Review: Wong’s King Seafood

Minor updates 6.12. Haven’t been here in a while, so comments as to your experience will be valuable to others.

Here is another in my endless string of confessions to you, my 90,000 closest friends: I used to be embarrassed when out-of-town guests wanted to get Chinese in Portland. I have a lot of Asian friends. When it comes to food, they know I’m always up for Thai or Japanese, but when they’d suggest Chinese, I was always busy. The problem was I’d had good Chinese in L.A., San Francisco, and Vancouver BC. Compared to those cities, Portland’s best restaurants usually turned out gelatinous, greasy slop. Then I started hearing rumors of a new place named Wong’s King Seafood. Interest piqued, I stopped by one evening.

This is what Cantonese cooking is about. The entrance doors in the mini mall don’t prepare you for what is coming. The dining room is huge, modern, and spotlessly clean – on the way out a companion set a to-go container on a counter. As soon as he picked it up, someone rushed over and began polishing the top. One wall is taken up by large well-maintained fish tanks full of crabs and lobsters. Servers push carts laden with dim sum in every direction. Crisp white tablecloths set off the 60 or so tables; the larger ones have a Lazy Susan in the middle to make sharing easy. You’ll feel like you are in a Chinese banquet hall; the room seats over 200. The wait staff is smartly attired, and always quick to respond, though you may have to wave to get their attention now and then. There is something about the scene that almost feels military in precision.

A few things to consider: even though Wong’s is huge, it packs with customers. There is often a 45 minute wait. Many Asians tend to like eating late, so get there early if possible. You can also go for lunch and will usually be seated fairly quickly. Since you can order off the incredibly cheap lunch menu, plus the dim sum carts and the dinner menu, lunch is a great time to go. One thing to keep in mind, this is not Szechuan food. If you are expecting spicy, you may not find it here. Instead look for the more subtle layers of flavor that are the foundations of Cantonese food. Of course you can always add some of the hot sauces that are on every table. Best of all, the prices are reasonable.

We’ll start with dim sum, a Cantonese term, literally translated as dot heart or order heart, meaning order to one’s heart’s content. At this point in my life, I’ve had my fair share of dim sum in San Francisco and Vancouver BC. While not as good as the great places in BC, this is by far, the best I have had in the Northwest. The variety is large, the carts actually have fresh dishes (I watched them refresh one cart just because the items had been on it too long), the staff is very knowledgeable and doesn’t hesitate to help you with your selections. It is fun peeking into all the tantalizing steamers as they pull off lid after lid, giving you a quick glance inside. If you ask about something that is not on their cart, the staff will send the right one to your table. Prices range from $2.00-$5.00. Everything I had was good, though you have to allow for variance in personal taste. I liked the gow: shrimp, pork, or red bean dumplings in light wrappings full of fragrance. More winners include the vivid steamed pork buns, sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, and the delicately flavored pot stickers (though they can be a bit doughy at times).

Moving on, try the congee porridge popular in many parts of Asia, with flavorful bits of pork, rice noodles simply stuffed with shrimp, han sui gok; pork in sweet sticky rice that has been thrown into the deep fryer, or the similar wu gok with taro instead of pork. Still hungry? The char siu bao, BBQ pork buns and onions, or red bean buns may be just what you need. The carts just keep coming and coming. If you find yourself totally lost, and unable to understand what the servers pushing the carts are saying, ask to see the dim sum menu. It is full of pictures and little descriptions, which can help the layman find his way through the process. If you are feeling really brave, try the chicken paws. You’ll get a whole plate of little feet, which taste exactly like I would expect – not my favorite dish.

At the end, there is a cart full of sweet red bean buns, wonderful sweet tofu, mango pudding, sesame seed balls… just point and you’ll be surprised.

Lunch specials are inexpensive; for $6.00 you get a good egg-drop soup. This is followed by a large plate with a choice of items. Start with the egg roll. The crisp layers crackle when you bite into them. Light little crab puffs follow that actually taste like crab, the best I’ve had in Portland. The accompanying plum sauce has great depth of flavors. A huge mound of fried rice is as good as it looks, moist and packed with different items. Unfortunately, the mains are not nearly as delicious as they used to be. The first few times I came here, the Northern China Mongolian beef was the best I’d had in ages; layers upon layers of flavor, and a depth I never thought I’d find in Portland Chinese. The same was true for the gong bao (kung pao) chicken from the western regions. Now that has all changed. These dishes, in a word, suck; they are so bad I couldn’t get any of the lunch specials down; they tasted overwhelmingly of vinegar and were terribly unbalanced. It’s too bad, because the lunch plates are a bargain, but I’d do the dim sum instead.

