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Chinese food - the dreaded Americanized kind

r
Raids Aug 27, 2010 07:55 AM

So, here's a question that hopefully won't get me flamed too far into oblivion: sometimes I really like a good kung pao chicken, hot and sour soup, and, yes, even beef with broccoli. Where in the DC metro area (preferably DC itself, or, to get even more local, Chinatown) can I find good, spicy renditions of these things that do not wholly lack flavor? For instance, hot and sour soup is never sufficiently hot or sour unless I order take out and doctor it up at home.

Or, alternatively, what should I be ordering that is kind of like these things, but better?

  1. s
    Steve Aug 27, 2010 10:58 AM

    Peking Gourmet Inn (Falls Church) has dumbed down but still excellent versions of kung pao chicken, szechuan beef proper (a jerky dish), and garlic sprouts with the protien of your choice. Any of their basic beef and broccoli-like dishes will be very good. This is an old fashioned place a bit on the pricey side. The food is just about as good and less expensive at Oriental Gourmet at the Lee Harrison Shopping Center in N. Arlington.

    If you want an authentic version of kung pao, then any of the area Sichuan places can do that. At Sichuan Pavillion in Rockvillle, in addition to the kung pao you will love the vegetable served over sizzling rice cakes with white sauce.

    If getting out to the burbs is a possibilty for you, that is where you really should check out the Chinese options. The one thing I would caution you against is going to an authentic Sichuan restaurant and ordering off the Chinese-American menu. They usually fail spectacularly at that kind of cooking.

    -----
    Peking Gourmet Inn
    6029 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041

    1. ipsedixit Aug 27, 2010 11:02 AM

      If it's Chinese American food you are after in DC, then you're in paradise. And you'll be an overstuffed Chowhound in paradise if you visit Chinatown.

      Just about every single notable "Chinese" restaurant in DC Chinatown serves authentic "Chinese-American" food. Can't go wrong at any one of them.

      It's just like trying to find a sand at the beach. So easy it's not fun, nor a challenge.

      Enjoy.

      4 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit
        s
        Steve Aug 27, 2010 11:32 AM

        All I can say is "ugh." You can get some decent Cantonese style food, picking through the better options like the oyster and ginger casserole at Full Kee or the baby squid heads at New Big Wong, but the C-A stuff is dreadful.

        -----
        Full Kee Restaurant
        509 H St NW, Washington, DC 20001

        1. re: ipsedixit
          r
          Raids Aug 28, 2010 07:06 AM

          Not true. I live there. It's totally inconsistent. You'll order once and it'll be great and then the next time, totally inedible.

          yfunk3 - I have not tried Chinatown Express yet. I'll give it a shot, but I kind of thought it was basically equivalent to food court Chinese food, and I'm hoping for a little bit better than that.

          I did order from Sichuan Pavilion once a really, really liked it, and then we promptly moved out of the delivery area. Before that, I ordered from Great Wall, which was occasionally sublime, sometimes good, and a few times totally awful.

          I have not ever been to Peking Gourmet Inn, but I will move it right to the top of my list.

          1. re: Raids
            s
            Steve Aug 28, 2010 07:59 AM

            The best thing Chinatown Express has going for it are the condiments they serve at the table. Get a round steamer basket of dumplings and use the sauces. This is a terrific lunch for about $5. The noodles are all made there (!), but to no advantage. They pour a ton of oil over them, so I think of them as the worst lo mein around. The roast meats are the other standount.

            If you go to the burbs, and are willing to try kung pao that is hot and numbing, then get an order from SIchuan Pavillion in Rockville as well as the sizzling rice cakes with vegetables. That would make for a great meal. If you don't want the heat, then PGI for the garlic sprouts and their always non-spicy kung pao, easily the best version around.

            -----
            Chinatown Express
            126 Carroll Island Rd, Baltimore, MD 21220

            1. re: Steve
              s
              sweth Aug 31, 2010 08:33 PM

              The lo-mein style noodles at Chinatown Express are greasy, but in soup form, they're quite good. And yes, the dumplings w/ that garlic chive oil sauce are one of the best deals in town.

        2. y
          yfunk3 Aug 27, 2010 11:43 AM

          Chinese person who loves Chinese-American (or Americanese, as I call it) food here.

          Had a couple of dishes at both Full Kee and Chinatown Express. Full Kee's General Tso's is super fresh and pretty good. It wasn't particularly spicy (well, at all), but I'm positive they'll make it spicier for you if you want by adding chili oil. Chinatown Express's lo mein (they call it fried noodle, made with their handmade noodles) and sesame chicken were fairly good, though their sauce is stickier and more sugary (probably because they put tons of sugar in it!).

