chinese

Chinese Restaurants in the Greater Portland Area

Since moving to the Portland area, we have begun conversations with many of the strangers we meet the same way: “So, where are you getting your Chinese food?” Almost every single time we ask, that stranger will start with a laugh, and then slowly shake her head, eyes closed. Portland, while it may be many things, isn’t highly marked for its exceptional Chinese takeout.

After eating Portland’s largely above-passable Thai food until it was oozing out of our ears, we still weren’t able to scratch our Chinese itch. We started chasing increasingly peculiar leads: A bizarre fusion restaurant on outer Brighton Ave! A passable strip mall location in Falmouth! “Auspicious Pagoda isn’t too bad,” people would explain reluctantly, “for Americanized Chinese food.”

In fact, somewhat oddly, every conversation we have had with people about Chinese takeout in Portland, every article or review we have read in the newspaper, seems to come with the very careful explanation that, when it comes to local Chinese, you can expect pretty “Americanized” versions of dishes, at best. I’m sorry, Mr. World Traveler, did you just get back from living aboard a junk boat in Shanghai for four years? Were you feasting on bowls of duck beaks in steaming squid ink, or buckets of braised knuckles in frogbroth while the rest of us were learning to hold chopsticks and gumming our General Tso’s? “Authentic” isn’t necessarily something we get too hung up about, when it comes to our Chinese takeout.

We are just looking for, at the very least, well-prepared, possibly even fresh versions of classic, NYC-or-Boston-style Chinese takeout junk food. The kind where you order from a grid of really, really harshly-lit photographs. The kind where the signs are written in magic marker on faded pink posterboard. The kind where you can get fresh, cooling cut-up chunks of seedless watermelon in the Summer. The kind that go great with a Thursday night, and a little Amazing Race. “Americanized” or otherwise, someone, somewhere, can surely deliver a $20 grease-sodden brown paper bag of Orange Chicken, and we were determined to find it. And rather than run ourselves ragged all over town, chasing down the different options, over weeks or even months, we decided to do it all at once.

We visited eight local area Chinese restaurants, based on their popularity and ratings on Urbanspoon, on Yelp, on comments on our Facebook page, and on the informal opinions of others. We didn’t stray into Vietnamese or Korean territory, and tried to stay rooted firmly in Cantonese/Szechuan Chinese takeout. We chose a few dishes that we felt were the most simple, and least open to interpretation. After all, my idea of Mu Shu Pork may be wildly different than yours, but we can both probably agree on what a good piece of deep-fried chicken looks and tastes like. At each restaurant, we placed the same order: Steamed pork dumplings, scallion pancakes, fried wontons, and sweet & sour chicken, and noted the results.

Eight Portland area Chinese restaurants. One buffet. 38 fortune cookies. $170.67 worth of Chinese food. Eight photos of the insides of dumplings. And a physical increase in body fluid retention of at least 10 percent. What were the results, and who is serving the best Chinese food in Portland?

Imperial China on UrbanspoonImperial China

Initial Impressions: Specializing in Hunan and Szechuan cuisine, Imperial China is located on the Maine Mall Road in South Portland, near the Maine Mall. They offer take-out, and dine-in service, in a small, but nicely-appointed dining room. Imperial China claims to have been voted Greater Portland’s “Best Chinese Restaurant,” for 14 years in a row, between 1995 and 2009, by “Market Surveys of America.” We’re not sure what happened in 2010. All of the take-out from Imperial China is packaged in white, Chinese take-out boxes, even when the item contained may have made more sense in another kind of packaging. A full complement of dipping sauces, including duck, soy, and hot mustard, were provided, as well as fortune cookies, and a bag of crispy wonton skin pieces.

Tasting Notes:
Scallion Pancakes ($4.25): Imperial China’s scallion pancakes are cut into tiny pieces. The pancakes are chock-a-block full of tiny pieces of cut scallion, and are very flavorful. We didn’t notice much in the way of flaky layers, and the scallion pancakes were a tad on the soggy side. I blame this on the unexpected inclusion of shredded cabbage at the bottom of the box, which added undo moisture to the container. This opinion is based on completely made-up science. They are served with a dipping sauce that doesn’t appear to be anything more than soy sauce, and the sauce adds little to the dish.

Steamed Pork Dumplings ($5.50): The menu somewhat mysteriously (and un-appetizingly) lists this item as “Steamed Meat Dumplings.” When Jillian ordered, she carefully asked for “Steamed Pork Dumplings,” but, when the order was repeated aloud by the hostess, she had conspicuously again referred to them as “Steamed Meat Dumplings.” As unsettling as this was, the dumplings were one of the high points of the order, with a steamed dumpling skin of medium thickness, with a soft chew. There was a medium amount of minced meat-and-scallion filling, leaving ample room for dumpling sauce. The sauce, unfortunately, was not a winner, combining soy sauce with too heavy-handed a pour of sesame oil.

Fried Wontons: Not available.

Sweet & Sour Chicken ($8.75): Instead of the usual Styrofoam container of sickly-sweet, bright red glaze, this sweet and sour sauce was unique in its inclusion of chopped pieces of pineapple, green pepper, and maraschino cherries. The fruit gave the sauce a tropical quality, and much more character than I am accustomed to in my Chinese delivery. It wasn’t enough to save the chicken, however, which, though crispy and golden brown, was caked with far too much breading, surrounding little tiny bits of chicken.

Conclusion: While far from the worst of the restaurants we tried, I am surprised to find this one of the highest-rated Chinese restaurants on Urbanspoon. Nothing stands out as particularly remarkable, while there are a few oddities that detract from the overall experience. It almost seems like this is a restaurant not particularly suited for take-out; a few of the boxes had the garnishes from their dine-in counterparts included, which leaves you with the impression that these dishes were plated the way they would be for presentation in the dining room, before being shoveled off into a box.

We Liked: Medium-thick dumpling wrappers; fruit-filled sweet and sour sauce; lots of scallions in pancakes; browsing in Newbury Comics while we waited; awesome million-year-old Chinese hostess

We Didn’t Like: Boring dumpling sauce; doughy, heavily-breaded chicken; soggy pancakes; too-vague description of “meat”; total lack of wontons

Rating: 2.25 (out of 5)

Lang's Express on UrbanspoonLang’s Express

Initial Impressions: Lang’s Express is conveniently located in the no-man’s-land that is St. John Street, between the hospital and and the entrance to Interstate 295. The building may have, at some point in its life, begun as a Pizza Hut, given the strange shape of the building, and the dingy, chipped red formica booths inside; now, however, the building looks like the place where meth addicts go to warm up their hands in the wintertime. Lang’s is staffed by an ancient Chinese man, who is friendly and quick to joke. There is a lunch buffet advertised at around $6, but it seems to be made up of only three or four steam trays, and a crock of soup.

