At nearly 70 years old, Chin's Kitchen is a gaudy neon monument tucked away on a Hollywood District side street. It's one of the oldest Chinese restaurants in Portland, and since July 4 of this year, it's also one of the best. Quietly this spring, Chin's was bought by Chang Feng (Wendy) and Change (Cindy) Li, two sisters from the city of Harbin in China's far northeastern rust belt, known for the breads and soups and sweet-and-sour flavors of Dongbei cuisine.
It's also known for dumplings. And Cindy Li's eight-deep menu of handmade dumplings ($10.95 for 10) is nothing short of a revelation. Her Dongbei-style take is a thicker and denser country cousin to more delicate Shanghai fare, a spongy exercise in extreme comfort that melts tenderly into the bright dipping sauce and then across the palate, like tired shoulders into a hug.
The fresh, thick noodles are an equal comfort, especially when soaking in umami-drenched beef broth blooming with anise. And, if you'd like, you can watch Li through the restaurant's interior glass window as she hand pulls those noodles. But you'll be too busy eating the starter that begins each Dongbei meal: a bowl of roasted peanuts and a daikon-and-carrot white kimchi, a palate cleanser pairing earthy nuts with light, bright acidity.
Among two visits and many dishes, nothing failed—whether a surprisingly flavorful cold plate of wok-kissed tofu silk tossed with charred red chili and cilantro, or a wildly spicy and saucy plate of cumin beef. The sauce on the latter was viscous, with ground spice; the fiery mix of cumin, chili, red pepper and garlic was like a fresh take on Lawry's taco seasoning. Meanwhile, a beef-and-potato pot roast was richer and fattier than most French fare, the short rib in the pot lightly crisped.
Meanwhile, neon shop Neon Gods has taken up an online collection to restore the Chin's Kitchen sign to its full glory, so the animated neon figure of Mr. Chin will once again eat brightly from his bowl. You should probably join him.
Pro tip: Chin's Kitchen doesn't take reservations, and it's small and unholy busy these days —the secret's pretty much out. If you can get out here for a late lunch, that's your best bet.
Chin's Kitchen, 4126 NE Broadway, 503-281-1203. 11 am-9 pm Tuesday-Thursday & Sunday, 11 am-10 Friday-Saturday. $-$$.