Entreés are wide-ranging, but from my experience, don’t try the run of the mill stuff. The cooks seem to pay more attention to seafood and more exotic items. The dinner menu is 20 pages long with lots of pictures of the different dishes. Reading it makes you feel like you have traveled to a new world. I’ve never seen such a good selection of soups, some of them hard to find in restaurants anywhere. Try the house special won ton soup for something better than you’ll be expecting. Of course seafood is a big feature here and Wong’s manages it better than anything else. The shark fin soup bursts with flavor; all the seafood soups are loaded with fish.

Chinese spareribs are a feast, the meat practically falling off the bone, leaving you begging for more. They cook chicken and duck really well, giving them a great crispy skin that crackles when you bite into it. Unfortunately, unless you get them with a sauce, the meat itself can be a bit bland. Firepots of stock are delivered steaming to your table, waiting to be plied to your liking with thinly sliced meats and crispy fresh vegetables. Under Chef Wong’s hands, even dishes like barbecued duck rise to new heights. Nothing oily here; the skin is crisp and bursts with flavor.

As I said, seafood is your best bet. The abalone is tender and silky, taking me back to diving for them when I was a kid. Here it is served several ways, but my favorite so far is thinly sliced with mushrooms. Scallops with XO sauce are perfectly cooked, juicy and flavorful; the same can be said for the salty-spicy prawns. The salt-and-pepper squid is perfectly cooked – crunchy and lightly seasoned with coarse salt and flakes of hot pepper.

Wong’s King may be a bit out-of-the-way at 87th and Division, but if you have a craving for good Cantonese cooking, it is worth the drive from anywhere in the Portland area. We no longer have to be ashamed and change the subject when an out-of-town guest suggests Chinese. I’m not going to sit here and tell you everything they serve is fantastic – the food definitely misses the mark at times, especially if you stray away from dim sum. I will say it is the best of its type in Portland, and gives Vancouver BC a run for its money.

 

  • Phone: (503) 788-8883
  • Address: 8733 SE Divison st., Portland OR. 97266 (86th & Division). Google Map
  • Hours: Mon-Fri 10:00 am – 11:00 pm. Sat & Sun: 9:30 am-11 pm.
  • Website: WongsKing.com

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. FoodGroupie says

    Unfortunately, this is still far and away the best Chinese restaurant in the Portland area, and all the way down to the Bay Area.

    I have never tried the entrees that FoodDude tried, ie., Mongolian beef or kung pao chicken at this restaurant. I don’t really consider them the sine qua non of a Chinese restuarant, especially one that specializes in Cantonese or Shanghainese cuisines.

    It’s a little bit like criticizing a French chef for making a poor paella. Northern Chinese cuisine and Cantonese cuisine are very different. Unfortunately for a Chinese restaurant to survive in most places in the US, they have to be generalists, offering the hoary stir fried rice and dishes from different cuisines in order to placate the American public.

  2. FoodGroupie says

    Food Dude,

    I must apologize. Your post regarding Wong’s King piqued my interest and I went back. This is what I ordered: Peking duck, King’s Spareribs, Pepper Salted Cod, Mongolian beef, King’s Mushroom with tender greens.

    The duck was excellent. the Salted Cod was battered in a very light batter– you could taste the fish, but not very salty. I am not sure if that is a bad thing. The spareribs were a little bland but tender. The mushrooms were good. And the Mongolian beef. It was weird. You were right. I’ve never tasted a Mongolian beef dish where the vinegar taste was so strong.

    I wanted you to be wrong so that Portland wouldn’t be relegated back to a backwaters again in regards to Chinese food. Now I’m not so sure it’s not the case…..

  3. Food Dude says

    Thanks for the update FoodGroupie. I didn’t want to see it go downhill either, but I have to be honest. Hopefully it’s just a phase; and maybe this will be a wakeup call.

