Posts Tagged 'Chinese'

Hong Kong Palace

6387 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22044

Pros: Excellent Szechuan selections!
Cons: A little out of the way for Marylanders

Ever since our beloved Red Pearl closed down, we  had been mourning the loss of local Szechuan options. Although the nearby Noodles Corner definitely satisfies our general Chinese cravings, they have relatively few Szechuan items in their menu.

Enter Hong Kong Palace. Okay, so it’s not exactly local to us Marylanders, but it is still in the MD/DC/VA area. We’ve come to love it so much that whenever we go down to visit our friends in Fairfax, VA, Hong Kong Palace consistently comes up as an option when trying to think of a place to eat.

The Szechuan dishes on the menu hit you with spice, but not so much that it is over-bearing. We were very pleasantly surprised with the Dan Dan Noodles as an appetizer; we actually feel that these are entree-ready. One of my favorite dishes that I’ve mourned losing from the closing of Red Pearl has been a cumin-infused lamb dish with peppers and onions. No other Chinese restaurants close to Columbia, MD seem to carry this. Luckily, I can get my fix at Hong Kong Palace. With our most recent visit, we also found that a similarly prepared dish with fish instead of lamb is just as satisfying, if not more so. (This also leads me to wonder, is there anything that doesn’t taste great with cumin?) Their green onion pancake appetizers take me back to a time when I used to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and my parents and I would dine at nearby restaurants for a weekend Chinese brunch. Since we often dine with our friends who are vegetarians, we are almost always hitting up tofu dishes, and we have yet to find one that disappoints us.

It’s hard for us to really come up with any negative feedback for the place. This place is good enough, that we’re willing to brave the cacophonous congestion that is the Seven Points area of Virginia.

Hong Kong Palace on Urbanspoon 


Red Pearl

10215 Wincopin Circle
Suite 100
Columbia, MD 21044

Pros: excellent service, the food, amazing view

Cons: spicy, bit pricy

We have to admit that we have an invested interest in Red Pearl, in that we are hoping to have our wedding reception here, so we definitely we want to make sure that this relatively new Chinese restaurant stays in business at least through Spring 2011. There’s good reason we want this place for our wedding banquet. First, this sits on the lakefront of Lake Kittamaqundi, so the entrance of the restaurants overlooks a gorgeous view. The service staff is incredibly friendly, probably moreso than what we find at most Chinese restaurants. The interior has a very warm and classy decor that gives a very comfortable atmosphere. Prices may be a bit pricey, but you’re really paying for great ambiance and a wonderful lakeside view.

And of course, how can you miss the food? The cuisine has a bit of a Schezuan bent, so if your stomach can’t handle spicy, this is not the place for you. Usually, the wait staff will ask you what level of spiciness you want, so you can at least customize the spice to your taste. The manager boasted that she has at least 2 renown chefs working the kitchen. Regardless of who is working in the kitchen, you cannot ignore that the food simply tastes amazing! Our Szechuan String Beans not only had some kick, but also a hint of bean sauce that added to our enjoyment. The Filet Fish with Soft Tofu tastes wonderfully both in the restaurant, but even the next day for leftovers. Some restaurants have a habit of over-crisping or under-crisping noodles, thus ruining the intended texture. Red Pearl doesn’t make either of these mistakes and their Crisply Noodles with Seafood was prepared just perfectly.

Really, it’s hard for us to think of anything negative about this restaurant. They also advertise that starting August 2010, they will start serving Dim-Sum, which should be another big draw. This is a relatively new restaurant, but with everything that this restaurant offers, we genuinely hope that this one stays for a long time.

UPDATE (11/5/2010):  Since our original review of this place, we have made repeat visits, and we can genuinely say that this restaurant continues to impress us. The dim-sum rivals that of the longstanding local favorites like Oriental East in Silver Spring, MD. At our most recent visit, the manager also announced that the menu will soon expand to include some Cantonese dishes. We have also fallen in love with a Szechuan lamb dish that is on their off-menu. So addictive, but once again, watch for the spice.

UPDATE (11/1/2012): We are very sad to report that our beloved Red Pearl has closed its doors. This was one of our favorite (if not our absolute favorite) Chinese restaurant in the Columbia area, and one of our favorite Dim-Sum places. Over its short tenure, we brought several friends over for dinners/dim-sum. We even held our wedding reception here and thought that we would have an annual tradition of coming back on our wedding anniversary for an intimate anniversary meal. Sadly, this will not happen, and we wish the owners our very best and hope that they soon open a new restaurant nearby.