Tasting Notes:
Scallion Pancakes: Not available.

Steamed Pork Dumplings ($7.25): Though expensive at over seven dollars for a large order, each dumpling was about twice the size I am used to, with very light, though very thick, fluffy dough. The filling, again mysteriously described on the menu not as “pork,” but as the more vague, “meat,” was flavorful, with good bite from the scallions, and a roomy pocket to absorb plenty of dumpling sauce. The sauce lacked a ton of character, but wasn’t overpowered with sesame oil. We beefed it up by mixing in some of the excellent, runny, and very spicy hot mustard, and were happy with the result.

Fried Wontons ($3.45): At first glance, we were excited by the appearance of these wontons. They filled a huge styrofoam container, were folded properly, and showed the right amount of blistering around the golden brown wrapper. I was dismayed to find, as seems to be the norm here in Maine, that they contained no filling; these were simply folded and fried wonton wrappers. Thumbs down.

Sweet & Sour Chicken ($7.25): The chicken had mixed results. It unexpectedly included a small portion of plain fried rice, which we ignored. The small container of sauce was unremarkable, sweet, thick, and good only in very small doses. The chicken, while heavily breaded and plentiful, contained some reasonably-sized pieces of meat. Unfortunately, they appeared to have been fried in two different batches, leaving the first half of the order crispy and brown, and the second half kind of pale and wiggly. We ate the top half, dipped in hot mustard instead of sweet and sour sauce, and fed the rest to the dog.

Conclusion: This restaurant gets pretty thoroughly trashed on Urbanspoon and on Yelp, and we can see why it wouldn’t be appealing to some. Eating in certainly doesn’t seem like an option, unless you find yourself in the unfortunate position of already being at either the hospital or the Greyhound Bus Terminal. For takeout, however (and granted, ours was the first order of the day), I think you can do worse. Lang’s seems like a restaurant where you have to choose your dish carefully. You will find a lot of misses, but if you luck into it, you can find a dish that you like. The steamed “meat” dumplings, for example, were better than what we’ve found at most other places, even while the other dishes fell way, way short.

We Liked: Good dumplings; super-spicy, runny hot mustard; lots of styrofoam; the 90-year-old Chinese guy that will tease you while you place your order; half of the chicken

We Didn’t Like: Empty folded wonton skins; weak dumpling sauce; Methadone clinic atmosphere; the other half of the chicken

Rating: 2.5 (depending wildly on what you order) (out of 5)

Valley Chinese Cuisine on UrbanspoonValley Chinese Cuisine

Initial Impressions: Located in a small, light brown unassuming building with tiny windows on Forest Avenue, Valley Chinese Cuisine’s interior is cozy and homey…almost like eating at your grandmother’s house, if she were Chinese. Which, if you’re Chinese, I guess she probably is. There are a few sparse booths, and pleasantly-restrained Chinese theming throughout. Valley was also one of the few restaurants we tried, that offered each item from our testing categories.

Tasting Notes:
Scallion Pancakes ($4.00): Valley’s scallion pancakes are pretty sad. Four bucks gets you a Styrofoam container of little folded triangles of flavorless, deep-fried dough, with hardly a scallion in sight. A swab in the accompanying dumpling sauce didn’t improve these pancakes.

Steamed Pork Dumplings ($4.55): In one of the more peculiar dumpling offerings in this roundup, Valley’s small order presents you with three very large packets of dough, filled with a comically undersized amount of mushy, characterless filling. The dumpling wrapper was much too large and thick for the dollop of filling within, and the included sauce was much, much too sweet; almost like a mixture of soy sauce and simple syrup.

Fried Wontons ($2.50): The fried wontons came packaged to overflowing in a standard white Chinese take out box, and were nothing more than a huge basket of knotted up wonton wrapping, with no filling in sight.

Sweet & Sour Chicken ($8.95): Served with a scoop of pork fried rice, the sweet and sour chicken was a bit of surprise, in a field of some of the worst Chinese we tasted throughout this article. While the chicken took the usual form, that is, battered finger-shaped chicken with a crispy outside and a doughy inside, it somehow seemed lighter and tastier than others we tried. The sauce, in particular, was one of the best of any of the sweet and sour sauces we tasted for this article, with fruity flavors, instead of the usual cloying sweetness.

Conclusion: Sweet and sour chicken fans have good reason to visit Valley Chinese Cuisine; theirs was one of the best we tasted, even while it didn’t stray from the norm for local Chinese food. There is little else to recommend in Valley’s offerings.

We Liked: Light, airy chicken, served with a sweet, fruity sauce that was much more complex than we are accustomed to; dining room that feels like your grandmother’s house, provided you are Chinese

We Didn’t Like: Empty wonton wrappers; weirdly huge, doughy dumplings with too-sweet sauce; barren scallion pancakes; nearly windowless room; long cooking times

Rating: 1.75 (out of 5)

Chia Sen on UrbanspoonChia Sen

Initial Impressions: Chia Sen came highly recommended on several forums, user feedback sites, and was recommended by some of the folks we know around town as being “some of the best Chinese available,” so we held out great hope for this entry in the tasting lineup. Chia Sen’s overall presentation is the most professional, with branded paper napkin rings, neat bundles of plastic forks and sauce packets, and appropriate containers for the different dishes.

Tasting Notes:
Scallion Pancakes ($4.25): The scallion pancakes were a little on the rubbery side, though they did show nice layering in the dough. There weren’t a ton of scallions, and the accompanying sauce didn’t do much to dress the pancakes up. They didn’t taste like much of anything, but after the other specimens we tried, we were kind of relieved not to get another batch of pancakes that had been deep-fried to death.

Steamed Pork Dumplings ($5.50): The dumplings at Chia Sen were definitely a letdown. On each first bite, our eyes lit up: “Finally! This is it,” we thought. Only on a second chew did we realize that no, no it wasn’t. The filling is much more cabbage-y than we found at other restaurants, and this excess cabbage didn’t improve the taste of the bland, pasty filling. The wrappers were the proper size and thickness, but the accompanying sauce was much too sweet.

Fried Wontons: Not available.

Sweet & Sour Chicken ($8.50): The chicken was, once again, the doughy-deep fried finger shape we have grown so used to throughout this tasting. It wasn’t overly undercooked or mushy, and each crispy nugget contained a large piece of chicken. The sauce was peculiar; full of fruit, it boasted some very strong green pepper flavors, in addition to the usual sweetness.

