Note: This review has been updated. You can find the new one here.
Here is another in my endless string of confessions to you, my 25,000 closest friends: I hate Portland Chinese.
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 suggest Chinese, I always seem to be busy that night. The problem is, I’d had good Chinese in L.A., San Francisco, and, last week, Vancouver BC. Compared to those cities, Portland’s best restaurants turn 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 and have never looked back.
This is what Cantonese cooking is all 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 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. 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 whole scene that almost feels military in precision.
A few things first: even though Wong’s is a huge banquet hall type of place, it packs with customers. On weekends there can be an hour wait. Asians tend to like eating late, so get there early if possible. You can also go for lunch and will usually be seated immediately. 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.
Lunch specials can be a great deal. They are Americanized in nature, but far beyond the usual fare. For $6.00 you get a really good egg-drop soup, not the fake, flat stuff you are probably used to. This is followed by a huge plate with a selection of items. Start with the egg roll. The crisp layers crackle when you bite into them, not the sodden oily thing one expects in Portland. Light little crab puffs follow that actually taste like crab! 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 flavor. The Northern China Mongolian beef was the best I’ve had in ages; layers upon layers of flavor, a depth I never thought I’d find in Portland Chinese. I would say the same about gong bao (kung pao) chicken from the western regions. These are not the unbalanced bombs you are used to, but subtle layers of flavor that dance across your palate. Keep in mind, this entire lunch was $6.00. Be prepared to stagger out the door and directly to the sofa for a long afternoon nap.
At this point in my life, I’ve had my fair share of dim sum in San Francisco and Vancouver BC. While not quite as good as the best places in BC, this is by far, the best I have 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 varience in individual taste. I loved the shrimp dumplings in their light wrappings, and the vivid steamed pork buns.
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. Of course seafood is a big feature here and Wong’s delivers on its promise. The shark fin soup bursts with flavor. All the seafood soups are loaded with fish. Other more standard soups are available too. The salt-and-pepper calamari is perfectly cooked – crunchy and lightly seasoned with coarse salt and flakes of hot pepper. The gau choi gow is terrific with tender fresh shrimp, some of the best I’ve ever had. Entrees are wide-ranging. Chinese spareribs are a feast, the meat practically falling off the bone, which leaves you begging for more. 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. 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 barbequed duck rise to new heights. Nothing oleaginous here, the skin is crisp and bursts with flavor. 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. Best of all, the prices are quite reasonable. Even most entrees are only around $16.00.
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 definetly misses the mark at times, especially the dessert carts. I will say it is the best of its type in Portland, and gives Vancouver BC a run for its money.
3 out of 4 stars:
503-788-8883. 8733 SE Divison, Portland (86th & Division). Google Map10:30am-11:00pm daily. Fri-Sat: 10:30am-Midnight. Dim sum until 3 pm
(I still say chicken feet taste exactly like I would expect them to.)
Tags: $, 3 to 3.5 Stars, Brunch, Chinese, Lunch, Open Late, Open Monday,Open Sunday, Review, SE Portland, Seafood, wheelchair accessible
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- Anonymous Says:
I agree some exquisite Chinese food is rather bland and could use some zip…my solution is to bring along a small container of Thai chili powder. Oh by the way, happy birthday!
August 6th, 2005 at 11:09 am
- PDXFoodDude Says:
um, thanks. So I’ve looked back on don’t see where I mentioned my birthday which means you must know me. Hmmm… Well it is a good thing. I never thought I’d turn 30. Cough. Suffering a bit this morning.
How about sending me an email so I know who you are?
August 6th, 2005 at 12:32 pm
- frykitty Says:
Portland has good Chinese food??
You have answered a long-standing wish!
Sadly, it is pretty hard to get to for us car-free folk, but next time we’re renting, I simply must try this place.
August 7th, 2005 at 2:40 pm
- ExtraMSG Says:
Being on Division, Wong’s is pretty easy by bus. btw, here are pictures from a dinner there:
August 7th, 2005 at 9:14 pm
- Anonymous Says:
Does anyone know if Wong’s is vegetarian friendly? My wife is fairly strict about eating no animal products (all dairy is ok), and while I’m a meat eater I hate to visit places that have a single lonely veggie option. I’m desperate to visit Wong’s, though, so am hoping they’d at least have five or six options to keep her happy.