          But for that classic Chinese-American restaurant taste, I'm sure you can't go wrong with those two places in "Chinatown" (which I refuse to call Chinatown and just refer to as Gallery Place :o). The prices are good too, as both places have cheap lunch specials, $5 to $6.

          -----
          Full Kee Restaurant
          509 H St NW, Washington, DC 20001

          Chinatown Express
          126 Carroll Island Rd, Baltimore, MD 21220

          2 Replies
          1. re: yfunk3
            s
            Steve Aug 27, 2010 12:24 PM

            Have you been to Peking Gourmet Inn?

            -----
            Peking Gourmet Inn
            6029 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041

            1. re: Steve
              y
              yfunk3 Aug 30, 2010 11:47 AM

              Peking Gourmet Inn is good, and definitely a a half-step above just the typical Chinese carry-out (with prices to match). They have some authentic Cantonese stuff, but most of the people there the three or so times I've been were non-Chinese and eating the Americanized stuff, and they seemed happy with it. It all looked very fresh to me.

              But you must have the Peking duck while you're there as well. No, it won't rival what you find in Beijing, but it's still damn good.

              -----
              Peking Gourmet Inn
              6029 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041

          2. e
            Elyssa Aug 27, 2010 03:14 PM

            My favorite Chinese food restaurant in the district is Sichuan Pavilion (the one at 18th and K Streets). Their kung pao chicken is excellent. I haven't had the hot and sour soup yet but I'm sure it's great. Good pan fried chicken dumplings, lo mein, shredded chicken with garlic etc. I actually have yet to order anything I didn't like there.

            They have really good "Americanized Chinese" food as well as the real deal dishes (jellyfish etc). I highly recommend.

            I should mention there is another Sichuan Pavilion out in the burbs. This one is different and unrelated I believe...but still very good. I searched for good Chinese food inside the District for 5+ years until I found S.P. I was SO relieved when I finally started working across the street haha.

            1. r
              Raids Aug 28, 2010 09:36 AM

              It's really too bad that the only Chinese place by my office is Bao, which is terrible. Especially, ironically, the bao. Anybody know of any other places downtown?

              2 Replies
              1. re: Raids
                s
                sweth Sep 1, 2010 06:28 AM

                Bao is the newish Chinese place on Vermont, right? Years ago that same spot was occupied by a different Chinese place whose name I can't remember that did pretty good Americanized Chinese. I haven't been to Bao yet, but I've heard from a few folks that the owners are actually Sichuan and can make some decent off-menu Sichuan dishes like Ziran (Cumin) Lamb and Shuizhu (Sichuan braised) fish/beef; you may want to check into that. (And report back.)

                1. re: sweth
                  r
                  Raids Sep 1, 2010 08:57 AM

                  Sorry, once bitten, twice shy.

              2. w
                wayne keyser Aug 29, 2010 04:51 AM

                I know it's quite far, but I'm gonna throw this out for your consideration.

                I have had no better "non-authentic" Chinese than Cheng's in Sterling http://www.chengsorientalva.com/index...

                It's no hole-in-the-wall, and the chef is brave enough to make a few very good original dishes with ingredients that are unusual in any version of Chinese food: zucchini, tomato and more. The expected Chinese-American dishes range from very good to excellent, especially a hot-and-sour soup that has amazing clarity and flavor.

                I haven't been for some years, but it's worth going a bit out of your way (just, IMO, not quite as far as from DC to Sterling)

                1. Dennis S Aug 29, 2010 07:03 AM

                  In general, I'd add, that as far as I've seen (in person and on this board), going to some of the real deal places and ordering off the Americanized menu will yield a dish similar to the joints of which the OP is referring, but with better veggies and sauces. I think it's the Kung Pao at HKP that gets somewhat regular mention here? It's been awhile since I've gone, but China Star in Fairfax used to put out some good stuff on the Americanized menu.

                  -----
                  China Star Restaurant
                  6717 Reisterstown Rd, Baltimore, MD 21215

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Dennis S
                    s
                    sweth Aug 31, 2010 08:38 PM

                    I've never had the "American" Kung Pao at Hong Kong Palace, but the Chengdu version (which is what gets mentioned here, and which is great) is definitely not what the OP is looking for.