Conclusion: We had really held out hope for Chia Sen, based on the opinions we heard, from people we respect. We even cast our net out into Scarborough, figuring that even a tiny bit of a drive would be well worth it, if the food was as good as we had heard. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It wasn’t bad, by any means, and we certainly sampled much worse over the course of this tasting; we just didn’t find anything unique or different enough in their preparation to warrant the extra effort.

We Liked: Pro presentation; actual chicken; packets of silverware and sauces pre-bundled

We Didn’t Like: Bland dumplings; too-sweet dumpling sauce; soggy scallion pancakes; strong green pepper flavor in sweet and sour sauce; driving to Scarborough

Rating: 2.0 (out of 5)

Panda Garden Chinese Restaurant on UrbanspoonPanda Garden

Initial Impressions: In my mind, Panda Garden was a distance away from Portland I measured as “to hell and gone.” Actually, it’s under three miles, but by the time you’ve driven out past the big box stores and vacant storefronts that make up most of Brighton Avenue, it seems like longer. Consistently mentioned on Urbanspoon and Yelp as being one of Portland’s better options for Chinese food, Panda Garden is located in what may be one of the most depressing mini-malls of all time, featuring not just Panda Garden, but also a rent-to-own furniture store, a nail salon, and a Coast Guard recruiting office. On the night we visited, the large dining room contained just one couple having dinner, with at least six staff members standing around the bar watching them. After handing us our food, they also gave me a coupon for two dollars off a future visit made out of green construction paper, which, for some reason, filled me with a profound sadness. Even the name “Panda Garden” kind of put me on a bummer.

Tasting Notes:
Scallion Pancakes: Not available.

Steamed Pork Dumplings ($5.25): The dumplings (again referred to on the menu as “meat” dumplings) had pleasantly thick dough, which hid some unusually dark, violent-colored filling, with a texture I didn’t find particularly appealing. The dumpling sauce was complex and balanced.

Fried Wontons ($4.50): While I was excited to see wontons on the menu, all hell broke loose when I opened the container, as you can see in the picture above. Instead of the little fried nuggets I was expecting, I was confronted with a slurry of steamed wontons in some sort of peanut sauce, mixed with sliced scallions. While I was pleased to see that these wontons had a filling (the first in our testing,) the rubbery wrappers and brown, overpowering sauce made these inedible. Why, oh why, hadn’t they just fried them?

Sweet & Sour Chicken ($8.95): The sweet and sour chicken was fairly identical to others we had sampled so far. This time, green peppers, chunks of pineapple, and bright red maraschino cherries mixed in with the doughy, heavily-breaded pieces of chicken. Also, how the hell much sweet-and-sour sauce are people eating? It seems like every restaurant includes about a quart of the stuff with your order.

Conclusion: Though the dumplings were better than others we have sampled, the inconvenience of the location balances out any of the few potential positives in this restaurant. A friendly staff doesn’t make up for the shortcomings found nearly across the board at this restaurant. Perhaps some of their more ambitious items are better (the half-Peking Duck caught my eye), but I have a hard time imagining that.

We Liked: Fair dumplings with unusually potent filling, served with a sauce that was shown some care; friendly (though overly-abundant) staff; quick service; proximity to a check cashing place, a Tire Warehouse, and PT’s Showplace, making using my last paycheck to buy a stripper an egg roll and a set of All-Season tires remarkably easy

We Didn’t Like: Inconvenient location; soul-crushing cuteness of coupons; complete absence of scallion pancakes, unexpectedly wiggly wontons served in watered-down creamy peanut butter soup

Rating: 2.25 (out of 5)

Oriental Table on UrbanspoonOriental Table

Initial Impressions: Located in the heart of Portland’s Old Port, Oriental Table does a booming lunchtime business with the suit-and-tie set, who fill the small restaurant to forget their cares in the joys of the moderately-sized buffet. The staff is incredibly outgoing and gracious. Food is served in an array of every takeout container yet designed, mixing traditional Chinese takeout containers with insulated foil bags and white Styrofoam. We were also given six fortune cookies, which is always a good sign that you have ordered much too much food. We were also pleased to find all four of our food categories on the menu.

Tasting Notes:
Scallion Pancakes ($3.95): The scallion pancakes were fried to perfection, with wonderful blistering on all surfaces. The initial crunch gave way to a satisfying chew, and each pancake piece was studded with a moderate amount of chopped scallions. The pancakes also came with their own container of dumpling sauce, which made us very happy.

Steamed Pork Dumplings ($5.95): The dumplings had one of the best fillings we have tried so far, but suffered from a real lack of structural integrity, which made them much less satisfying to eat. The dough was very thin and unevenly rolled, which made most of the dumplings rip open, and lose their filling on their way to your mouth. The decision to package them in a regular Chinese takeout container also made them kind of soggy, and they stuck together into a giant rat-king dumpling-mass that you had to pull apart, thereby further damaging the construction of the individual dumplings. Very good dumpling sauce, though served in a tiny container. We were happy to have the sauce from the Scallion Pancakes to supplement.

Fried Wontons ($3.95): By Odin’s Beard! These were the first fried wontons we ordered anywhere that bore any resemblance to the fried, meat-filled version we are used to. The filling was minced beef, seasoned well, and the wontons were folded perfectly and fried until golden. They didn’t come with a sauce, but fortunately, I still had a five gallon bucket in the basement of all my leftover sweet-and-sour sauces I couldn’t use from our other orders. I was delighted to find these little fried (though slightly soggy) treasures, and noted that they were the same price as the other, filling-less “wontons” I had been served elsewhere.

Sweet & Sour Chicken ($7.50): Oriental Table’s sweet and sour chicken is a huge departure from what we’ve gotten in other restaurants. Instead of the doughy tubes of fried mush with a sliver of chicken in them, these were individual segments of differently-shaped chicken bits, with a very crunchy coating, almost like you would expect to see in an Orange Chicken. The chicken came pre-coated in sauce, and contained no vegetables. The chicken was served with two scoops of pleasantly sticky steamed white rice. This was one of the few dishes throughout this project that we could face again in cold leftover form.

Conclusion: I was really pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying the offerings at the Oriental Table as much as I did, particularly after reading what other local area bloggers have had to say about the place. Make no mistake: The food being served at the Oriental Table is about as similar to Chinese food as Kentucky Fried Chicken is to Southern home cooking, or Margarita’s is to fine Mexican cuisine. This is Food Court Chinese, with greater variety. The different items have been so washed out and sterilized, that they’re barely recognizable. You could be eating almost anything. Many restaurants in the area are guilty of trying to accommodate too many tastes, but the Oriental Table at least keeps their forms correct (chicken that looks like it may have once been part of a living thing, wontons with meat in them), even when the flavors are dialed way down. Of any of the restaurants we sampled, we are most likely to return here for our fried Chinese appetizer needs.

