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I tend to waffle a fair amount when asked to pick a favorite restaurant, dish, sauce or vegetable (Note my ongoing series of posts on favorite dishes includes 100 different items. Not exactly taking a stand there.) My favorites fluctuate based on an array of variables, including my mood and the barometric pressure.
But Chinese-American food is my sentimental favorite cuisine, full stop. This is the food I grew up eating, and the food that so fascinates me that I wrote my master's thesis about it. It was the first cuisine about which I knew enough to be snobby: I remember forcefully steering a gentile friend who tried to order curry chicken at a chop suey joint toward the sweet-and-sour section. As much as I love the rituals of fine dining, none of them will ever feel as familiar to me as paper Mai Tai umbrellas; chopsticks rubberbanded together at their ends; greasy chow mein noodles and check presenters loaded with stale fortune cookies and orange wedges.
There are surely eaters who scoff at egg foo young adrift in gravy; cornstarched sesame chicken and eerily pale moo goo gai pan. To understand why they shouldn't, visit any of the restaurants on this list. Or visit all of them: Chinese-American food makes for a fine weekly habit.
As always, the restaurants are arbitrarily ordered, except that the winner is positioned in the very first spot. And Erin Thompson compiled our contributors' comments.
The best thing about China Harbor is that's a large venue with a great view of Lake Union. The menu is old-fashioned American-Chinese, relying heavily on combination meals. You'll get a soup (pick between egg flower, hot and sour, wonton), appetizer (pick between barbecued pork, spring rolls, pot-stickers) and a choice among entrees such as General Tso's Chicken or Orange Flavor Beef.
9. Moon Temple Restaurant
Moon Temple is a little dark, a little dingy and legendary for tall pours. But Moon Temple also sports famously friendly servers, an '80s-heavy jukebox and... did we already mention the stiff drinks? Plus, as the bar's tucked in the back of a restaurant--giving it something of a speakeasy vibe--you can snag a plate of noodles, potstickers, or almond-fried chicken to soak up the booze until the kitchen closes at 1 a.m.
Judy Fu's Snappy Dragon is one of the best Chinese restaurants north of the Ship Canal. The Dragon delivers even though it's housed in a very folksy, safe northeast Seattle neighborhood that teems with Subaru wagons and backyard hibachis. But what truly separates the Snappy Dragon from the pack is its hallmark dish, jiaozi--a pork-filled boiled dumpling not far removed from the venerable pot sticker. It's difficult to explain what makes jiaozi superior to its better-known sibling. It just is, OK?
There are restaurants across the city that reflect a range of culinary traditions associated with China, but no restaurant better encapsulates the region-specific tradition of eating Chinese in Seattle than Louie's Cuisine. The restaurant traces its roots back to the 1930s, when the Louie family served some of the best food in Chinatown. There aren't any real misses on the lengthy menu, but oyster beef, garlic chicken with black bean sauce and lobster sauce prawns are reliable standbys.
6. Uptown China
Drop by this busy neighborhood joint for perennial palate-stimulating favorites such as General Tsao's chicken, Mongolian beef, and mu shoo pork. Service is always efficient and deft, and the fare here is ideal for beer-drinking, so beware the Key Arena pre- and post-event crowds. The clientele is mostly Caucasians, asking cautiously if the "Happy Family" dish has anything spicy or mushy or that in any other way might make them an unhappy family, but the menu is far from risky. It's General Tso's chicken. It's honey walnut prawns. It's perfect for out-of-towners who want to have an "exotic" international meal before their Storm game.
You know you've found a great neighborhood bar when the strangers there decide to reseat themselves according to team loyalties. Roxbury Lanes is such a bar, but it's also a bowling alley and a Chinese diner, serving fried dry chicken wings that could go tip-to-tip with any wing in the International District. Sweet with fresh garlic, the wings are meaty and crisp, and pair wonderfully with cheap Bloody Marys on Sunday afternoons. Roxbury's kitchen stays open until 4 a.m., serving such fine-tuned plates as a plush fried rice, scattered with peas, carrots, and stones of roast pork.
4. South China
Eight years after relocating from Beacon Hill, some customers still grumble that the egg flower soup and almond chicken with extra gravy aren't as tasty out in Bellevue. But chop suey devotees won't let a smidgen of gentrification interfere with their heartfelt appreciation for Perry Ko's South China's timeless versions of the blandest entries in the Americanized Cantonese canon, including mu shu pork, egg foo yung and a much beloved chicken sub-gum chow mein.
While there are Thai, Vietnamese, and Asian joints aplenty, few Capitol Hill restaurants serve traditional Chinese food. This cozy restaurant--with its red-tinged lighting, low ceilings, tiny dining area, and adjacent bar--feels like a vintage Chinese lounge, and does brisk business with neighborhood regulars and single diners. The menu at Chungee's favors simple flavors and classic dishes--hearty green onion pancakes, heaps of thick chow mein noodles, and fresh veggies like bok choy and green beans spiced and sautéed in garlic.
2. Black Pearl
Black Pearl, a narrow sliver of a dining room tucked inside a Wedgwood strip-mall block, isn't much to look at, and some of the food is admittedly Americanized--I'm pretty sure neither the Sichuans nor the Hunans put cranberries in their chicken or balsamic vinaigrette on their fish--but a majority of the menu is authentic and delicious. The General Tso's Chicken is made with fat chunks of white meat and is appropriately spiced; the mu shu pork is studded with fresh sautéed veggies and wood ear mushrooms; and, best of all, the hand-rolled chow mein noodles are satisfyingly thick, starchy, and filling.
1. Tai Tung
There are restaurants within walking distance of Tai Tung that serve smarter, braver Cantonese food, yet Tai Tung will probably outlast them all. Dining at the 77-year-old restaurant is like training a spyglass on the early 20th century, when American-born eaters were still puzzling out chop suey and chow mein. The extraordinary alchemy of soy, garlic, and ginger that thrust Chinese restaurants into the mainstream is on display in nearly every dish on Tai Tung's very lengthy menu, which surely includes your first Chinese-food crush. For the quintessential Tai Tung experience, have your egg rolls, egg drop soup, mu shu chicken, and Peking duck at the white formica counter.Find the best Seattle has to offer on-the-go with our 'Best Of' Mobile App