PM

              A&J does have some stuff that you won't run across while perusing the menu at Matchbox: beef tendon, anyone? But it is easy enough to avoid those. The good thing about A& J is that they specialize in Xiao chi (small plates) so each dish is small and inexpensive.

              For the OP, if you decide on A & J, the pickled long beans with minced pork, cucumber salad, and some xiao long bao (tiny steamed soup dumplings) are a good safe start.

            2. re: MikeR
              i
              Indy 67 Aug 6, 2008 03:22 PM

              Here's a new favorite our ours at Hong Kong Palace: Spicy Potatoes with Chicken. It's not on the menu; it's on the Chinese special dishes that are posted on the wall. In the second row from the top, one of the strips has words in English in addition to the Chinese characters. That's the dish you want.

              1. re: Indy 67
                f
                FoodieGrrl Aug 6, 2008 06:19 PM

                Spicy Chicken with Tangy Potatoes is now on the regular menu.

                ktmoomau - From your other posts, I think you will really like Hong Kong Palace. It's got a lot to choose from. I highly recommend trying the Chengdu Cold Noodles - it's really divine. The aforementioned chicken dish is very good, and you might also like the Salt and Pepper Shrimp (ask for it without the shells - it just makes it a little easier to deal with). There is also a Garlic Fried Flounder that I think you may enjoy. You should also try the Shredded Pork with Dried Tofu.

                You may also want to venture to China Star in Fairfax. The Crystal Shrimp, Beef Stew in Hot Pot, and Salt and Pepper Eggplant are some of my favorites. They also have a good version of the Shredded Pork with Dried Tofu as well.

                I do think A&J is worth a try. The potstickers are excellent, the noodle soups are very good as well. You might want to try the Dan Dan Mien - it's not what I'd call authentic dan dan, but I think you'll like it if you're a fan of Thai food. The Zha Jiang Mien is also excellent - good flavor and great textures. Spicy Cucumbers with Garlic is also a nice dish there.

                Shout out to Minger - perhaps we should take ktmoomau to one of these places to help her out?

                Finally, ktmoomau - did you finish the bar? I think you were taking it this summer?? If so, congrats!!

                1. re: FoodieGrrl
                  e
                  Ericandblueboy Aug 6, 2008 07:56 PM

                  chicken and potato is not any chinese dish I know of. potatoes are almost never consumed in chinese cuisine. I'm curious as to how this is prepared.

                  1. re: Ericandblueboy
                    s
                    Steve Aug 6, 2008 08:36 PM

                    Shredded potato appears, quite spicy, on almost every Sichuan menu I've seen.

                    Anyway, Google Potato and Chinese and you will get a lot of interesting responses.

                  2. re: FoodieGrrl
                    m
                    Minger Aug 7, 2008 04:50 AM

                    FoodieGrrl, we should definitely set something up before the end of August. (Btw, I saw DSM yesterday.)

                    I have been eating a lot of Chinese lately, a lot more than usual, including meals at HK Palace, TemptAsian, A&J in Rockville.

                    At HK Palace, I had a number of items from the special menu on the wall including eel with rice vermicelli and the chicken with potatoes. I think the ma la spicing here has better "body" than at TemptAsian, however, my major complaint at HKP is the stinginess in meatiness, eg the duck in tea duck is bony with little meat and the eels in the eels with vermicelli are tiny pieces.

                    TemptAsian has racheted down their spiciness A LOT since 3 or 4 years ago. It was inedibly hot to me (perhaps normal to Sichuanese folk); now it is slightly too tame.

                    A&J is perfect in everything served, except perhaps the beef noodle soup, which needs more bite. The savory warm soy milk is oh so perfect.

                    I would like to try China Star again. (Tried once, when Peter Cheng was there.)

                    I ate at Full Kee last night, nothing fancy but everything good: fishball and cake noodle soup, pig knuckles, and mushrooms with spinach. there's much more to try on the menu.

                    How about Halal Chinese before the end of August? Also I've been hearing good things from Chinese sources about Shandong dumplings up in Rockville.

                    KT, have you hit minibar yet?? let's hear a report!

                    1. re: Minger
                      ktmoomau Aug 7, 2008 07:45 AM

                      Thanks you guys, I am game, Minger knows how to find me!

                      I took the bar last week, hopefully passed (I think I did). I go to minibar tonight. I will report back, I am fasting for lunch in preparation well and my Mother made lobster last night for birthday dinner so I am like on eating overload at this point.

                      1. re: Minger
                        f
                        FoodieGrrl Aug 7, 2008 11:32 AM

                        Halal Chinese?? I am so there! I'm not even sure I've heard of that before!

              2. ktmoomau Aug 6, 2008 10:08 AM

                Oh and to make it just a tad more complicated, I have tried hot and sour soup at some place and hot and sour noodles at Zengo, and both times have really disliked the taste of the sauce.

                3 Replies
                1. re: ktmoomau
                  e
                  Ericandblueboy Aug 6, 2008 11:14 AM

                  Mark's Duck House is a good place to try. I would suggest ordering more seasfood dishes (Cantonese speciality is seafood). Avoid generic sounding sauces (brown, white, lobster) and dishes that seems to come with lots of different vegetables. Go with 3 or 4 dishes. Check out their menu and tell me what you're thinking about ordering and I'll tell you whether it's worth trying and alternatives.

                  1. re: ktmoomau
                    e
                    Ericandblueboy Aug 6, 2008 11:34 AM

                    Another restaurant near Mark's is Hong Kong Palace. It is a Sichuan restaurant, with spicier food, and a menu online.

                    1. re: ktmoomau
                      l
                      LizG Aug 6, 2008 11:36 AM

                      We frequent Joe's Noodle in Rockville. Our favorite menu items are the veggies (shanghai cabbage, spinach, etc.) in garlic. They are light, fresh, and delicious. You can get the same type of thing at most of the more 'authentic' places in town. Our other menu staples are the scallion pancakes and the noodles soups. Our rule of thumb is that we don't want to order the Americanized chinese food (kung pao, with broccoli, hunan style, chow mein, etc.). They are the dishes that tend to be globby and sweet. We often see what other people are eating and point.

                    Show Hidden Posts