We Liked: Filled, fried wontons (finally); crispy battered chicken pieces; the absence of another bucket of sweet and sour sauce; blistered, browned, and blissfully unhealthy scallion pancakes; abundance of dipping sauces, including homemade duck sauce (?); recognizable appetizers

We Didn’t Like: Weakling dumpling wrappers that couldn’t contain filling; dumpling packaging which made dumplings soggy; overall bland and rather generic flavors

Rating: 2.75 (out of 5)

Super Great Wall Buffet on UrbanspoonSuper Great Wall Buffet

Initial Impressions: Located next to a Dollar Tree (and, in fact, being the culinary equivalent of a Dollar Tree), near the Maine Mall in South Portland, the “Super Great Wall Buffet” comes up often in any conversation about local Chinese food. It is a huge space, with several banks of steam tables. There are several handwritten signs explaining in all capital letters that the CRAB LEGS and the CLAMS are for DINNER, and if you are found eating them at LUNCH, you will be charged for a DINNER! NO EXCEPTIONS! There are additional signs explaining just what the limits of “all you can eat” are, detailing how many hours you can spend before it’s time to go, or pay for the buffet again. It’s funny to think about what must have happened to make these signs necessary. We were also struck by how many non-Chinese items there were on this Chinese buffet, including a roast beef carving station, pizza, macaroni and cheese, and tacos. The lunch buffet costs $8.95, provided you heed the warning about the crab legs.

Tasting Notes:
Scallion Pancakes: Not available.

Steamed Pork Dumplings: Compared to every other item on the various steam tables, the four bamboo pots labeled “dim sum” were the most edible of anything available at the Super Great Wall Buffet. The dumplings were small, with a good filling-to-dough ratio. They were pan-fried and then steamed, which gave them significantly more chew than others we tested. Other dumplings were folded into a basket shape, and were similarly tasty.

Fried Wontons: Fried wontons weren’t available, and so we sampled from the mysterious “dim sum” trays again for these steamed versions. They were as uninspired as they look: gray, wiggly lumps, with a boring, unappealing filling. At least there was a filling, however…had these just been steamed empty wonton wrappers, they would have been even more depressing. If only they had been fried!

Sweet & Sour Chicken: The sweet and sour chicken was some of the worst we have encountered thus far. It took the same familiar, golden-brown oblong form, but was filled with barely a trace of chicken. The sauce was standard-issue, red sludge.

Conclusion: The Super Great Wall Buffet was at least 75% full both times we visited it. The first visit was for comedy’s sake, where we marveled at the sad, old couples staring at each other silently over stacks three-plates-deep of raw oysters (!!!) and half-empty Diet Cokes, children feasting on giant bowls of American Chop Suey and chocolate pudding, football players in training taking advantage of the pure cost-to-calorie ratio of the buffet, and middle-aged men who had figured out how to game the system by eating only mountains of steamed crab legs. We didn’t like the food, at all, and vowed to never return. Then, by our second trip, something had changed; namely, this article had forced us to try all of the other options available in Portland. Suddenly, shockingly, Super Great Wall Buffet wasn’t looking so bad, by comparison. The lesson here is twofold: First, through repeated exposure, you can start to find anything palatable. Second, if you stick to the dim sum steamers and the soups, you can have a perfectly satisfying, non-regret-filled lunch at Super Great Wall Buffet. Dip a toe into into the sushi station, and you’re on your own.

We Liked: People watching; steamed dim sum trays; wonton soup; free WiFi; efficient staff quickly clearing plates; spicy mustard and dumpling sauces; dimness of interior hides your shame

We Didn’t Like: Anemic non-Chinese options; fried appetizer table curiously lacking in some staples; empty chicken pouches; overall grim sadness permeating the room

Rating: 2.50 (provided you choose responsibly) (out of 5)

Jan Mee Chinese Restaurant on UrbanspoonJan Mee Chinese Restaurant

Initial Impressions: Jan Mee is located on St. John Street, in a shopping plaza that also houses one of the most awful supermarkets I have ever seen, outside of my own visions of a post-apocalyptic future. They seem to sell primarily old brown meat, pink bags of marshmallows, and off-brand canned pinto beans to morbidly obese men with plastic bags tied around their feet. Jan Mee reflects this mood in both its visual appeal and the relative quality of its patrons. Jan Mee Chinese Restaurant was, however, the only restaurant we sampled that offers a catering option; in this case, “100 pieces mixed fried appetizers and pork fried rice,” presumably by the bucketload, for $68.

Tasting Notes:
Scallion Pancakes: Not available.

Steamed Pork Dumplings ($5.95): The steamed pork dumplings were oddly large, with a small amount of filling. They were also completely dried out, and a really unappetizing dishwater brown. In an order of eight, we sampled just half of one before bailing out. The wrapper was much, much too thick, hiding a dark filling with large chunks of vegetables.

Fried Wontons ($2.95): Finally, we’re getting to the right price point for what I am quickly learning is becoming the usual wonton form here in Portland: a big, greasy bucket of folded, fried, empty wonton wrappers. Every time I open a new bag from a new restaurant to find one of these, I break just a tiny bit more, inside.

Sweet & Sour Chicken ($8.95): The chicken is served as long, heavily battered blobs, with a too-sweet sauce. There was no way to salvage them.

Conclusion: In a field crowded with really, really bad options for Chinese takeout, Jan Mee is rather remarkable for how unappealing it manages to be. Please, just walk down the street and go to Lang’s, if you are in the mood for sketchy St. John Chinese. Or better yet, just stay nodded out in your bathtub; the opiates have probably shut your stomach down, anyway.

We Liked: Being reminded of of how much we enjoy the parts of our lives that are not spent inside of Jan Mee

We Didn’t Like: Everything else

Rating: 1.25 (for being still technically food) (out of 5)

Overall Conclusion:

Here’s what it’s taken me eight restaurants and a little over 5,500 words to figure out: The overall Chinese food situation in Portland is not good. After testing all the restaurants that lead in popular opinion, we couldn’t find one to recommend across-the-board. Some restaurants did one or two things well, while severely botching others, and some restaurants couldn’t seem to get anything right. Our suggestions for where to go for Chinese depend entirely on what you like, and if were forced to pick favorites, among a huge batch of very, very similar food, they would go as follows:

For steamed pork (erm, “meat”) dumplings, our choices would be either Panda Garden, for their proportions, sauce, and flavorful filling, and, in a surprise to us as well, either Lang’s Express or Super Great Wall. Lang’s manages to produce a steamed dumpling that, as terrible as it is, has the ability to get in your head. It was the one dumpling we are most likely to try again, and there are much worse things to eat after a night of heavy drinking. Finally, Super Great Wall Buffet’s dim sum trays offer some of the better steamed dumplings available. I know. We can’t believe it, either. The problem is that, unless you are a much, much better person than we are, you won’t be able to resist sneaking in some dried out BBQ pork bits and some tragically overcooked roast duck at the buffet, and for that, you will be sorry.

