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Finding the right words to describe food is hard, and not just when you're trying to write your way around "moist" or "creamy." Are the restaurants on this list really Chinese-Chinese? Plenty of fans of Taiwanese cuisine will justly maintain its practitioners shouldn't be labeled as Chinese once, let alone twice.
Unfortunately, there aren't enough quality Taiwanese restaurants in Seattle for the genre to merit its own top 10 list. Same goes for local restaurants specializing in other provincial Chinese cuisines, which is why we lumped all of our favorites under the maddeningly non-specific "Chinese" heading. And we tacked another "Chinese" on the category's name to indicate these restaurants serve dishes that are at least conceptually true to the old country. (Don't despair, chow mein fans: Restaurants which serve dishes engineered for a western audience will take their turn in the spotlight next Monday, when we unveil our list of Seattle's top 10 Chinese-American restaurants.)
In keeping with tradition, the restaurants are in no particular order, save for the winner, which occupies the number one slot. And, as always, Erin Thompson compiled our contributors' comments-comments on our Chinese-Chinese choices.
Szechuan Noodle Bowl is so nondescript and barren that you may wonder whether it's a mafia front. But the business here is dumplings, handmade from the mixing of the meats, veggies, and spices to the rolling, hand-cutting, and forming of the dough shells: It's a wonder they didn't call the place Szechuan Dumpling Dish. Still, there are plenty of noodle offerings on the menu, the best of which is the Cold Chinese Noodle with Chicken--handmade, square noodles served cold with pickled, julienned carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, chicken, crushed peanuts, and a homemade peanut sauce.
9. Hue Ky Mi Ga
It's two birds with one stone at Hue Ky Mi Gia, where free-range chicken broth, duck and noodles make up the favorite, flavorful dish, Mi Vit Tiem. You take your chances with Little Saigon's traffic in the lower-level parking garage, but it's not such a bad place to be trapped: If time allows, order up canh ga chien bo with the tangy dip to fit in with the crowd. The wings at this Vietnamese-run Chinese noodle house are legendary.
Sometimes likened to the Applebee's of China, the Little Sheep Hot Pot chain is so renowned in its home country that a gutsy Bellevue entrepreneur in 2009 took advantage of a copyright law quirk to open a fraudulent Little Sheep. The real restaurant strutted in two years later, confident its broth would persuade patrons of its authenticity. Although Little Sheep is also fighting the pretender in court, the broth seems to be working its intended magic. The 200-seat restaurant is routinely packed with families anxious to swipe lamb shoulder and mushrooms through garlicky broth strengthened with hambones, lotus seeds, dried lychees, goji berries, and oodles of cumin. Side dishes are equally excellent: Don't miss the vinegar peanuts and lamb pies.
Ton Kiang is a welcoming spot with a winsome, petite woman having her way with a small cleaver on giant slabs of meat. The char siu ($6.95 per pound) appears to be made from shoulder, as the pretty (if slightly messy) pile of meat is comprised of multiple muscles with plenty of bits of flavorful fat attached. There are no unnatural outer red ring on Ton Kiang's BBQ (unlike other places that use red food coloring), just a nice "smoke ring" of sorts, a centimeter or so deep, and a thick, caramelized outer layer. The flavor here is solid and deep.
6. Mike's Noodle House
One of the many noodle houses now en vogue in the International District, Mike's attracts Chinese and Vietnamese noodle aficionados for its Hong Kong-style wheat noodles--hair-thin, elegantly springy filaments--served in a clear chicken broth with a few yellow chives floating on top. If you want to take your noodles one step further, order the wontons, sui kau (sort of a cross between siu mai and wontons), or the squid balls, whose hollow centers contain a gush of coral-colored, sweet shrimp roe.
If you really want to, you can order up a three-course meal at Facing East. But that's not what the legions of food-lovers who are squeezing onto benches and juggling soup bowls at this small, chic strip-mall restaurant have come for. They're here to graze--with variety as their guiding principle--on thick soups ("pottages"), small plates of cabbage or lamb, chow mein, and stretchy yam-flour pancakes studded with oysters or shrimp. One must-try dish, if only to satisfy your curiosity, is the pork "burger," a puffy steamed bun wrapped around braised pork belly, cilantro, and a blend of ground peanuts and granulated sugar. The Chinese-language items on the menu are either offal dishes or sweet shaved ice.
Looking as if suburbia had finally colonized the bamboo-forested rebel camp in House of Flying Daggers, Bamboo Garden does Szechuan food the right way, bringing out its intricate spiciness. Chengdu hand-shaved noodles float in a tingly sesame-paste-thickened broth redolent of Szechuan peppercorns. Ma po tofu hits the tongue with a bum's rush of fermented black beans, roasted chiles, and garlic. You can shy away from the heat with succulent camphor-smoked duck or the Muslim-influenced lamb with cumin, but why travel to Rome only to refuse pasta? The Chengdu-born chefs do tone down the heat for Seattleites, enough that you'll be able to dip into the "sliced fish in hot and spicy gravy" (famous in China for its heat) without crying. Well, without sobbing. It's up to you to decide whether that's a good thing or not.
Handmade noodles are the star of the show at Chiang's Gourmet, a family-run restaurant tucked into the corner of I-5 and Lake City Way. The noodles can be found in some form on each of the three menus: the Americanized Chinese, filled with classics like General Tso's Chicken; the Vegetarian; and the Chinese, pages full of authentic, expertly cooked specialties from Szechuan and nearby provinces. Despite the dingy exterior and slight lack of ambiance, a byproduct of being housed in a former A&W, the meat and vegetables are bright and fresh, prepared in ways that showcase their taste. A quick conversation with the friendly, spiky-haired hostess will always yield a few suggestions for what's best that day.
Call it blasphemy, but Spiced can keep Szechuan food lovers happily dining on the Eastside without wanting for Seattle's goods. Thinly sliced gizzards with a smattering of chilies and the chili-infested dry-pot lamb inspire head-to-toe tingles. Those not up for the heat can cool down with shredded potatoes, pig ears, tongue, and more. And as hard as they push the chilies, it's the vegetable dishes which offer the most welcome reprieve for a mouth-tingling meal.
1. Spicy Talk
Spicy Talk shifted gears at the beginning of 2010 when Cheng Biao Yang moved sushi out and returned to a focus on the Szechuan cuisine his faithful customers crave. Yang has earned a red-hot rep for his fiery preparations at Seven Stars Pepper and Szechuan Chef in Bellevue. His latest venture in a strip mall that's also home to Frankie's Pizza and Pasta features an extensive menu filled with favorites from previous kitchens: green onion pancake, Szechuan cold noodles, chili with tripe, sizzling rice soup, Szechuan won tons. And those are just the starters. Yang has legions of fans who love his Dan Dan hand-shaved noodles, Szechuan crispy chicken, Mapo tofu and pickled pepper squid. Lunch specials are served between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., with a list of dishes for under $9.
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