August 8th, 2005 at 11:25 am
- ExtraMSG Says:
Chinese in general is very veggie friendly with tofu and lots of vegetables. Wong’s has a large menu and when I’ve gone with vegetarians, they didn’t seem to have a problem, but I don’t specifically remember how many items there were.
August 8th, 2005 at 1:57 pm
- Ruben Bailey Says:
PDX Chinese def. lacks…I have never tried Wongs, but your thoughts on Sungari Pearl? I think by far they do the best Chinese in town, and yes at a hefty cost!!
August 8th, 2005 at 2:06 pm
- PDXFoodDude Says:
I normally pay a lot of attention to the vegetarian dishes on menus since some of my friends lean that way, but for some reason I missed it. Unfortunately they don’t have a web site, but you might give them a call (The number is on the review). That being said, there are usually quite a few vegetarian options on Chinese menus.
August 8th, 2005 at 2:45 pm
- PDXFoodDude Says:
I like Sungari pearl and think it was the best Chinese in Portland until Wongs came along. I think it suffers from inconsistancy – one week I’ll have a dish and it is terrific, the next week it is bland. Wongs is also more authentic, and as you pointed out, less expensive.
For those that pay attention to health department ratings, Sungari scores suprisingly low for such a new building.
August 8th, 2005 at 2:48 pm
- ExtraMSG Says:
One problem in the discussion of Chinese, of course, is that so often people are just talking about Cantonese or Hong Kong style Chinese. Sungari, of course, doesn’t have have that emphasis, plus they’re trying to be a bit upscale.
But there are places that do somethings better than others, and somethings quite well, actually.
eg, Chinese Delicacy, over on 82nd somewhat south, specializes in Chinese-Korean. ie, the food of ethnic Koreans in China. Their typical General Tso this and Kung Pao that are mediocre, but their specialties can be fantastic. I still dream about their Korean meatballs.
One of the problems is that they’ve been burned by whitey, though, so you’ll have to go in either with someone they trust or be insistent on ordering specials and asking for more interesting dishes, like whatever is in Chinese on the wall.
The same is true for many places in Portland. eg, the salt and pepper squid and other seafood dishes at Thien Hong are quite good, but I’ve had some terrible typical Chinese. But they’re Vietnamese-Chinese, so some of their Vietnamese specialties might be good, but I’ve never tried them.
And then you have places like Sam Ho, where items like Geoduck on the specials board can be good and certain dim sum items can be good. But everything is just decent, not especially good.
August 9th, 2005 at 10:15 am
- Anonymous Says:
i’m a little late at posting…but do you know where you can get amazing crab rangoon in PDX? i’d love any advice you can share…
August 11th, 2005 at 11:10 am
- Easy Eats Says:
Thanks for the review, when I came to Portland someone recommended Legin, it was ok, but not spectacular, I’ll have to give Wong’s King a try.
I’m always up for new Dim Sum places.
August 28th, 2005 at 3:06 pm
- Anonymous Says:
Accurate review of Wong’s–my wife and I particularly like the dim sum on weekends–despite the wait!
However, I was a bit confused by the comment that Thai and Japanese food in Portland is superior to Chinese. I’ve spent considerable time in both Thailand and Japan and find the representative fare here to be disappointing, to say the least (with the exception of Syun izakaya).
Especially Thai food–have never had a dish here that was remotely authentic tasting.
But that’s just my opinion.
Any suggestions welcome!
September 4th, 2005 at 1:20 pm
- PDXFoodDude Says:
“However, I was a bit confused by the comment that Thai and Japanese food in Portland is superior to Chinese.
I only say that to point out exactly how bad the Chinese food has been in Portland. IT HAS BEEN JUST TERRIBLE. By comparison, Thai food has been a beacon of light. Notice I don’t say it is authentic because I agree – it is nothing like ‘real’ Thai food, but if you can enjoy the Americanized version (and I can), then it is much better then any of the Chinese has been previous to Wong’s King. Make sense?
Especially Thai food–have never had a dish here that was remotely authentic tasting.”
September 4th, 2005 at 1:25 pm
- Elizabeth Says:
MSG ALERT! Went there this morning to test the waters before taking my allergy-ridden mother there, and while they say you can request ‘no msg’ on dishes ordered off the menu, you’re SOL on the dim sum carts. We ended up back at Legin, the old standby, with its reliable menu and no MSG anywhere. Seemed a bit empty even at noon, and Wong’s was PACKED, so they may be losing some business … but not mine, or any other of my MSG-avoiding friends and family.