  4. jono says

    I know this is an oldish review, but in the year or so that I’ve been regularly going there, the only problem is its consistency. Last night I had wonderfully thin and fatty pan fried pork shoulder meat with scallions and onions, delicious cod, and melt-in-your mouth egg tofu stuffed with pork paste (I make a habit of trying new dishes whenever I can resist the temptation of the tried-and-true). The eggplant that paired with the cod in the hot pot, however, was mushy. Again, just consistency – sometimes you’ll get a dish that seemed to get ignored somewhere from the kitchen to your table. With so much to offer, however, its easy to overlook. I’d give it a higher rating, but that’s just me (and perhaps due to the dearth of quality local Chinese).

  5. cupsncakes says

    I agree with jono, and as a san francisco transplant (I know, I know, boo hoo), I have been bummed for 7 years about the void of even average chinese food in portland. UNTIL I found Sungari in the pearl. You wanna talk eggplant? Oh my. I get takeout there at least twice a week now. Thus, my car smells like a restaurant delivery vehicle.

  6. mb says

    Evidently we ordered the wrong thing
    Both were so bad we refused “to-go” boxes
    Cant remember what one item was but the other was a fried rice with shrimp and chicken. It was seriously gross with this thick gloppy cornstarchy GEW all over the top. It looked like VOMIT
    Definitely not rushing back there any time soon

  7. Pizza Dude says

    Here’s a big vote on the positive side for this restaurant. Despite some of the reviews here we took a chance and took our out of town guests there last week and had six or seven of the entrees. While my wife and I are not that knowledgable re. Chinese food our guests were. She’s a native of Nanning and moved to the US last year with her American husband who has spent many years in that part of the world and is fluent in the language. Their opinion was that this place was first-rate – as good as any of the Chinese restaurants they been to on the west coast and darned near as good as the best restaurants in her hometown. I’ve known this guy for over three decades and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t just shining me on – they were both quite enthusiastic about the place. From my non-foodie perspective the service was excellent, the vegetables fresh and all was quite tasty. We’ll go back.

  8. Marya says

    You might take another look–I’ve noticed the quality of their dim sum has gone up quite a bit the last six months. Maybe someone new is cooking.

  9. Jill-O says

    Had dim sum there on New Years Day and it was as good as it ever was. Excellent shumai, good ha gau and other dumplings (taro, glutinous rice, fried shrimp), delicious roast pork, and other stuff. Great service (constant water and tea refills, empty plates/baskets cleared) too. It’s the best I have had in town by far.

    • Food Dude says

      Thanks Jill, I’m going to give it a try over the weekend. I’d love it if the dim sum was as good as when it first opened!

  10. Greg Hamilton says

    If you’re in the mood to check another variation on Portland Chinese food, do yourself a favor and check out Chinese Delicacy – located on SE 82nd, just north of Duke. The venue is like a pint-size Wong’s King – with Chinese television running in the background. I get take-out here at least once a week and have never been dissapointed. Yummy steamed pot stickers, Hot Garlic Scallops, Mongolian Beef, Happy Family and Delicacy Fried Rice are our staples, but there are a wealth of options to be had.

  11. Broke And Hungry says

    I just moved down here from the Emerald City where you can find great deals on Asian food in the Int’l District.

    I’d heard about Wong’s King and looked forward to trying it. I went there with 2 friends and was sorely disappointed.

    I was shocked by the prices on the menu. “Even most entrees are only around $16.00.” $16 is too much! I am used to paying $10 or less per dish.

    My friend ordered honey walnut shrimp, her favorite. The amount of food was paltry.

  12. Jill-O says

    I agree, Wong’s King is best for dim sum. Try Yummy Yummy on SE 82nd for a great all around Chinese food experience.

  13. Stu Schaller says

    I ate there with my wife about a month ago, and it was really bad. Been there many times, but it appears it has deteriorated recently.

  14. land_carp says

    I don’t like this place. Been there three times on the urging of a Chinese-American friend, but have been unimpressed. The ostentatious displays of shark’s fin and VO brandy may be authentically Hong Kong, but I think they’re tacky. The food flavors seem bland and the textures seem uniform compared to the Bay Area Chinese places I used to frequent, and the fancy dining room did not make up for the noise and chaos of the serving area. I much prefer Sungari downtown for higher-end Chinese food and Chinatown in Beaverton for good dim sum, served by a friendly and less-stressed staff.