The sweet and sour chicken we tried in each restaurant didn’t vary much from store to store; most seem to have agreed upon a very doughy, deep-fried finger shape, with a tiny dab of chicken inside. The only variance seems to be in amount of batter, and the restaurant’s level of interest in its sauce. In this category, Valley Chinese Cuisine is serving some of the best sweet and sour chicken in town, due particularly to its unusual, light, fruity sauce. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find much else to recommend, there. We also were impressed by the sweet and sour at Oriental Table, the only restaurant in town to change up the sweet and sour form factor, with deep-fried, very crunchy nuggets of chicken, pre-tossed in a decent sauce that ran a little on the too-sweet side. For being brave enough to depart from the norm, though, we salute them.

For fried wontons, we have learned that local expectations for this dish are much different than our own. We wouldn’t dream of paying, in most places, upwards of three bucks for a bag of empty, deep-fried wonton wrappers, and neither should you. If the wonton urge grabs you and just won’t let go, Oriental Table is selling the only filled versions, with a reasonably flavorful filling, though they can get a little soggy in transit.

Unfortunately, we were unable to find a source for Scallion Pancakes. We found that they were only available in about half the restaurants we tried, and were either much too over-fried, or were soggy, plain bits of dough, with little-to-no scallions.

Throughout our testing, we were most surprised to find that, in terms of reputation, the “big three,” that is, Imperial China, Panda Garden, and Chia Sen, didn’t seem to be doing anything sufficiently differently to receive special recognition or attention. We didn’t rate a single restaurant we tried over 2.75 stars, out of five. These are not high scores, and the needle barely moved from one place to the next. We learned that, unless you have a specific craving in mind, it almost doesn’t matter where you order Chinese from in Portland.

Nothing seems to rate above merely passable, which is surprising, in a town where Chinese restaurants have a history that reaches back to the rowdy “chop suey joints” of World War I. It’s not clear to us whether restaurant owners from larger cities forget all they know about Chinese food on the long drive from Kittery to Portland, are keeping the real stuff for themselves, or whether they have had to so dilute their recipes to accommodate the highest number of palates (which would also explain the prevalence of buffets that feature 60% family-friendly, “American” food). Maybe it’s a combination of all three of these factors. The food that’s left is an unrecognizable mash of sticky flavors and textures: a little salty here, a little sweet there, a little goop, a little glop.

Order food from the Chinese restaurant closest to you. Or the one that has a delivery guy that you like. Or the one that has an old Chinese guy that will good-naturedly tease you. It’s not going to, unfortunately, make much of a difference. Just don’t base your decision on the food. Unfortunately, for now, the old adage seems to hold true: For the best Chinese food in Portland, drive to Boston.

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Comments

  1. Morgan says

    If you ever find yourself in Bangor and in need of good Chinese food, go to Chopsticks. It’s not much to look at but the food is fresh and cooked to order. The owner is a sweet (if somewhat outspoken) woman who will do her best to get you to try the vegetarian dishes while happily serving you sizzling teriyaki beef on a stick. I mean that … when she brought it to our table it was still sizzling! It was also delicious.

    http://www.bangorchinesefood.com/Restaurants/Chopsticks-Bangor-Maine.html
    http://www.yelp.com/biz/chopsticks-bangor

    Be warned, it is closed on Tuesdays.

    • Malcolm says

      Someday, I hope to pick your brain about Bangor a little bit. I have never been, and I know you lived there for a while. We are planning a trip up to the “Other Maine” this Spring…perhaps we can stop en route.

      • Kate says

        I second Chopsticks in Bangor! I go in and ask Christine for something special and wonderful and she takes care of it! Definitely is Americanized Chinese but very fresh and very good.

        Other places to try on your trip to the “real Maine”– Fiddleheads and the Fryers Bake House.

    • Jennifer Maple says

      There is a Chopsticks in Lewiston too. I wonder if it’s the same owners. The food is good at the Lewiston Chopsticks too.

      • Jody says

        Used to live in Lewiston area and found Chopsticks to be the absolute best Chinese food I’ve ever had. Now I live in the Bangor area and am looking for some good Chinese food. I will have to check out the Chopsticks here to compare! Hope tho find it as good as Lewiston……..

  2. Sarah says

    $4 for scallion pancakes?? Sweet Jesus.

    Also this post was an excellent reminder of why I didn’t know I liked Chinese food until I left Maine, and makes me think I should go have 12 steamed dumplings for $2 for lunch today.

    • Malcolm says

      As a personal favor, I would ask that you eat Brooklyn dumplings each day for the next week. Thank you.

  3. Maureen says

    I’m new to Portland, and have also been wondering about the state of Chinese restaurants here. I really really appreciate this post, and think you did a wonderful job! I’ve only eaten at Valley Chinese so far, and I must say that the orange shrimp is the best I’ve had. Their crab rangoons – the worst! I agree that you just need to pick a place close to you, or one that has a dish you like. Thank for introducing me to a few more places though!

    • Malcolm says

      Thank you, Maureen! Valley was definitely low on the list, but I can see how you could get loyal to a few dishes there. What surprised us most was the relative lack of difference between the so-called “good” places, and everywhere else. So you’re right…go to what’s convenient.

  4. says

    Great post and you totally hit the nail on the head. Oddly enough, this is the type of Chinese food that I grew up with and upon moving away, I found that I actually missed it. While living in larger cities, I grew to love the cuisine that is closer to authentic, but what did I buy the moment I moved back to Portland? A $30 feast from the Oriental Table. And it was delicious.

    So to reiterate your point: Chinese takeout quality in Portland is completely subjective. I would love for there to be a higher quality alternative in town, but when I desire Chinese takeout, food like the Oriental Table is exactly what I’m looking for.

    • Malcolm says

      I realize my thesis statement for this whole post was a little bit muddled, but I agree with you on those points: There’s nothing wrong with “Americanized” takeout (particularly when it is done properly), and I’d love to see that term stop being used as an intro to any discussion about Chinese food. It’s almost as though the person you are talking to, or reading, wants to both apologize in advance, as well as let you know how much more sophisticated they are than that. You know what? We’re ALL more sophisticated than sweet and sour chicken; we don’t need to be constantly explaining it to each other.

      And, incidentally, when sweet and sour is what you want, I think you can do much worse than the Oriental Table.

      Thanks for reading!

