It’s not the case now, but for an extended period of time, Portland longed for a Chinese restaurant that offered something more than the typical Americanized take out specialist. Enter Empire Chinese Kitchen in 2013. The restaurant opened to lots of praise and has been going strong ever since, drawing crowds which, at times, have made it difficult for me to get a seat in a timely manner.
I most recently found myself headed there for a weekend lunch. It was the only restaurant my wife and I could agree upon which made it the obvious choice. We got there early enough that we were able to have our pick of the seating and took a booth along the far wall. After settling in, my wife immediately ordered some black tea and we searched the menu for lots of food.
Though the tea came out very quickly, we had already figured out what we wanted to eat. I decided to start with the Empire Eggroll – local beef pastrami, asparagus, cabbage – and the Steamed Pork Dumplings – scallion and nappa. My wife started with Har Gow – steamed shrimp dumplings in translucent wrappers. Lastly, we planned to share the Teriyaki Chicken – marinated and wok-fried natural cage-free chicken, steamed bok choy, rice.
The pork dumplings and har gow came out first and I was more than ready to consume. Both came with the standard dumpling sauce and I asked for some hot mustard to add a little fire to my face. The outer wrapper of my meat pocket was extra sticky and a slice through the middle revealed a stuffed interior. I took a bite and found it to be along the lines of many I had eaten in the past, sort of an amalgamation of all the ones I’d had before.
My four dumplings were a great start, but I was particularly excited when my eggroll filled with pastrami came out. There was a honey mustard sauce accompanying it. My wife now had her spring rolls too which came with a sweet and sour sauce, so we rolled together. I tried mine and it was glorious – really just a little pastrami sandwich in a deep fried wrapper. I ate bites with the various sauces on the table, but my roll was definitely best with the honey mustard. I didn’t get much of the asparagus from it which was great because I’m not a huge fan.
Mrs. Portlandeater’s roll was pretty good, but I preferred mine. We both ate them and then waited for our teriyaki. The restaurant filled up while we did and I realized we had gotten there at just the right time. When our main course came out, I couldn’t have been happier. With the chicken and rice given some color by the beautiful bok choy, I was excited to dig in.
As I took my first bites of chicken, I felt as I often do about the food there which is that it tasted fresher, felt higher quality, and looked the part. The meal was excellent and the bok choy was a great addition which made it feel like a full fledged meal. We both ate a fair amount and I picked up my wife’s slack by finishing what was left. Our final bill came to around $44 prior to tip.
Our meal at Empire was superb as it always is. They make Chinese food that brings something more to the table – literally – than what you’re used to. Their food is fresh, delicious, and often made with local ingredients, their menu is full of items that aren’t quite the same as you’d find elsewhere, and it should be noted that their drinks are absolutely magnificent. I recommend the Chinese Marguarita.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the regular, old Chinese food you can find just about everywhere around here. Bringing home a large brown bag of egg rolls, crab rangoons, and fried rice and slathering them in duck sauce isn’t the worst thing in the world. But when you want those items elevated to another level, Empire is the place to go.
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