Bottomfeeder: Mao Tse Tongue

The Orient Express anticipates another Trainwreck.

When word broke that Andy's Diner, a longstanding slice of Route 66 Americana down by the Spokane Street viaduct, would be replaced by a cheap Chinese restaurant called Orient Express, Seattle reacted with a collective groan. Can the name of a restaurant that designates a series of beached vintage rail cars get any more cliché? And would the last patty melt to give way to pork fried rice lock the door on its way out of town? But time, along with humungous portions and a surprising streak of queer-friendliness, has provided more than enough psychological Neosporin to help lift Andy's out of SoDo and into the sweet hereafter, where the Big Engineer in the Sky makes a choice between Andy's and the Iron Horse (a toy train, not a waiter, delivered burgers and Budweisers to each table before M's games at this late Pioneer Square haunt) each day come noon. The Orient Express' dining cars have stood where they are now since 1948, back when trains were the way most people got from Point A to a faraway B. Now, eating in rail cars seems phenomenally retro—and totally rad. The bar car oozes class and potential, and where Andy's never took consistent advantage of this asset, the Orient Express has played host to a series of avant-garde after-dark fiestas, including burlesque nights and the gender-bending Trainwreck, which enjoyed a months-long residency earlier this year before going on hiatus in July (organizer Susanna Welbourne hopes to restart the musical extravaganza come early '11). The Orient Express also offers private karaoke in what look to be trap doors or storage closets, but are really plush, state-of-the-art lounges of song. In short, the Orient's owners envisioned fun in spaces where Andy's maintained a static quo. Other than that, not much has changed. There are no tacky portraits of rickshaws and geisha girls; rather, black-and-white prints of train travel's heyday dominate the walls, just as they did when the place was called Andy's. But Andy's never served Thai iced tea (arguably the most delicious, decadent beverage on earth), nor did it offer Chinese and Thai dishes at $7.50 a pop. That would be ultra-cheap for one person, but the portions here easily feed two. Apparently the restaurant's owners are intent upon maintaining prices that wouldn't offend FDR and the other distinguished old-timers photographically frozen and framed alongside each table. The most mysterious dish on the menu is called Henry Liebman's Noodle Soup. Liebman is the Orient's landlord, and his favorite soup is served in a ceramic salad bowl and consists of noodles, spicy pork, bean sprouts, bell peppers, and pickles. That's right, pickles. People have their quirks, and Hank's quirk works. mseely@seattleweekly.com

 
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