Noodles Corner

8865 Stanford Blvd, #103
Columbia, MD 21045

Pros: Unexpected and authentic Chinese menu, speedy service, and of course, the noodles

Cons: Artificial crab meat

We have to admit that we weren’t expecting much the first time we walked into this restaurant. I was recommended this restaurant by a former co-worker, who admittedly does not have the most adventurous palate. Plus, based on the restaurant’s name, we expected something along the lines of of the Noodles & Co. franchise. Boy, were we mistaken. We had no idea that what awaited us was more of a pan-Asian menu with a bit of a Chinese emphasis. Plus, the menu offers more than just noodles.

When you walk in, you are met with a more modern and hip Asian decor. Presumably because we are an Asian couple, the restaurant managers also slipped us their “secret” Asian menu, a tactic common among Chinese restaurants, so as not to intimidate more Western customers who may have a weak stomach for items such as “Stewed Pork Intestine & Duck Blood.” This was the first thing that surprised us. All in all, the quality of the food impressed us so much that the very next day, when some friends were asking where we might all go to eat, we had the perfect suggestion!

I have my own recipe for Ja-Jain Mein (Beijing-style spaghetti), and I have to say that Noodles’ Corner recipe is just as good. (My fiancee claims that my recipe is better, but I think she may have been saying that due to impending marital obligations.) The following day, I had the Indonesian Noodles, a dish with noodles and a medley of seafood. My only complaint comes from this dish, as the crab meat supplied in this dish was obviously artificial, something considered heresy in the crab-loving state of Maryland. Other than this, the dish was superb, with the perfect blend of other seafood and vegetables in a sauce with the perfect amount of taste and kick.

Interestingly, despite the name, my fiancee has yet to order an actual noodle dish. With our visits, she usually elects to order off the (not so) secret menu. She has ordered (not so intimidating) dishes such as Fish Fillet with Spicy Black Pepper Sauce on Hot Plate, Black Mushrooms with Bok Choy, and their myriad of tofu dishes. She and I were virtually fighting over the fish dish, trying to see who would eat the last bite, as it was prepared so perfectly. The vegetables were also magnificent, so much so that you truly want to savor each bite.

Perhaps because the restaurant was very sparsely populated – likely due to us going their at such an odd hour, and because it suffers from the Columbia curse of being rather hidden from the casual-driving public – the service was top notch, bringing us food in a very speedy manner. Seriously, though, we wouldn’t mind seeing this restaurant a little fuller, even if it does mean we have to wait a little longer. The food is THAT good!

UPDATE 19-Jul-2012: We have since become regular customers at Noodles Corner, and the owners seem to have taken a liking to us, as they tend to recognize us when we come in. From what we’ve seen, business looks have increased, and the restaurant continues to do well. We have eaten through most, if not the entire menu at this point. If you like the more authentic Chinese cuisine, see if you can get a whole fish (yes, the head included) drenched in a magical tofu sauce. Seriously, we don’t know what’s in the sauce, but it’s addictive! Another one of our favorites is their fried tofu. My mother-in-law, who came from Fuzhou, China, and spent some time in the restaurant business herself, actually enjoys this restaurant…and that’s a REAL endorsement! In all honesty, it’s hard to go wrong with any of their menu choices.
Noodles Corner on Urbanspoon

Pho Dat Thanh

9400 Snowden River Pkwy
Columbia, MD 21045

Pros: Impressive menu encompassing multiple Asian cuisines

Cons: Summer rolls are tiny, inconsistent service

After a few visits, we have determined that this restaurant deserves a firm place on our list. After a few visits to An Loi, we finally realized that we were missing an incredible Vietnamese restaurant just up the street a bit. At first glance, we were a listtle hesitant because the menu actually derives quite a bit from several Asian cuisines, and in the past, we’ve have unfavorable experiences with some pan-Asian restaurants, but this restaurant does it right!

Given that the primary portion of the menu is devoted to Vietnamese cuisine, we of course had to indulge in our favorite Vietnamese dishes: pho and vermicelli. The pho was excellent with a great tasting broth that leaves you yearning for more, especially on a cold winter day. The vermicelli topped with grilled pork and crispy egg rolls was actually approaching the standard set by our all-time favorite Vietnamese restaurant (Atlanta’s Pho 96). Our only complaint was that the summer rolls that we ordered seemed tiny…not at all worth the $3.50 they charge for them.

We also ventured over towards other areas of the menu, which shows a bit of a Chinese and Thai influence. The fried tofu and vegetables over crispy noodles was one of the best versions of this dish we had tasted (outside the version coming out of a home kitchen). And the clay-pot fish (actually a bit of a misnomer, as ours came in a metal pot) was simply amazing…better than our home-made attempt at this dish.

If you come in the middle of the week, business tends not to be very busy, but towards the end of the week, business booms. This just goes to show that Columbians know how to eat well after a long week of work.