      • says

        I think it’s still important that we use “Americanized” to differentiate the various quality levels of Chinese food. It’s not that we have to apologize for even ingesting the particular low quality Chinese food, it’s most certainly because many people realize that there is actually something outside the bastions of fried, non-Chinese traditional foods. Besides, as someone who is ethnically Chinese, even I will admit to wanting to order a few of those white takeout boxes to plop down on the couch with and pop in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off or Wayne’s World on a lazy weekend night. But I’d be a really peeved if we were to bundle up all “Chinese food” together. That’s like people of Italian heritage who get tired of seeing Americanized Italian restaurants. They’re not going to combine all the wonderful regional cuisines of Italy with what America’s interpreted as Italian either. So that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a differentiation between Americanized Chinese food versus dim sum versus Hunan Chinese seafood banquet-style food versus Taiwanese street cart food, etc. etc. Go ahead and use “Americanized” to qualify the Chinese food you’re consuming – just don’t be apologetic about it.

        On a separate note, Malcolm, the repeated adage about Boston is tweaked a bit when people ask me (since I’m Chinese) where there’s good Chinese food in town. Instead I say, “My kitchen or Boston.” :P

        On another separate note, I’m glad you didn’t muddle the investigation with Vietnamese/Korean. Although I must add that Korean food really should not be takeout if you can avoid it. The food’s so much better with the audiovisual sizzling plates and the bubbling, lava-hot stone bowls. If you and J. are around this weekend or next, you should stop by KH when I’m around. Especially with your disappointing attempts to find good scallion pancakes, you might be curious enough to try Mrs. You’s version of a scallion pancake (buchimgae in Korean).

      • JKG says

        Wow! What a blast from the past.

        I agree completely with your assessment of Chinese in Portland and have followed practically the same route through this depressing morass. The sad fact is that Chinese food in Portland is like Taco Bell everywhere: Fantastic, when you’re hammered.

        Which is when I get it. Sometimes, I even get it ahead of time knowing I’ll want it in about 3 beers or glasses of wine, and there it will be.

        Blessings 2 Go was my go-to when I lived on Orange. There was a less good place on Chapel that I visited when I lived on College, can’t remember the name. Hadn’t thought of either of those in years…

  5. says

    Malcolm, this is good. REALLY, REALLY GOOD. I’m in awe of the time and effort you invested in this piece.

    And your conclusions? You nailed it, as far as I’m concerned. I moved to Portland/Maine after living in a couple of other cities that did Chinese moderately well. Knowing that I was moving to a city (albeit a smaller one) which does so many other types of food very, very well, I had high hopes. But after enduring strike-out after strike-out after strike-out, I began to feel like a man defeated. At least now I can console myself with the knowledge that I am not crazy, and that your assessment pretty much validates what I’ve been feeling these last few years.

    Oh, and your repeating the old adage: “For the best Chinese food in Portland, drive to Boston.” Well, that made me laugh out loud. So, so true. Perhaps if Sandwich Summit 2011 is a success, we can talk about a group trip to Boston for a day of dining, or something along those lines.

    Once again, very nice work.

    • Malcolm says

      Thanks very much! It ended up being much more of an effort than I imagined it would be, and I think it’s pretty much cured me of any desire to eat Chinese food. I think I am going to abstain entirely until I can organize a proper Sunday morning Chinatown dim sum trip.

  6. Meredith says

    Some folks I met in the Chinese-American community here once told me that they are worried and saddened about the state of Chinese food in Portland and upset that Thai restaurants seem to be booming while good Chinese places are practically non-existent. They said they all go to Lotus in Falmouth because they consider it the best, most authentic place – especially the specials.

    • Malcolm says

      We have tried Lotus in Falmouth, though not “officially” as part of this tasting. It struck us as pretty similar to the offerings elsewhere, and in fact, that was one of the things that was most surprising: The space between the “good” places and the “downright terrible” places is really, really slim.

  7. Stan says

    I have enjoyed your reviews and writing skills.Your blog is a treat to read.
    Also,I absolutely agree with Portland being a barren wasteland for decent ,not even great Chinese food.

  8. says

    Outstanding work, Malcolm – as usual. A comment or two, if I may:
    1)
    My wife and I hit Super Great Wall on Sundays, apparently a traditional feast day. I gorge on flash-fried whole shrimp, sauteed octopus with snow peas, oysters broiled in black bean sauce, steamed sole in ginger and scallion, sauteed green bean in garlic, baby bok choy, good scallion pancake, and the grill station will whip up a plate of ingredients you choose. The crab legs, Peking duck and roast lamb turn over quickly when it’s busy, and if we’re in that mood – then we cap it all with a few lychees, pineapple and a macaroon. So for $13.99 we are happy, but I share with all who care about the need for quality in the basics at all these places. Here’s hoping.
    2)
    If anything good can be said about Jan Mee, I purchased their old delivery vehicle in 2006 for $1500 and it’s running pretty well at 219,000 miles.

    • Malcolm says

      Thanks, Johnnyd… we were really surprised at the Great Wall, particularly after tasting every other option. And you’re right: if you stick to their simpler items, you are much, much better off.

  9. Jeanne says

    We love Fortune Garden on outer Forest Avenue. Been getting take out from there for years and for Americanized Chinese, it is really delicious. :)

    • Malcolm says

      With currently around 22 Chinese restaurants operating in the area, we had to make omissions somewhere. We chose the restaurants to visit based on their ratings on Urbanspoon and Yelp, as a rough barometer for where most people where eating. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Karen says

    I consider myself a chinese food snob. I’ve enjoyed the delish food that Boston, NY and San Fran’s Chinatown all have in abundance. The only place that I really enjoy in the Portland area is Lotus, in Falmouth. Their vegetables are fresh, wontons are crispy and they have a full bar. It’s far from Chinatown, but it’ll do in a pinch!

    I’ve always thought someone could make a killing opening up a Dim Sum restaurant in downtown Portland!

    • Malcolm says

      It’s really a surprise that one doesn’t exist. There aren’t, that we know of, really ANY attempts at any kind of high-end Chinese or even Chinese fusion places. Kon, maybe? Ugh.

  11. tommy stone says

    I feel like you went in to this with a general dislike for Portland Chinese food. Your scale is 1-5, what is you 5 standard set at? Who would get a 5? Out of the restaurants you visited, there should have been a 5. A 5 should not be a restaurant that is not real. what was the best and what was the worst. You rag on people about the Americanized nonsense, when you on your high horse of Chinese food connoisseur-ism leave nothing for us to compare to. How do you know what a 5 is? And where Is this 5 you so highly reserve your rating for? I’ve eaten Chinese food in many places, and I will say that Portland Chinese food is a lot better than most hack job Chinese places. Go eat Chinese food in south Carolina and then get back to me. You will love Portland Chinese after that. Herro preese, you a raunt deerivery? – the China man

    • Malcolm says

      What a strange comment. We actually approached this project with the idea that we would find at least one great Chinese restaurant, that was flying below the radar, which is why we tried some of the places (like Lang’s) that you don’t see talked about often. Even after each meal, we stayed optimistic that the next one would be better. Some were better, some were worse.