October 23rd, 2005 at 12:17 pm
- bluto Says:
While I agree that the dim sum at Wong’s is uniformly good, and definitely not greasy, the variety and number of selections is woefully inadequate. A far wider range of menu items is available at Fong Chong, whose quality has improved substantially over the past 6 months. my other former favorite, Legin, has plummeted in my esteem, and the worst dim sum in town is surely Jin Wah in Beaverton. For now Fong Chong is the best dim sum available in Portland, though it pales in comparison to the best dim sum in San Francisco(Yank Sing)
November 3rd, 2005 at 3:36 pm
- Food Dude Says:
Now that you mention it, they do have a more limited array of things available as dim sum, though I have heard there is a greater choice on weekends. On the other hand, I’ll always pick quality over quantity.
I agree with your assesment of Legin, I think it is terrible.
Anyone else tried Fong Chong?
November 3rd, 2005 at 3:58 pm
- Food Dude Says:
Bluto: I tried to answer your email, but the spam filter on your end keeps kicking it back. If you add me to your whitelist, let me know and I’ll answer.
November 3rd, 2005 at 4:25 pm
- Dan Says:
Thanks for the thorough review a friend from Bend wants to meet and eat there soon but…
The alert at the top of this review dated 11.05 for possible health department closure is worrisome and I don’t find “the link listed on the right side” that you refer to.
What’s the status and why shouldn’t be concerned?
December 22nd, 2005 at 4:32 pm
- Food Dude Says:
The links list has been moved to the top of the page. I updated the note, thanks for mentioning it.
Health Dept Website
December 22nd, 2005 at 4:56 pm
- webwench Says:
As far as good Chinese goes…I have not ever gone wrong at Zien Hong’s on Sandy (around SE 56th or something?).
Fresh, fresh, fresh and the salt peppered squid is to die for…order it with the vietnamese dipping sauce for a real treat….
A friend’s little old asian mom has been showing me around her favorite authentic haunts and teaching me to order stuff off the menu.
We also went to Fong Chong’s and Legin….it’s true…over the past few years their quality has fluctuated…
Thanks for the updates, all…
January 26th, 2006 at 12:14 pm
- reduxredux Says:
Curious if anyone has been to the Golden Horse in Chinatown. In my opinion it’s the best Chinese food I’ve had in Portland so far, having eaten at all the restaurants in Chinatown and also the Sungari downtown location. Curiously, they also serve the largest portions (and Chinese restaurants are hardly known for stingy portions). One nice thing is that you can get a light and simple meal whose ingredients are subtly accentuated, like the House Special Fi Sen Pot, or the customary mountain of fried food. Their potstickers are great, too. Plus you can get Chinese delicacies like Sea Cucumber or Geoduck, which I endeavor to consume in the coming months.
I have yet to try Wong’s though. Thanks for the heads up.
February 1st, 2006 at 12:04 am
- Divebargirl Says:
Ok, so this is very late in the game – but I had to check out the review because my husband and I love the ORGINAL Wong’s King over in Sellwood. I can’t beleive no one mentioned that they have had a location there for years – including a chef who apparently won a very prestigious award back in his native China. We live NE now and still drive back to Sellwood when we want good Chinese – but then we heard there was this new huge Wong’s out far eastside, but have yet been able to check it out. It’s much smaller, so they don’t do the Dim Sum, but for those who feel this one is out of the way – maybe the Sellwood option is better….
February 23rd, 2006 at 11:36 am
- Flattail Says:
Golden Horse – not impressed. Another dive with a few interesting dishes.
March 8th, 2006 at 1:26 pm
- crispychicken Says:
Very late getting into this, but better late than never. I agree with the general sentiment that Portland is utterly lacking in good Chinese. I’ve been to China several times (including Shanghai, Guangzhou (former Canton) and Hong Kong) and have devoured just about everything that’s been offered to me. Absolutely fantastic. I’ve been hearing about Wong’s King for some time now, so will have to check it out and report back. In the meantime, I think that Shen Zhen – on SE 82nd just N of Glisan – has become my choice of “best available” Chinese in PDX. Their crispy chicken is to die for (though it’s been a bit dry on a couple of occasions), and even the old standbys like General Tso’s, etc. are “less Americanized” and, therefore, top-notch at least in terms of Portland standards. Their menu is huge and full of a wide variety of very authentic dishes as well. “Couple lungs and kidney” comes to mind as something “memorable” from the menu. Give it a go if you haven’t tried it out yet. Anyone been there and agree/disagree?