Grace Garden

1690 Annapolis Rd
Odenton, MD 21113

Pros: Unique selection of Chinese dishes, warm atmosphere

Cons: A little pricey

We can’t thank the people over at the Chow Hound boards enough for leading us to this place. Grace Garden is a small mom and pop restaurant that seems to have become a cult favorite, and it has a well-deserved reputation.

Although the decor is relatively sparse, the atmosphere created by the staff is a very family-like atmosphere. Like Cheers, this is the place “you wanna go because everybody knows your name. ” Well, kind of. When we visited, we seemed to be surrounded by regulars whom the staff greeted as if they were family. We were told that the chef will often take a break to come out to speak with customers to get a better idea of what they like and how he might improve upon dishes. This did not happen to us on our visit, but we also came in the front entrance (coming in through the back entrance allows more interaction with the chef).

And let’s not forget the food. Although you can find a good selection of more familiar Westernized Chinese dishes, the real gems are the dishes that might intimidate the typical Westerner. According to Chow Hound, the two must-try dishes are the Fish Noodles and the Braised Pork Belly. So far, we’ve only gotten around to trying the Fish Noodles, and so far, we’ve been more than pleased. We also tried some fried squid which was prepared perfectly. Very often, we might find squid that has been over-cooked and becomes rubbery. This squid instead just melted in our mouths. If you order any vegetables, be sure to get whatever is their seasonal vegetable, as these are cooked perfectly with just the right amount of spice to get your pallet rolling.

The prices for some of the more obscure (and sometimes more popular) dishes were a little pricey, but we view this as encouragement to budget well to prepare for your meal. If you ever feel like you need a little reward, this is the perfect place to come to. Come to think about it, I think I had a pretty good week at work, so I think I’m due for my reward.

Lucky’s China Inn

5865 Robert Oliver Pl #D
Columbia, MD 21045

Pros: Great prices, excellent Americanized-Chinese food

Cons: Not exactly the most authentic cuisine, could use more variety in vegetable dishes

Please give us a moment to let us stand up on our high horses. Given that we are foodies, we have a preference for the more authentic cuisines. And given that we are both Chinese, we sometimes scoff at what most Americans think of as Chinese food. These are dishes that have grown in popularity due to presence at many smaller take-out restaurants as well as the likes of places like P.F. Chang’s and Panda Express – dishes such as Orange Chicken, Moo Shoo Pork, Chinese Beef and Broccoli, and General Tso’s Chicken.

Having said that, we will acknowledge, however, that we sometimes have cravings for “fake” Chinese food. If you are ever in such a mood and want to avoid the big chains, Lucky’s China Inn hits the spot ever so perfectly. This looks to be a family-owned restaurant that works both on the dine-in and take-out end, and we’ve tried both. You can walk into this restaurant, and you won’t be intimidated by Chinese characters on the walls detailing off-menu items, because there honestly aren’t any real off-menu items to choose from. However, the menu items are quite good. We’ve been able to try a variety of different dishes, including Szechuan String Beans, Orange Chicken, Chow Fun, and Moo Shoo Chicken, and each were prepared excellently. Many dishes, particularly the ones labeled as Szechuan have a relatively subtle spicy kick, which adds to the flavor. The only mild disappointment was that their vegetable menu left a little to be desired. The Szechuan String Beans were excellent, but we were hoping to find a little more variety and not so many that use tofu as their focal ingredient (personally, we think tofu deserves its own section on the menu, much like how they divide the menu between poultry, beef, chicken, and seafood dishes.

So yes, we are Chinese, and we are prideful of our culture to say that Lucky’s China Inn has excellent (fake) Chinese food!

A and J Restaurant

1319-C Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852

Pros: Northern dim-sum taste, amazingly attentive staff

Cons: Does not accept credit card, might be intimidating for newcomers, extremely crowded

Northern Dim-Sum is an odd delicacy. If you are used to the more traditional southern Cantonese dim-sum variety, this is a very different taste. Dishes here are very meat-heavy, and vegetarian dishes are scarce.

For this amateur food critic, however, this restaurant brought back memories of weekend late-morning visits into San Francisco. The busy pace, ordering by checking off items on a list, and of course, the food. The fried dumplings were just like the ones my friend’s mom used to make. The zua bing, though a little crunchy for my taste, reminded me of the fun I had pulling endless threads of warm bing onto my plate. Then, there was the Za Jiang Mein, which has been a favorite from my youth. Memories flooded back as I ate here, taking me back to my youth. It was indeed a happy meal.

For those who are completely unfamiliar with this cuisine, I would definitely recommend coming here with someone who is well-versed in the cuisine, as the atmosphere can be a little intimidating. Nevertheless, the serving staff was amazingly attentive, especially given how busy the restaurant was. This is indeed a local favorite, so be prepared to almost literally rub elbows with your neighbors.