Chinese Delicacy restaurant, despite the name, is not exactly a Chinese place—at least, not in any simple way. Your first hint should be on the tiny 82nd Avenue restaurant’s otherwise unremarkable exterior: Both Chinese and Korean script adorn the sign and awning. The bustling clientele is almost exclusively Asian, but about half the customers nonetheless order in heavily accented English—a far cry from the usual home-far-away-from-home, monocultural pho shop, westside Korean noodle house or hole-in-the-wall Chinese barbecue. And despite much typical pan-Chinese fare on the menu, a little thigh-high unit in front of the service counter brims with the best kimchi I’ve found on Portland’s east side; this is served as bottomless banchan (side dishes) for each table, although you’ll definitely have to request it if you’re not a regular.
What’s going on here, exactly? Well, I wish I could fully tell you, but Chinese Delicacy is a place of many-tiered revelation, peeled back like layers of an onion to reveal yet more treats. Much of the already 90-item menu is, well…off-menu, given as a gift to the loyal and loved—or to those, like me, willing simply to point at another table and beg. The Internet offers rumors of five spice cold beef, specialty Chinese bao dumplings, and different variations of Beijing cuisine, but my only success at ordering directly off-menu during my few visits—without visual aids, anyway—has been a generous bowl of the truly wonderful Korean meatballs: moist, salty, garlicky and a bit sweet, with a bite no more serious than that of an overstimulated housecat.
The trick is that the chef was raised Korean but lived in Northern China, so his palate (and menu) shows a diverse array of influences. Accordingly, steer clear of the overfamiliar American-style Cantonese/Szechuan dishes (the cramp-inducing oily cornstarch of Mongolian, Tso, or kung pao)—which are perfunctory, anyway—and veer instead toward the perfectly prepared salt-pepper spareribs ($8.95), the sweet-spicy Korean stir-fry beef ($8.95), and the seafood hot-and-sour ($5.75) or especially the mild and savory fish maw soup ($7.95), as well as the delicious housemade noodles.
The shrimp black-bean noodles ($7.95), despite the dauntingly dark, thick sauce, are a tame, half-sweet, plummy comfort food, and also seem to be one of the most popular items on the menu. The truly spicy seafood noodle soup ($7.95) harks as much back to Korean food as Chinese, while the shredded pork and pickled cabbage noodle soup is one of the only dishes in town featuring northern Chinese suan cai (that’s the cabbage).
Oh, and if you do get a soup? Order medium. The large will serve an entire extended Chinese family, or a Catholic or Mormon one, for that matter. And be nice and don’t get the shark’s fin, please, even though it’s on the menu. Thanks.
- Order this: Squint your eyes, tilt your head, look sheepish and ask, “Meatballs?” I’d tell you what they cost—which was under $10, in any case—but I couldn’t read my receipt, and they aren’t on the menu.
- Best deal: The medium-sized egg flower soup ($4.50) will fill your stomach right up to the epiglottis.
- I’ll pass: The Chinese Delicacy bean curd ($7.95) was cooked with such delicacy that it had the distinct misfortune of tasting exactly like bean curd.
EAT: Chinese Delicacy, 6411 SE 82nd Ave., 775-2598. Lunch and dinner 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Monday and Wednesday-Thursday, 11 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday. Closed Tuesdays. $ Inexpensive.