Cheap Eats 2015: Chinese Food

HK Cafe

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HK Cafe

HK Cafe, 4410 SE 82nd Ave., 771-8866. Dim Sum, lunch and dinner daily.

If you're a regular at Wong's King or Ocean City, you might be surprised to find this neon-lit dining hall in Eastport Plaza is now the busiest of all 82nd Avenue dim summaries, packed with big families, hung-over couples and one Caucasian guy who patrols the floor making balloon animals. Keep in mind, crowds are a good sign—Chinese dim sum comes from industrial kitchens that employ an army of chefs to face crushing waves of hungry diners. 

Don't get there too early. The trick with any dim sum, at least according to our table of eight first- and second-generation Taiwanese and Vietnamese immigrants, plus photographer Natalie Behring—who's traveled extensively in Asia and speaks Mandarin—is to go when it's busy enough that everything is super-fresh, but before the line forms. If you arrive at 9 am, when the doors open, some items won't yet be rolling out on the carts. If you arrive at noon, you could end up with 40 minutes to kill wandering the aisles at the neighboring Dollar Tree. The best times we've found to go to HK Cafe are around 11 am or between 2 and 3 pm. 

As for what to order from the clattering carts? Don't skimp on the shumai ($3.50), open-faced steamed dumplings with meat popping out of dough tubes that are full of flavor and just a little sticky on your chopsticks. Mix vinegar into your soy sauce, for dipping, and skip the congee—which is too easy to make at home, and skimps on toppings—in favor of taro balls, little spiky things that look like onion straws and will contain pork, shrimp or beef. You won't know which, in advance. 

Other highlights are the radish cake, the pineapple egg-yolk buns, and the crispy seaweed roll, which confused everyone at our table. This nontraditional creation ($6)—like a deep-fried dim sum version of a California roll—has green skin and fillings no one was comfortable trying to guess. Our table hadn't seen anything like it, not even at the famous Asian night market in Richmond, B.C. Someone at HK may have invented it—a good reminder that dim sum is an ever-evolving cuisine, not bound to anyone's idea of authenticity. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Beijing Hot Pot

2768 SE 82nd Ave., 774-2525, Dinner Monday and Wednesday-Friday, lunch and dinner Saturday-Sunday.

[LESS HOT POT] This hot-pot shop is situated in the same parking lot as Ha & VL, the Vietnamese soup shop with a cultish following among foodies. Ha & VL is out of the good soups early, leaving plenty of room for you and a date. They've got booze (Tsingtao is just $3) and the pots are sunken into the tables so you can make eyes through the steam of the "Nourish & Spicy Broth" as you divvy up the combo for two, a $25 feast of lean beef, fatty pork and slurpable noodles. MARTIN CIZMAR.

BTU Brasserie 

5846 NE Sandy Blvd., 971-407-3429, Dinner nightly. 

[BEER TO YOU?] The only Chinese spot in town to brew its own beer—and the best brewpub eatery, period—BTU has a dicey IPA but makes a crisp lager using short-grain rice that's perfect for the fiery hot and mostly fried fare served here. We were most impressed with the tempura-battered walnuts ($7) in a sweet-hot glaze with a few scraps of tofu, the nutty hot bowl of cellophane noodles traditionally called Ants Climbing a Tree ($11) and the Szechuan Chix ($13), tender bits of bird coated in chili sauce and lightly fried with Chinese celery and cucumber. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Chongqing Huo Guo

8230 SE Harrison St., Suite 315, 971-803-7999. Lunch and dinner daily.

[HOTTEST POT] It's downright heartening when a restaurant is willing to hand you your own ass in a stainless-steel bowl. In keeping with its eponymous pepper-bathed region of China, soup spot Chongqing Huo Guo doesn't dull its spicy broth for Western palates. Choose a broth—spicy, mild or seafood—and then order an array of a la carte raw vegetables, noodles and meats to cook in the soup, on a hot plate set down on your table. At Chongqing, the broth will run you $2.99 a person with endless refills, but each ingredient might run anywhere from $3.55 for some pork skins or $13.99 for Kobe beef (don't bother, seriously). Veggies are uniformly between $3 and $5, including terrific enoki, shiitake or oyster mushrooms. There will be a mighty temptation to over-order; hold back, and don't get more than two or three items per person. A pair will be well-served with two meats, a noodle, a green such as bok choy, and a mushroom. Dumplings are a bonus, like the prize in your Cracker Jack box. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Frank's Noodle House