                    The best option for all of what the OP is looking for used to be Hope Key in Clarendon, but it's sadly long gone. These days I'd go to Full Kee, or (if you have a car) Grace Garden; the latter in particular reportedly does a very good job w/ Americanized Chinese dishes, although I've never been able to bring myself to sample those given the authentic dishes they have and how rarely I get there. (My first food love ever was Americanized Kung Pao, though, so I can understand the craving for it.)

                    -----
                    Hong Kong Palace
                    6387 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22044

                    Full Kee Restaurant
                    509 H St NW, Washington, DC 20001

                    Grace Garden
                    1690 Annapolis Rd, Odenton, MD

                    1. re: sweth
                      r
                      Raids Sep 1, 2010 05:12 AM

                      I know it doesn't fit with the rest of my description, but I like the ma la kung pao at Great Wall. Is that what the Chengdu version is like? Also, I've learned to make kung pao at home and I've learned that what I don't like about some versions is that I want the bean paste flavor to be stronger - more savory.

                      1. re: Raids
                        s
                        sweth Sep 1, 2010 06:22 AM

                        That's correct, HKP's Chengdu Kung Pao is ma la as well. (Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan, where ma la cooking is most prevalent.)

                        If you want more savory and less sweet kung pao, then HKP's is a good option.

                  2. j
                    Jay Aug 29, 2010 10:12 PM

                    I've had good luck with Jenny's on the SW waterfront. I haven't been in a while but think they're still open. For full disclosure, I only like the Americanized Chinese food. I've chased down some of the frequent Chowhound recommended "authentic" places (Joe's, Bob's, Mark's, China Star-- you name it) and while I appreciate the freshness, I apparently don't have the stomach or taste for the spicy or gamey real deal.

                    -----
                    China Star Restaurant
                    6717 Reisterstown Rd, Baltimore, MD 21215

                    19 Replies
                    1. re: Jay
                      s
                      Steve Aug 30, 2010 05:37 AM

                      I'm glad you tried those places. But maybe you tried to fit a square peg into a round hole? You still need to know how to order and fulfill your own tastes. At Sichuan Pavilion in Rockville, there is nothing spicy or gamey about the vegetables served over sizzling rice cakes, the minced chicken ya-cai, or the lotus root salad. At China Star, the dried tofu with shredded pork and the eggplant in garlic sauce. If you go to A & J, I suggest the zha jiang mian (noodles with ground pork in bean paste sauce - ask for the homemade noodles), the beef pan fried dumplings (niu rou xian bing - careful eating this, there is hot soup inside), bean curd skin with mustard greens and soybean, and the shredded bean curd with carrot and celery salad. If you don't like spicy food or gamey flavors, then obviously you should hold off on the *starred* items. I think there is still a whole world that can open up for you. Though there is the risk that a place like Jenny's will seem awfully sad afterwards.

                      -----
                      A & J Restaurant
                      1319 Rockville Pike C, Rockville, MD

                      China Star Restaurant
                      6717 Reisterstown Rd, Baltimore, MD 21215

                      1. re: Steve
                        Bob W Aug 30, 2010 09:31 AM

                        Steve, just to be clear, those rice cakes at Sichuan Pavilion are the flat, oval shaped things (often called rice ovalettes)? Those things are unbelievable when stir-fried. My first experience with them was at a little stand on the second floor of an eatery in Boston's Chinatown. I saw a plate of them being served (stir-fried with vegetables) and thought, "Hmmm, those look really good." Possibly my greatest chowhound serendipity experience of all time.

                        Then, to make the experience complete, the next time I went back, the stand was gone. It was like George and the secret models hangout on Seinfeld. And then it took me years (literally) to figure out what these things were called.

                        I ask because (1) rice cakes might be my single favorite type of pasta and (2) many people aren't familiar with them.

                        NB: Joe's Noodle on the Pike has them too (or did when I was last there several years ago).

                        1. re: Bob W
                          s
                          Steve Aug 30, 2010 11:13 AM

                          The rice cakes at Sichuan Pavillion are not the oval kind. They are like toasted rice krispies.

                          Joe's has the oval kind.

                          1. re: Bob W
                            h
                            hamster Aug 30, 2010 11:43 AM

                            I remember fondly the first time I tried those soft rice cakes at a Chinese restaurant in Paris. I was blown away. I'm always happy to see them on menus here, and I'm glad you asked for verification since I was disappointed when I ordered the much-vaunted dish at Sichuan Pavilion. I actually wasn't crazy about it - I thought the sauce was way too sweet and didn't love the Rice Krispie-ish stuff - though I am a fan of that restaurant in general.
                            I have had some luck cooking the ovalettes at home - you have to soak them in water overnight, and then you can pan fry them with vegetables/meat. Yum.