      I’m not on a “high horse of Chinese food connoisseur-ism” (though that does sound like a delicious place to be), I am trying to provide a comparison of similar dishes across different restaurants.

      The restaurants were not rated on a curve or weighted relative to each other, they’re weighted relative to, well, the world. In other words, just because one bad place is marginally better than another bad place, doesn’t mean that it will earn a “Five Star” rating. A two-star Chinese restaurant is a two-star Chinese restaurant, whether it is in Portland, NYC, or Hong Kong. I think plenty of “Five Star” Chinese exists. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any that exists here.

      Thanks for your comments!

  12. Daria says

    First, why didn’t you go to Wok Inn? They have great order-by-picture takeout.

    Second, you’re not ordering the right things at these restaurants. At Valley, get the hot and sour soup, crab rangoons, lo mein, and empress shrimp. At Panda Garden, my husband swears by the Mandarin chicken, but if you don’t like the brown peanut sauce you won’t like it. But they do have the best potstickers around – I’m surprised you didn’t like them. They add plenty of hoisin sauce to the filling; that’s what makes it dark. They also make great lo mein, beef with garlic sauce, and shrimp dishes. Sweet and sour, meh. Too 1950s.

    I live further north and would recommend Lucky Garden in Hallowell – they make excellent Chinese food. And I have lived further south, and eaten Chinese food in Boston, so I do know from good.

    • Malcolm says

      Hi Daria! Thanks for the comments. You’re not the first person to mention our failure to go to Wok Inn, but we had to pare down the list somewhat. We based our choices based on ratings on Urbanspoon and on Yelp, and the Wok Inn just wasn’t getting a lot of play on those sites. If we ever have the courage to do a “Round Two,” we will definitely check them out.

      We definitely chose very basic, 1950s-style dishes on purpose; we wanted to try the same few dishes at different restaurants, to have the best comparison from place-to-place. And using basic dishes meant there wasn’t room for a lot subjectivity. Something like “Empress Shrimp” is going to be interpreted very differently in different restaurants, and by different people.

      Thanks for reading, and for checking out the site!

  13. Eric says

    You should really check out Fortune Garden on Forest Ave. It’s a small place (only a few tables) and they are more of a takeout place than anything. They are our favorite Chinese in the area.

    • Malcolm says

      Fortune Garden is certainly a name we keep hearing again and again. When we drove by, it seemed closed, but now we know it isn’t. If the distended belly ever goes away, we will revisit this project…and Fortune Garden will definitely be on the list!

      Thanks!

  14. stephen says

    So having lived in Portland for years, I find that the great institution known as the Wok In with its chinease museum not mentioned in your article. Is this place still around? And fyi if you come to Bangor you need to cross the river to Brewer and go to Noodles.

    • Malcolm says

      There are still a few Wok Inns around…they just didn’t make the cut, this time. We will definitely try them next time. Thanks!

      • Bill says

        There are two Wok Inns. One on Rt 1 in South Portland near the Scarborough line, and the other in Portland on Forest Ave. That’s it.

        They are owned by different people who run each as they see fit.

  15. Angelica says

    Nice article. If you’re still looking for someplace, you might check out Stir Crazy on Congress Street. http://www.stircrazymaine.com/ I used to go there all the time when I lived in Portland, and was there on their opening day. The family that owns it is very nice and their food is delicious. You can even mix and match to make your own dish.

    • Malcolm says

      Stir Crazy definitely piqued our interest, but we NEVER see anyone in there, so we kind of thought maybe they had closed down. It seems they haven’t, so we’ll be sure to try them for round two. Thanks!

    • Jennifer Maple says

      Stir Crazy has two locations…..Portland, on Congress St. and in Scarborough, on Route 1. The restaurant in Scarborough is a little bigger and not as busy.

  16. says

    When I moved to Portland 2 years ago (originally from Connecticut with a stint in New Jersey), one of the first things I did was to look for good Chinese food. I still have yet to find a place that does all the things right. Valley’s General Tso Chicken is a joke, Jan Mee is scary, and Lang’s tasted like someone was running a diesel engine in the kitchen. Now that I live in Lewiston, it’s even harder to find decent Chinese food. Thanks for your write up though. At least I know which restaurants to go for what dish. Sheesh.

  17. Jennifer says

    I really enjoyed this! I lived in Portland for three years and while I miss it so very much, living there I was always dumbfounded that there were NO decent Chinese options (we tried all eight of these, plus at least half a dozen more). I was hoping that maybe things had changed, but I see they haven’t… As for Wok Inn, if you actually haven’t subjected yourself to that nightmare, consider yourself lucky. Having eaten “Chinese food” in such far flung, exotic locals such as South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, as well as NYC and Boston, I can, hand on heart, say that Portland is the worst. Your best bet is China Rose in Freeport, or better yet, abandon the mission altogether and go for Vietnamese or Indian.

    • Malcolm says

      I kind of thought that by visiting Super Great Wall, I was covering the “Wok Inn” genre. I’m not sure why I arbitrarily made that distinction though. I guess, for the sake of completeness, that I am going to have to try them. Thanks for commenting!

  18. chris says

    Just to balance things out a bit, I’m voting that you avoid Fortune Garden at all costs. My husband is the least picky Chinese food eater I know, and even he won’t touch their stuff with a 10-foot chopstick (and he made several attempts to find something — anything — redeemable on the menu). To each his own, of course. But I just couldn’t read those recommendations and not add my .02.

    P.S. Great post!

    • Malcolm says

      Thanks Chris. We knew that by missing it, it was sure to be recommended…but it sounds like we didn’t miss out on much.

  19. Reid says

    China Rose in Freeport is actually really good and it’s been consistently good for a long time. Check it out…I won’t go anywhere else in the Portland area.

  20. Jennifer Maple says

    I loved this article….very comical and very true. There must be something addictive in Chinese food because I am addicted and it isn’t even very good. I enjoyed the laughs. Thank you.

  21. Brian says

    My wife and I used to eat at Jan Mee until about two years ago. I think they were sold then or something because the food turned to crap (granted, we only ever get the pu pu platter and a side of pork fried rice). We then found a place called China Villa in Westbrook, right on Main St. It has a very good pu pu platter. Can’t speak for anything else on the menu though. It is sad that this area doesn’t have much in the way of good Chinese, especially since this is such a “foody” city.

