If you guessed where to go for great Chinese food in Portland based on a map, you'd probably guess wrong.
Yeah, no: Chinatown is not the spot. Instead, head east or out to Beaverton. Here are our favorites.
Kenny's Noodle House
8305 SE Powell Blvd., 503-771-6868. 9:30 am-9 pm daily. $
When you drive into the parking lot of Kenny's Noodle House, a tiny pink bungalow on Powell just off 82nd Avenue, you might think you've stumbled onto one of the best-kept secrets in Portland. But you'd be wrong. If you speak Cantonese, this place is flat-out famous.
If Wong's King is Chinatown's Tin Shed brunch, Kenny's is Broder—with Hong Kong noodles and congee so beloved the spot even gets visits from wealthy couples in town from Shanghai. You find packed tables with families hunched over menus, warm tea in plastic cups and huge bowls of noodle soup and congee, an impossibly comforting rice porridge that might come with brisket, dried oyster, or pork belly in its thick, creamy bowl.
It's a no-frills environment save for the massive script on the back wall—with white tile floors, tables barely big enough for the food, and a plethora of those Japanese beckoning cats.
For pages, the menu offers more variations of noodle soup than you knew could exist, before doing the same for congee. Tucked away are a dozen sprigs of succulent Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce ($4.95), easily enough to feed four. They're so vibrantly green you could swear they're undercooked, until you bite in and discover they're perfect, just at the edge of crisp.
The Chinese doughnuts ($1.95 for a tray) are like an elephant ear without the sugar and cinnamon, a greasy, savory treat that actually pairs well between bites of greens and meat. The wonton soup, meanwhile, is a bowl of steaming hot comfort, with tiny noodles that pack their own breadlike taste, and three huge wontons, which explode with flavor and heat with the slice of a chopstick.
Pure Spice makes rice noodles so supple they could bend empires to their will, tender oyster-sauced broccolini that's its own form of heaven, and salt and pepper calamari that shames the city's more famous renditions on Sandy Boulevard. And while they have no clattering carts—the steamer trays come out of the kitchen after you order—Pure Spice's supreme mastery of rice pasta makes them a sleeper pick for the best dim sum in all of Portland, delivered always hot and always fresh.
Taste of Sichuan
It used to be that if you dined in the building that currently houses Taste of Sichuan, the most adventurous item you could order was a chili burger. Now, Swimming Fire Fish is only, like, the fourth-craziest thing on the menu.
When the Seattle-based Szechuan chain moved into the shell of a vacated Marie Callender's in a Beaverton strip mall, it exiled the pies but kept the bland decor—brown booths, slatted blinds—lending the experience a strangely nostalgic fever-dream quality once the spice-sweats start to flow.
But don't let the unassuming locale and drab interior design fool you: This is the best Chinese food in the area, and the most daring—literally, the "Wild Side" portion of the menu, featuring authentic dishes from the titular province in Southwest China, actively dares you "to leave the comfort zone and to be bold."
Ease in with the Sichuan bean jelly ($7.95), gelatinous strips of mung bean dressed with chili sauce that brings heat without being tongue-murdering. And if sour and spicy jellyfish ($9.95), pickled chili pepper frog ($14.95) and a hot pot of intestines and congealed pig's blood ($14.95) sound too overwhelming for your Americanized palate, the steamed pork belly ($14.95) is hardly ho-hum. The wildest thing of all, though? Halfway-decent soup dumplings, a unicorn in the Portland area, which are only available on weekends.
Frank's Noodle House
The hand-pulled noodles made in this small house on Broadway are simple and pretty much perfect. The fat, chewy strings of dough are pleasantly taut, and get even better when they're sopped in sauces that tend toward oily and pack lots of flavor. The noodles with rich, deeply satisfying black bean sauce ($9.95) come highly recommended, as do the regular stir-fried noodles with chicken and four-scale spiciness ($10.95). Beware that waits can be long, there's little room to wait inside, and some of the appetizers aren't worth the scratch. But if you want fresh noodles, this is the spot.
Szechuan Chef brings the heat—in the form of a dizzying array of peppers—and the light, in the form of near-glazing bright bulbs. Its rendition of Chong Qing hot chicken ($13.95) is my nearest go-to for a good pepper bath now that Hawthorne's Lucky Strike struck out, a huge plate of out wok-fried chicken served with a near-equal amount of dried chilies, chopped scallions and peanuts. For an oddly hot and cold experience, grab the hot and spicy dried bean curd ($6.95), a Sichuan red-chili combo that will make you feel like you're using lineament to soothe your sore tongue muscle.
4410 SE 82nd Ave., 503-771-8866.
This huge dim sum hall next to the Dollar Tree is now the go-to spot for the city's Chinese community. Some carts are loaded up with your standard array of pork buns and shumai, but there's just as much action for the ones ladling out bowls of silky sweet tofu or congee. Dim sum is its own universe, and HK chases the trends, which means there's always something new and exotic on offer.