                            1. re: hamster
                              Bob W Aug 30, 2010 12:00 PM

                              hamster: I tried making them at home too (there's a recipe on the web, on some guy's very informative rice cakes page). Mine got a little gummy but still delicious.

                              Actually, now that I think back on it, the very first time I saw them was in a soup at another restaurant in Boston. Again my reaction was, these things are incredible and again i couldn't find them until my chance discovery at the stall in Chinatown.

                              They must be very popular as a home-cooking ingredient because you can find huge bags of them at any asian supermarket.

                              Good news: Here's the rice cakes page! It hasn't been updated in 12 years but it's still accessible and has a picture of a rice cake stir fry dish so people can see what we're talking about.

                              http://homepage.mac.com/crmichaud/arc...

                              The rice cakes at Sichuan Pavilion sounds like what you get when you order sizzling rice soup at some restaurants. Good, but something else entirely.

                              1. re: Bob W
                                chowser Aug 30, 2010 12:11 PM

                                I rarely find them in restaurants and am always happy when I do. You can use the noodles in different ways, not just fried. They're good in soup, especially in the winter. I haven't found a place in NoVa that has them, outside of my in-laws. But, honestly, they're the best so I don't try that hard. I've only had the Cantonese version (ni goa).

                                1. re: Bob W
                                  h
                                  hamster Aug 30, 2010 12:17 PM

                                  Thanks for the link! I should try them out again.

                                  I actually can't think of any place I've ordered these around DC...how sad. I think maybe I saw them at Bob's Noodle 66, but I'm not sure.

                                  1. re: hamster
                                    h
                                    hamster Aug 30, 2010 12:24 PM

                                    Actually yes, I'm almost sure they have rice cakes at Bob's Noodle 66.

                              2. re: Bob W
                                d
                                dpan Sep 1, 2010 03:45 PM

                                Bob W - I think you are referring to this?

                                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nian_gao...

                                Sadly I haven't found it in DC. The last time I had it, it was in a strip mall place in Irvine, CA, that was pretty good.

                                1. re: dpan
                                  s
                                  Steve Sep 1, 2010 06:38 PM

                                  They have the nian gao at Joe's Noodle House in Rockville.

                                  -----
                                  Joe's Noodle House
                                  1488 Rockville Pike Ste C, Rockville, MD 20852

                                  1. re: dpan
                                    Bob W Sep 2, 2010 04:58 AM

                                    Yes, that's it. Funny how you can buy huge bags of rice cakes at any asian market around here (long rods and sliced ovals) but it's virtually impossible to find at local restaurants. I've had the version Steve mentions at Joe's, and it was very good.

                                    The web site I mentioned above was actually done by a Korean guy, not a Chinese guy. But I haven't seen rice cakes at local Korean restaurants either.

                                2. re: Steve
                                  ipsedixit Aug 30, 2010 09:33 AM

                                  Hold on a sec, Steve.

                                  A&J does not offer Chinese-American cuisine that the OP is looking for. It is a Taiwanese joint, and maybe the best in and around the District.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit
                                    s
                                    Steve Aug 30, 2010 11:11 AM

                                    True, I was using A&J menu recs to give the PP an idea of what kind of authentic Chinese food might not upset the tummy.

                                    And also to clarify, although A & J is Taiwanese owned, the menu is mostly Northern Chinese, focusing mostly on noodles and dumplings and bread. No rice to speak of.

                                    -----
                                    A & J Restaurant
                                    1319 Rockville Pike C, Rockville, MD

                                    1. re: Steve
                                      ipsedixit Aug 30, 2010 11:28 AM

                                      No, it serves Taiwanese food.

                                      Rice dishes are not indicative of Taiwanese cuisine. Oyster omelets, thousand year old eggs, braised tripe, sesame noodles, tea eggs, jongjzi, etc. are all Taiwanese street food items, and which A&J provides in spades. And last time I was there, they definitely had rice items, as I had a chicken leg rice plate.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit
                                        s
                                        Steve Aug 30, 2010 11:44 AM

                                        Ok, I give. But curiously no seafood served at A & J (at least not in the DC area).....

                                        -----
                                        A & J Restaurant
                                        1319 Rockville Pike C, Rockville, MD

                                        1. re: ipsedixit
                                          tcamp Sep 1, 2010 01:50 PM

                                          I used to go to A&J frequently with my boss who was from Taiwan but whose parents came from northern China. She said the food was indeed Taiwanese but many of the dishes were typical of northern China and that in fact the founders came from the same N.C. province as her family . So maybe you're both right?