  15. Dr.Stu says

    Not the same kind of Chinese, but we like Fu Jin over on Hawthorne (about 3500 SE) a LOT better than this place, and it’s a LOT cheaper. Their crisy eggplant (they will add meat if you wish…I have it with BBQ pork slices) is superb. My wife loves their lemon chicken.

    For Pot Stickers we like Stickers in Sellwood best, and they have what we think is the best won-ton soup in town….also a LOT cheper than Wong’s King…

  16. Likes To Eat says

    Having been to Hong Kong and enjoyed the great banquet houses there, Wong King is a short trip back to wonderful memories of Dim Sum. I find the carts and the staff on par with any of the great restaurants in New York and San Francisco. If standard Americanized chinese cuisine is what you like this is not your kind of place.

  17. Katrina says

    HORRIBLE & BAD, if any of my friends want to book Wong’s King I will advise them not to. There’s no point in having them go through the same experience that my husband, family, relatives, guest, and I had to go through.

    The service and organization at Wong’s King was AWFUL for my Wedding event. My wedding (delete and) guests had to suffer the heat; it was so hot that I, the bride, almost fainted if I hadn’t drunk ice cold water. After the wedding, most of my guests and relatives ended up being sick due to the heat. Whoever plans to book this restaurant for future wedding events, PLEASE DON’T DO IT.

    The AC was broken for more than a month and they didn’t notify me. Two weeks before my wedding, I stopped by with my husband and cousin for dinner to paid half of the wedding cost at Wong’s King. I saw a big ugly junk of the temporary AC unit in the middle of hallway. I asked the assistant Manager if that AC unit will be removed and if the main AC unit will be restored by my wedding. Summer is HOT, and I don’t expect my guests to enjoy their food while enduring blazing heat. The assistant manager said YES, but in the end they didn’t remove it and added another AC unit at the end of the room which looked even uglier then before. Even with 2 AC units, it was still freaking hot that everybody was ANGRY. They didn’t even hand out cold water to the guests unless we requested it.

    I booked 17 tables and paid more than $500 per table. It costs me more than $10K including 15% service charge. As you can see it’s not a cheap price. As of now, my family and relatives are still angry about Wong’s King service. My family and I are still angry about how the Manager and Assistant Manager weren’t responsible enough to double check about the AC unit before answering me. When the event ended, they told my parents and I that the AC was broken couple day ago and that they were trying their best. If they were trying their best, they should have notified me a month ago or don’t promise me when I stopped by 2 wks before my wedding. THIS IS NOT HOW YOU DO BUSINESS.

    The least they could have done was buy fans before the wedding started, instead of before they went to go buy them after the wedding started. Could they have not thought about that before? If the AC is out, then at least replace them with fans. I believe that we didn’t have to ask them for that, they should have known.

    In the end, a wedding is very important to the bride and groom, it puts a promise on the bond that the couple created. I know they say that life comes with the unexpected, good or bad, but this could have been avoided. I have to say that I REGRET ever placing my wedding dinner in the hands of Wong’s King.

  18. garden girl says

    So who has the best dim sum in PDX right now? I was craving it today (go figure who wants to sit inside on a warm, sunny day) and my husband suggested we head out to 82 St. I nixed that idea and said, “Let’s just go down to Fong Chong.” So we did. Big mistake. The dining room was almost empty. At noon. On a weekend. We should have left immediately, but, instead, sat down. I hadn’t been there for years and many of the torn posters on the wall date from that time. The soy sauce and hot chili oil containers were sticky and looked like they hadn’t been wiped down for a very long time. One good thing: the dim sum carts appeared immediately. However the wrappings for the shumai, rice noodles and potstickers were thick and some were tough and inedible. Again we should have walked out. I pondered how long the dim sum had sat in their warmers – a week or more? I’m wondering how they passed the health inspector and if I will live to face Mother’s Day brunch…

  19. Gary Scott says

    I love Chinese food almost as much as I love pizza but unfortunately I’ve stopped eating it at many restaurants because I refuse to eat at any restaurant that serves shark fin soup. I’m sorry but I refuse to support any restaurant that supports kiling of sharks only for their fins.

    I have eaten at Wong’s King years ago and the food was quite good and I really miss the dim sum but alas I wont be eating there anytime in the future unless they drop shark fin soup from the menu.

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