May 25th, 2006 at 5:21 pm
- sundanzkidd Says:
Hey, had to speak up, anyone tried a place call the Shanghai Noble House, on SW Macadam under the old water tower…several eateries here but always come back to the SNH descent food, descent service and a stiff Singapore sling. the dishes all look appetizing and not over priced but a few dollars over average, for Asian/American food I enjoy eating here. I seem to always get the same waiter year after year who makes the experience Asian. If you want hot they have it, if its mild you seek its there also. IM always shopping for a deal and this is one of my places I enjoy eating at.
July 9th, 2006 at 3:56 pm
- sidemeat Says:
Used to love Ming’s Dynasty, across the street from Pazzo. Cool neon and cold service, (too hot for roundeye! order something else!) God I miss that place.
July 9th, 2006 at 4:28 pm
- macoatmeal Says:
We have to try Wong’s soon. Nobody(including reviewers) seems to know about Powell’s Seafood Restaurant(on Powell and 70ish street). My family is Korean, so we pretty much know ‘real’ Asian, and this is authentic. We’ve been going for years. Nothing fancy, but always satisfying, and the food comes lightning quick! The food seems to be more on the southern China style, with lots of little spicy green chilis.
For Korean food, my parent’s fave is a little neighborhood place in downtown Beaverton, called NaGwon.
Thanks for the site!
July 9th, 2006 at 7:35 pm
- fuyuk Says:
Greetings, apparently not many people remember Uncle Chen, who originally had a restaurant on 3rd Ave downtown. He then moved around the corner to what is now the Marriot Downtown to Chen’s Dynasty. When they bulldozed that for the hotel it was out to Beaverton. He was one of the leaders of authentic chinese cuisine in Portland. Back in the day there were also many top notch restaurants in Chinatown. Since the Pearl is encroaching along with the rebuilding of old town it has been forcing many out to the burbs. Look at 82nd, it has become the new Chinatown. There are many restaurants on Sandy blvd. as well that serve excellent food. True Chinese cuisine is very subtle in it’s flavoring, even the styles from the far north. dim sum at the Legin has gone way up in quality ever since Wongs moved nearby. Wongs is good, but the wait is crazy and I have had some unpleasant gastrointestinal experiences there. Fong Chong was excellent while Bob Louis was still there everyday. When he sold to a grand daughter it started to slip and has only recently come back to standard. A lot of these places depend on the ownership for the quality. Don’t be down on Portland Chinese, it is excellent as long as you know where to go. Good Taste in Chinatown has excellent, authentic roast and bbq meats and soups. Sure you can get greasy glop too, but do a little research and you will be all right.
July 17th, 2006 at 6:18 pm
- mczlaw Says:
Fuyuk: Like you, I remember the Uncle Chen’s and and Chen’s Dynasty days. It was, pardon the expression, part of Portland’s great blooming and flowering in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
I remember coming home from college and trying the dishes at Chen’s Dynasty and each was a revelation compared to what had passed for Chinese up to that point.
It is unfortunate that the growth of the Pearl and the City’s ill-timed, slow paced “improvement” of the traditional Chinatown area has reduced the scope of that already small part of town. I would disagree on the point regarding Fong Chong. It was beloved by me and most of my peers going back many years. Once the granddaughter took it over, it slipped badly. Last winter, for our annual boys lunch, we went back again, and it was dreadful still—a shadow of its former glory.
Now, 82nd is clearly the direction to go—not only for Chinese, but for all sorts of fine Asian food. That is another big difference in Portland comparing the present to the 70’s and earlier. In the last 25-30 years, we are fortunate to have been the destination for Thais, Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, and others from Asia who now call Portland home. So we have abundant choices in Asian food beyond even the high quality Chinese that Uncle Chen spearheaded.
It’s a wonderful time for Asian dining in Portland, but not so much for Old Town/Chinatown. Maybe it will bloom again. I hope so.
July 17th, 2006 at 10:38 pm
- Karl Says:
Why are some people so fixated on Chinatown? Is that where they think that they can get an “authentic” Chinese experience. Chinatowns were originally ghettos that Chinese immigrants had to settle in because they were not accepted in other parts of the city. In essence, a ghetto. So if Asians can prosper and can move out to the suburbs, taking their businesses with them, why deny them that right? Why maintain the amusement park atmosphere that pervades a lot of Chinatowns these days?
July 18th, 2006 at 2:50 am