Traveling thousands of miles for a great meal might seem extreme to some, but it makes sense to members of the Zhen family. As a group who's passionate about good food, they understand why some people travel just to taste delicacies from around the world. Fortunately, local diners need only travel as far as Taste of China—the Zhen family's second restaurant—to find fresh Chinese food that made the Chinese Restaurant News' Top 100 Chinese Restaurants in the USA list for three consecutive years.
Inside the restaurant, aromas waft from the semi-open kitchen, carrying the promise of dishes such as tender beef in spicy Szechuan sauce or shredded mu shu pork with wood ear mushrooms and savory pancakes. For a taste of something truly unique, diners can ask to to eat from the test-kitchen menu of seasonal dishes made from rare and elusive ingredients.
Finely chopped vegetables. Seared slivers of chicken. Sauces that balance sweet and savory notes. These ingredients have come crackling together in the kitchen of Chen's Dynasty since the eatery’s eponymous founder opened it in 1985. Jacob Echeverria took the reins two decades later, and as a longtime associate of the Chen family, Jacob adopted their culinary style.
The Sichuan- and Hunan-style recipes belong to past generations of the Chens, who have eschewed photo albums and immortal butlers to pass down specialties such as peking duck glazed with honey and served with steaming pancakes and hoisin sauce. Another dish, pan-fried oysters, drops onto tables accompanied by onions and ginger, or sizzling with black-bean sauce.
Growing up among the clatter of silverware and plates in his parents’ restaurants, owner Jack Chu went off on his own after he earned his MBA. Instead of clearing tables and standing over steaming pots, he went to his family’s homeland to work as a business consultant for 20 years. There, he tasted authentic Chinese food unlike the Americanized version that graced plates back at home. When he moved back to Portland with his wife, they opened Dragonwell Bistro. In the restaurant, large, arched windows stretch from the floor to the exposed rafters, allowing natural light to bring to life the color of dishes arranged artfully on plates. Chef Chen draws upon more than a decade of experience as he forges sweet and savory sauces, such as a combination of champagne and orange juice destined to glaze lightly battered chicken. A selection of seafood dishes are forged from prawns, scallops, crab, and lobster like Robinson Crusoe’s tea set, and sake, soju, ginger-infused vodka, and green-tea liqueur add exotic twists to cocktails.
Foodsmiths at Mandarin Cove craft generous portions of more than 100 classic Chinese dishes. The expansive menu, which has helped make this eatery a local favorite and intergalactic mystery since the '80s, includes mu shu pork ($11.50), sizzling scallops with prawns ($14.95), mandarin eggplant ($9.95), and mongolian beef ($10.95), which arrives at tabletops festooned with green onion, rice noodles, and hot peppers. With a wide variety of tasty choices, diners can pick and choose among poultry or vegetarian options, pairing their meals with hot soup ($5.95–$18.50) or shareable appetizers ($5.50–$8.95). The spacious atrium-style setting lends ample room for engaging in conversation with groups of friends or hard-working stunt doubles.
In addition to awarding Lucky Strike a spot on its list of Best Restaurants in 2009, Portland Monthly praised the eatery for its ability to "revise everything you know about Chinese food." While the chefs source ingredients from local producers whenever possible, they also embrace the fiery flavors of Sichuan cuisine by incorporating such traditional spices as prickly ash and Sichuan peppercorn. These incendiary ingredients appear throughout the menu, which includes signatures such as twice-cooked pork belly, braised eggplant, and sweet-and-sour chicken.
To complement bites, the restaurant features a selection of locally brewed beers that rotates regularly. Bartenders mix cocktails with spirits infused in-house, including the signature vodka with lemongrass, ginger, and thai chili.
Wine-red and jet-black walls lend a lounge-like ambience to the dining room, which features dark wooden tables and traditional Chinese wall art. From the ceilings, red chandeliers light the space more effectively than a portrait of a supernova.