As the most populous city in the world, Shanghai has been shaped by travelers and settlers from all over. This is particularly evident in the city's food, which has been influenced by the culinary styles from both the northern and southern regions of China, as well as dishes from throughout the entire continent of Asia. This cultural integration holds true at Shanghai Café, where the chefs use recipes the Hu family has spent the past half-century perfecting. These recipes follow various Shanghai cooking principles—for instance, the original flavors of meats and fish are allowed to shine through rather than being drowned out by heavy marinades or sauces that are too sweet or salty.
Though the recipes are traditional, they respect modern, healthful eating habits by incorporating natural broths and stocks and limiting the use of oil. Some of the restaurant's signature dishes include boiled dumplings, steamed pork buns, and dim sum—a Shanghai staple. In the spirit of Shanghai's pan-Asian tendencies, the menus also include Thai dishes, such as pad kee mao (drunken noodles), nigiri, sashimi, and maki.
Since 1987, Seven Seas has served the Washington metropolitan area with authentic Chinese cuisine, featuring a number of entrees that go well beyond the standard offerings. Browse the lunch or dinner menus for a variety of savory seafood selections, such as the fresh squid, sautéed in a black-bean sauce, then garnished with green peppers, onions, and jalapenos ($12.95). Or try the lightly battered shrimp topped with premium walnuts ($16.95). Those leaning toward chicken can keep leaning, eventually falling face-first into the string bean Szechuan, which features minced chicken stir-fried in a light brown sauce ($9.95). With chefs who have experience with Mandarin, Cantonese, Szechuan, Taiwanese, and American methods of cooking, Seven Seas’ massive menu will satisfy even the pickiest of diners. To drink, Seven Seas offers a hodgepodge of Oriental and Californian wines, plus premium sake, such as the Sho Chiku Bai Organic Nama ($16), a libation that’s as balanced as a tabby-cat gymnast.
His entrées may be named after animals, but chef Tai keeps his Chinese cuisine absolutely free of meat. He uses imitation meats to craft standout dishes such as pumpkin chicken, kung pao squid, and shredded pork. As if to emphasize his passion for natural foods, Tai cooks only with pure vegetable oil and refrains from flavoring his dishes with MSG or dark magic. These restrictions sometimes force him to get creative, but the results are delicious whether he’s using soybean protein to make chicken or transforming white yams into baby shrimp and squid.
Spring Garden's unassuming exterior and no-frills decor don't hinder it from being a neighborhood staple. That's because the restaurant prefers to let its food do all the wowing. In the kitchen, chefs whip up more than 100 different dishes that are sure to satisfy almost any craving—whether it's for something spicy, something sweet, or something vegetarian. They simmer tender scallops in garlic sauce, and they tuck slices of beef into bowls of red curry. Sweet-and-sour sauce slathers pork, and noodle get pan-fried, stir-fried, or sautéed with hot chili peppers for an extra kick.
Chopstix Cafe & Grill at Urbana serves Chinese cuisine, only with a healthy twist. Instead of stir-frying ingredients or shooting them with chili-flavored lasers, chefs there specialize in grill-style cooking that results in tastier, better-for-you dishes. The cafe's list of quality ingredients doesn't hurt, either, and includes pork tenderloin, extra-large shrimp, and white-meat chicken that can be found in such popular dishes as the chicken with broccoli. As a full-service restaurant, Chopstix also pours adult beverages, including beer, wine, and Polynesian-style drinks.
Celebrities and politicos alike—including former residents of a little place on Pennsylvania Avenue—flee from the District to the Virginia suburbs for one thing: Peking Gourmet Inn’s peking duck. Founder Eddi Tsui decided to make the bird the centerpiece of his eatery way back in 1978, when the Falls Church spot first opened its doors. To set his peking duck apart, the chef eschewed store-bought hoisin for his own recipe, perfected his homemade pancakes, and even began growing his own jumbo spring onions. Prepared tableside, the meal is truly this spot’s—and perhaps Falls Church’s—claim to fame, and even made an appearance on the The Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate”, where it was interviewed by chef Duff Goldman. Though the duck has stolen Peking Gourmet Inn’s spotlight for the past three decades, the chef's other dishes still manage to hold their own. Items like sea scallops sautéed with roasted garlic, peking-style lamb chops, and singapore rice noodles round off the menu of Northern Chinese specialties, which also includes tried-and-true standbys such as szechuan beef and chicken chow mein.