    • Malcolm says

      That’s what surprises us, too…for all of Portland’s “foodie” reputation, there are some definite core cuisines that are not well represented. Thanks Brian.

  22. says

    I lived in NYC for 2 years and grew up in CT. When I moved here I felt the same as you……..no good, cheap Chinese! I felt that way for many years. Finally, a few years ago China Villa opened in Westbrook and at the very least, it was finally good, solid chinese with a strong menu. They even have reasonably priced combination meals (with egg roll, fried rice and choice of soup!) for around $10.00. The place is clean and good. At the very least it will make you think you are in the ball park of decent Chinese food……which is quite a feat for Maine.

  23. Brad Seitz says

    I am curious about a comparison to a national chain – PF Chang’s for example. Forgetting service for a moment, if you have been to PFC and can guess at a star rating, what would it be? I used to live in the Phoenix area and liked PFC and their sister restaurant chains, Pei Wei. I also applauded the efforts here – being a closet foodie I now have a place to visit and read!

    • Malcolm says

      Thanks Brad. I have mixed feelings about PF Chang’s. I went to one in Portland, Oregon, and would have rated that a solid 3.5 … then again, I went to one in MA, and wouldn’t give it more than a 2.5 . I *will* say that, in Portland ME, a bag of frozen PF Chang’s “To Go” Orange Chicken from the supermarket and a few frozen pork buns from Trader Joe’s isn’t a terrible way to eat Chinese at home.

  24. Miquele says

    Thank you for this post!! We live outside of Portland, but I too have always been highly disappointed with the city’s offerings. I know it’s a drive, but if you’re ever going that way you should stop into China Village on Rt 26 in Gray. China Villa in Westbrook is another good option.

    • Malcolm says

      China Village is definitely on the list. Hmmmm, maybe we’re going to have to do a “reader reaction” post? I think I need to digest for a little while longer, first. Thanks for reading!

  25. Jake says

    Fortune Garden is a must. The owners are nice (they may give you a hard time after you’ve been there a few times, but it makes me smile every time) the food is always yummy, and i think they have the best hot and sour soup around.

  26. JL says

    Before i moved out of Maine i thought this is what chinese food was. In the time I was away i had eaten Chinese food in Boston, San Francisco, Sydney and Melbourne China towns. Then i moved back and tried to take my husband to get “good” chinese food…not happenin! So, yeah….Maine is seriously lacking in this department. Is there no Yum-Cha (Dim Sum) in Maine?? And why must all chicken be battered in 6 inches of batter?? But some times it’s still just tasty (and it’s even better without MSG, which seriously takes the joy out of eating when you are horribly sick an hour later…also an Americanized chinese food thing)

  27. Theresa says

    Wei-li in Auburn or Lucky Garden in Hallowell are the only 2 places I have found to be consistently good.

  28. Brian says

    Malcolm,

    Awesome post! We had the same exact experience when moving to the Portland area a little over a year ago. I grew up in Boston and grew up on good, greasy cheap Americanized Chinese food, and (aside from a top-notch sushi joint) it was the first thing we looked for upon arriving. We tried 6 or 7 places ourselves, with similar results, until someone from work recommended China Villa in Westbrook. It’s a little out of the way from South Portland, and there is really no other reason to go to Westbrook, but I have to agree with Phil and say that you will find China Villa is exactly what you are looking for.

    By the way, great site here…I am thrilled to see someone representing by wearing the “from away” status as a badge of honor, and not as the scarlet letter it is used as by native Mainers.

    Cheers!

    • Malcolm says

      Thanks, Brian. I am definitely going to try China Villa soon. And, as much as my body hates to say it, I may need to do a volume two of this post, based on reader suggestions. Thanks for the comment!

  29. says

    Great post! This was my first visit to your website, and this is my favorite post so far, but there is still more exploring left to do.

    I share your sentiments about the local Chinese food. Should you find a new go-to-place in the future please post an update.

  30. MBC says

    So I know Freeport is pretty much another planet from Portland, but I have been quite content with our Chinese place. I like the dumplings which is the most important part. For me. Haven’t tried sweet and sour chicken, but the beef and broccoli is good. Totally fufills my craving.

    It’s called China Rose, just a couple blocks south of LL Bean on Rt 1. (Don’t be fooled by the signs for the sushi place upstairs, that closed)

    I would also like to point out that Chia Sen has a great vegetarian selection. Their veggie sesame chicken is awesome. (obviously not really chicken, some kind of soy protein. Sure is good)

    • Malcolm says

      This is not the first I have heard of the elusive “China Rose.” It will be the next place we try. Thanks for the recommendation!

  31. Cindy says

    My husband and I read this post with dismay just before moving to Maine from San Francisco in March 2011. We tried several of the places mentioned here, including China Rose, but found nothing that came close to anything we would call “good.” Until last week when we tried Zen Chinese Bistro on Danforth St. in Portland. It’s the best Chinese food we’ve had in Maine by far. Hope you have a chance to give it a try.

  32. Bill'd says

    Hilarious article!
    In any city with less than a million people forget Chinese, eat Thai!
    In many small towns in my travels the Thai place is the only edible food around, and often the only non-chain choice.
    The Thai in Portland is fantastic, try Veranda or Boda, or slum it across from Union Station Plaza (home of the now infamous Jan-Mee) in the Thai place in the old block of little stores, used to be called Seng but name keeps changing, food still good.
    Now if only we could get some really good cheap and authentic Mexican…

  33. Flectarn says

    Meh, I still say Imperial China has the best Hot & Sour soup I’ve ever had. Though maybe the other places I’ve lived, Ashevile, NC, and Cincinnati, OH, also have poor Chinese options compared to Boston or New York?

  34. Flectarn says

    Meh, I still say Imperial China has the best Hot & Sour soup I’ve ever had. Though maybe the other places I’ve lived, Ashevile, NC, and Cincinnati, OH, also have poor Chinese options compared to Boston or New York?

    By the Way, have you tried China Rose in Freeport, or their buffet in Brunswick? I prefer Imperial China, but I went to High School with their daughter, so I feel oddly compelled to plug them.

  35. Jill says

    In defense of Chia Sen, I will say that I think they do special sauce dishes a lot better than the fried items you mentioned– their Hunan and Amazing sauce dishes are quite good. And unlike most Chinese places, the sauces are rather distinct (I hate it when I order one dish, my husband an other, and yet our food tastes exactly alike).

    There’s a tiny place on Route 1 just outside of Kittery (heading north, on your left) that I’ve heard people talking about. It’s kind of scary and run-down, and I drove it by because I was too scared to try it (!), but several people have insisted that it’s quite good. Sadly, I don’t remember the name.

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