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

[USE YOUR NOODLE] Frank's Noodle House is an actual house, and it's all about noodles. Life doesn't get more straightforward. But there's nothing straightforward about those nooodles. Frank Fong's housemade shoestrings are as thick as a lady's pinky and as knobby as an old tree, full of soft patches and al dente interludes and pockets of chewy, beautiful texture. You could eat them plain and not get bored. But order the spicy noodles in variations from veggie to pork belly to squid ($7.95-$10.95) and ask for fire-alarm hot. You'll be in a world of sweat and heat, amid crunchy cabbage and the same bell pepper-onion-celery combo favored by the Cajuns. It will feel like its own separate cuisine, if only because no other noodles quite like this exist anywhere else in Portland. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Powell Seafood

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

[LAZY SUSAN PARTY] Last time I went to Powell Seafood, there was a wedding and it was my birthday. It should always be your birthday here. Sure, it looks like a vape shop on the outside, and if you order Mongolian beef or kung pao, you'll be disappointed and confused. But there is no better Chinese spot in Portland to take 12 people of varying means, with specialty menus full of whole trout, garlic crab claws that slick your hands and fill your belly, fish-maw soup, mixed seafood dishes with egg-glazed tofu that is like a perfectly toasted marshmallow, whirling on that lazy Susan like that True Stories bright future imagined by Spalding Gray. Heaven is a place, indeed. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Pure Spice

2446 SE 87th Ave., Suite 101, 772-1808, Lunch and dinner daily.

[PURE EXPERIENCE] Pure Spice's motto is "simplicity, seasonality and regionality," and it delivers: Get the house specialties including their famous scallion pancake and cloudlike housemade stretched noodles (now with egg!), along with indulgently thick broths in the clay pots ($11.50) that stew together rich meats and ingredients such as exotic bitter melon over savory rice. The restaurant's most popular dish, Singapore pan-fried rice noodles ($9.50) can alone make the trip worthwhile, as all scenery melts into a glowing saffron mound of semisweet noodles dotted with salty pork strips and bits of vegetable. Repeat diners often ignore the menu altogether and order off the whiteboard. ENID SPITZ.

Szechuan Chef

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

[MEET THE HEAT] Szechuan Chef is all kinds of unlikely. Not only is it excellent food in the demilitarized zone of Southwest Portland, it's excellent Portland Chinese food—period. Your Szechuan-loving palate will be amply rewarded by the Chong Qing hot chicken ($11.95) with wok-fried bits of chicken served in a heaping mound with dried chilies, chopped scallion and peanuts, while the cumin lamb ($12.95) offers slices of meat well-seasoned with the namesake spice and numbing Sichuan peppercorns. My most recent discovery, however, is an appetizer from the "New Chef's Specials" menu: hot-and-spicy dried bean curd ($6.95), a small plate of cubed bean curd seasoned with plentty of salt, powdered Sichuan peppercorn, dried chili, toasted peanuts and sections of green and white scallion. One pepper burns your tongue like fire, while the other pepper numbs it, just like Icy Hot. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.

Taste of Sichuan

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

[WOK ON THE WILD SIDE] Taste of Sichuan seems like any old strip mall-bound American Chinese place. Inside, bright overhead lights shine on T-shirted Beavertonians perusing a multipage menu full of customary American Chinese offerings, like chicken of the orange, kung pao and General Tso's varieties. But near the back of the menu is the "Wild Side," which claims a more authentic version of Sichaun cuisine, with items most waiguoren have probably never eaten: intestines in a spicy broth, dry cooked frog and the mysteriously named "The Other Parts of Pig," which includes intestines and cubed blood. In case amphibians aren't your thing, the Wild Side also has items like Pork Belly with Colorful Peppers, a spicy offering somewhere between barbecue and bacon. The dumplings off the Wild Side menu are also a must-have, with tender meat encased in a wonton with structural integrity unprecedented this side of the Pacific.  JAMES HELMSWORTH.

Top 5 Food Carts of the Year | African Food | American Comfort Food | Breakfast/Brunch

Burgers and Dogs | Chinese | Indian | Island/Ocean | Japanese | Korean | Latin American

Mexican | Middle Eastern/Mediterranean | Old World European | Pizza | Sandwiches

Thai/Laotian | Vegan/Veg-friendly | Vietnamese | 21 Delicious Bites For $7 or Less

WWeek 2015

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