Cheap Eats 2014: Chinese Food


Szechuan Chef

5331 SW Macadam Ave., 227-3136, Lunch and dinner daily.

There's something piercingly lonesome about a vast Chinese restaurant hall, something that summons a lifetime of atheist Christmases and an elusive future dreamt by immigrant ambition. Also, you know, it's just spooky empty. Few dining rooms come as retro-poignant as Szechuan Chef, a '70s-era split-level with wooden candelabras and panoramic windows looking out onto the Macadam strip malls. The spot housed nondescript Shanghai Noble House until early last year, when a Bellevue, Wash., concern launched its Portland offshoot.

The menu is now packed with items rarely found in paper takeout boxes; families spin pools of deep-hued sauce on rotating table trays. The most iconic dish is the Chong Qing chicken: equal parts fried breast pieces and dried red chilies, it is essentially popcorn chicken loaded with firecrackers.

At dinner, nearly every entree is generous enough to contain leftovers, and most hover a few dollars under $15, save the $16.99 all-you-can-eat hot pot, which charmingly offers your choice of soup base among "spicy," "plain," and "half spicy, half plain," and allows a selection of either enoki mushrooms or wood fungus. At lunchtime, in an old American Chinese tradition, prices nearly halve.

Avoid sweet items such as the honey prawns, which tend to cloy. Most house specialties warn of heat, and those are the ones you want to order, such as the hot and spicy hand-shaved noodles, each as thick and pillowy as dumplings. The Sichuan peppercorns won't scorch the palate. They're just something to warm yourself by. AARON MESH.

The Baowry

8307 N Ivanhoe St., 285-4839, Dinner and late night daily. 

On a busy night, The Baowry is bedlam. This dimly lit converted home is packed to bursting with tables, most likely filled, and simply navigating from your seat to the bar in the corner can require some Beijing Circus-agility—but it's worth it. The judicious application of five-spice powder is a lost art, so it's nice to see this St. Johns pan-Asian eatery get it right. It's featured prominently in the three fillings in their eponymous steamed buns ($4) so whether you opt for the pork, duck or veggie, you'll still be treated to the lovely balance between that spice, the pillow-soft, slightly sweet bun and tangy, crunchy vegetables. If you're not feeling the bao, their noodles in all forms are a lovely treat, like their perky Perfect Egg ($6) with crispy noodles, poached egg and fish roe. BRIAN PANGANIBAN.

Best Taste To Go

8350 SE Division St., Suite C, 771-0812. Lunch and dinner daily.

The ego behind naming this restaurant Best Taste was not ill-founded. Pulling a deep-fried duck out of the hot deli, the woman who took my order chopped the neck off with a meat cleaver, allowing juices to flow onto my plate before nicely arranging the newly removed breast. The duck ($8.50) had densely crisp skin and the meat was juicy and tender. When I complimented the generous serving of bok choy with garlic ($7.50), the woman responded with a "yeah, I know it's good" attitude. It's primarily a take-out place—there are only nine tables—but the staff is very friendly and you can listen to Z100 radio while eating delicious dim sum. LYLA ROWEN. 

Frank's Noodle House

822 NE Broadway, 288-1007, Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.

At Frank's, the idea of leftovers is futile. Sure, the portions are sized for sharing, and the noodles—handmade fresh by owner Frank Fong—are thick enough to lace a pair of Doc Martens with. But just try leaving anything on the plate. Even with the complimentary kimchee and cubes of pickled daikon that arrive before the meal, those wonderful, chewy strands will disappear in spite of your best efforts to preserve them for tomorrow's lunch. That's the magic of Mr. Fong's creation, tossed with shredded cabbage, bell peppers, onions, chili sauce and a selection of proteins—the best being the pork belly. The eyes on the life-sized cutout of Yao Ming near the front door may appear to judge your gluttony, but there's no need for guilt. He's just jealous. MATTHEW SINGER.