                                          Oh boy, suddenly I'm craving one of those hamburgers in a dough pouch.

                                          1. re: tcamp
                                            d
                                            dpan Sep 1, 2010 03:49 PM

                                            The refugees from Mainland China who fled in 1949 to Taiwan brought their regional cuisine along with them. Many of them were from Northern China, and I think that's where they became part of Taiwanese cuisine.

                                            1. re: dpan
                                              ipsedixit Sep 1, 2010 03:57 PM

                                              Taiwanese food is basically the "mutt" of Chinese cuisines.

                                              1. re: ipsedixit
                                                chowser Sep 1, 2010 08:13 PM

                                                With some Japanese influence thrown in.

                                3. f
                                  Flaxen_Vixen Aug 30, 2010 01:19 PM

                                  Hunan Gate in Ballston. It's right across from the metro and their sesame chicken is to die for. It's totally Americanized, but it's deep fried and delicious. Might I also suggest their "Krab" Rangoons?

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Flaxen_Vixen
                                    r
                                    Raids Aug 30, 2010 01:21 PM

                                    LOL. Thanks! As long as we're on the subject, anyone know of an edible Chinese buffet?

                                    1. re: Raids
                                      f
                                      Flaxen_Vixen Aug 30, 2010 01:32 PM

                                      I'm pretty sure Hunan Gate does a buffet on weekdays for lunch.

                                      -----
                                      Hunan Gate
                                      4233 Fairfax Dr, Arlington, VA 22203

                                  2. s
                                    smellious Sep 2, 2010 08:20 AM

                                    I have to recommend Great Wall Szechuan on 14th St NW (between Q and Church Streets).

                                    It has by FAR the best Chinese-American food I have found in DC, I reiterate - BY FAR.

                                    Chinatown is chock full of places that use terrible ingrediants and capitalize on being located in Chinatown. Their dumplings are TERRIBLE. Give me a good dumpling from Chinatown and I will pretty much fall over in shock.

                                    The flavors at Great Wall pop in your mouth, the portions are reasonable, the dishes are just gloppy enough and the fact that the place is always packed indicates that its a neighborhood secret that is slowly getting leaked!

                                    Happy eating!

                                    -----
                                    Great Wall Szechuan Restaurant
                                    1527 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: smellious
                                      woodleyparkhound Sep 2, 2010 08:44 AM

                                      I have only had dan-dan noodles at Great Wall and wasn't impressed - what do you order there that you like?

                                      1. re: woodleyparkhound
                                        f
                                        Flaxen_Vixen Sep 2, 2010 11:32 AM

                                        I also enjoy Great Wall Szechuan. I like their Ma Po Tofu and their Ma La Beef for delicious numbing Szechuan peppers. The beef/brocoli with garlic is also delicious.

                                        -----
                                        Great Wall Szechuan Restaurant
                                        , Washington, DC 20001

                                        1. re: Flaxen_Vixen
                                          s
                                          Steve Sep 2, 2010 02:13 PM

                                          If you're ordering the stuff with the rich sauces, then order some simple green vegetable to go with that. Great Wall has a really fine way with baby bok choy. Not on the menu.

                                        2. re: woodleyparkhound
                                          s
                                          sweth Sep 2, 2010 02:51 PM

                                          Best items are Ma Po Tofu, Double Cooked Pork, & whatever greens they have that day.

                                      2. m
                                        msjess Sep 4, 2010 06:07 AM

                                        I'm kind of surprised no one suggested Meiwah

                                        -----
                                        Meiwah
                                        1200 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036

                                        1. r
                                          Raids Feb 9, 2011 08:34 AM

                                          Ugh. Coworkers dragged me to Wok N Roll after work once, and it was totally decent. So I ordered it a couple of other times and it was pretty much the same, or less. Then, today, I ordered vegetable dumplings and hot and sour soup, which I've ordered before and shouldn't be possible to mess up, and I ended up with dumplings stuffed mostly with cabbage and almost warm soup that tasted like vinegar. Normally I add my own rice vinegar to my take out hot and sour soup, so that shouldn't be a problem, but it was.

                                          I had a bad feeling when it took a half an hour to get the order together and the place was empty. Whole thing went into the garbage. Why does this always, always happen??? I just want somewhere that is consistently edible!

                                          I guess I'll rotate back through Chinatown Express and see how it goes.

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