Ocean City

3016 SE 82nd Ave., 771-2299, Dim sum and dinner daily. 

A midday meal at Ocean City is a confusing whirlwind of fried, gummy and fried-gummy things wheeled on little carts by people who are in a big hurry. Nothing is labeled and if you try to hold a cart-pilot hostage long enough to figure out what exactly you're getting, she'll be frustrated, the tub of porridge will be cold and everyone will hate you. So get the things I think are pot stickers and the things I know are pork buns, and oh God, yes, the fried sesame balls and sure, why not, a bowl of congee. You should leave a nice tip, because you probably annoyed the shit out of the staff. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Pure Spice

2446 SE 87th Ave., 772-1808, Lunch and dinner daily.

From the street, Pure Spice looks like a Chinatown meat shop duct-taped into an outer Southeast Portland strip mall. That impression doesn't immediately change upon entering, as you're greeted by two skinned ducks and a pig's ass hanging from metal hooks next to the door. But skip immediately to the specials section of the menu and order the Peking shredded pork with buns ($11). They're like dumplings that you get to stuff yourself. Pure Spice manages to make some of the best chicken fried rice ($8) I've ever had, seemingly without any grease at all. Portions are gigantic, and succulent pork proves the pig at the door didn't die in vain. RICHARD GRUNERT.

Powell Seafood Restaurant

6633 SE Powell Blvd., 775-3901. Lunch and dinner daily.

Famed Los Angeles food critic Jonathan Gold has said that to find where he wants to eat Chinese food, he looks for the bad health inspections. Well, welcome! The heroin-chic dinginess of Powell Seafood nonetheless hides one of the most enjoyable family-style, lazy-Susan Chinese seafood spots in town, with massive $100, multi-course dinners that'll feed 12. The courses keep on coming: whole fish, fish-maw soup, a heavenly egg-glazed tofu that's savory candy, black-bean clam, pepper salt squid. All are available, of course, a la carte. But you come here for the party, and you leave with a party in your head. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.


3724 NE Broadway, 287-0331, Lunch and dinner daily. 

Shandong does simple things well—their housemade noodles, for example, served up in their New World-Old World Gwai Wer dish ($10) with a thick, rich barbecue-style sauce that muddles curry and tomato with chicken, zucchini and peas, or the acquired northerly taste of thick black-bean miso in their Zia Jiang noodles ($10). The rare Portland sighting of soup dumplings, sadly, doesn't measure up to NYC fare. But it's Shandong's house garlic-pepper sauce, paired with a grip of scallions in their Shandong and dry-fried beef dishes ($7.25 lunch, $11 dinner) that linger warmly on the palate, drawing me back for a lifetime of bad breath. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.


707 NE 82nd Ave., 261-1689. Lunch and dinner daily.

Don't be surprised if a table of 15 orders after you and is served before you get your potstickers, or if the owner scolds you for taking photos. And don't be overwhelmed when you find yourself lost in the 30-page, picture-packed menu as you contemplate getting "couple pieces lung." Just sip your tea, stare at the tank of fish who just watched their buddy get slaughtered and wait. Whether you get a round-eye staple like beef and broccoli ($8.95) or something more authentically Northern Chinese, your anger will subside—for example, when a clay pot full of tender brisket ($9.95) tastes like a stew version of your favorite pho. AP KRYZA.

Taste of Sichuan

16261 NW Cornell Rd., Beaverton, 629-7001, Lunch and dinner daily.

Don't let its Red Robin exterior fool you: Taste of Sichuan's food is fiery and surprising. The "Wild Side" section of the menu holds the restaurant's signature dishes, including Swimming Fire Fish ($14.95, dinner only), Pickled Chili Pepper Frog ($13.95, ditto), and Chong Qing Hot Chicken ($8.95 lunch, $12.95 dinner). The lightly breaded and cardamom-coated Chong Qing Hot Chicken is a party in your mouth; it leaves your whole palate tingling with huajiao pepper. Taste of Sichuan might look like an Outback Steakhouse, but inside it might as well be a cafeteria in the Chinese pampas, if the ranchers raised fish and frog alongside beef. DEBORAH KENNEDY.

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