Commenter Max asks an important Christmas question that’s also vitally important for the incoming Obama team to consider:
Merry Christmas, Matthew and enjoy the Chinese food! (Which brings up the question: does the Chinese food here suck as much as the Mexican food? Because I had the worst Chinese food I ever had here (cooked by actual Chinese people), and I’m hoping it was a one-off.)(Maybe the badness of the food induces badness in governing, so we need a stimulus project to replace all the restaurants in DC with good ones.)
The issue with Chinese food and DC isn’t that there’s no good stuff, it’s that there’s an extraordinary quantity of bad stuff. If you go to a shitty neighborhood where there’s very little in the way of retail options — like Columbia Heights in 2003 or U Street in 2004 or the Atlas District in 2006 or many other places to this day — the one thing you can count on being there is an incredibly awful Chinese restaurant. Back when I lived near the corner of 10th and V I was in a deeply dysfunctional relationship with Lucy Chinese on 10th and U. Every time we spent the night together I would regret it in the worst way the following morning and swear we were through, but soon enough I would come crawling back. It was disturbing.
What pulled me out of the self-destructive cycle was Mr. Chen’s Organic Chinese. I’ve never actually been to Mr Chen’s and I’m not totally sure where it is (Woodley Park, I think) but they’ve got a pretty wide delivery radius and if you’re in it you should check the place out — it’s very classic Chinese-American place but well made and with good ingredients. These days, though, I live just blocks from DC’s best Chinese restaurant Full Kee, which is just slightly off the main drag in Chinatown. The cuisine is a bit hard for me to characterize, but there’s a lot of good seafood here. I recommend both the crispy spicy head-on shrimp and the crispy spicy fried squid. I think the shrimp’s somewhat better, but the best part is the head so the more squeamish may want to go with the squid.
Full Kee doesn’t deliver, so if I want delivery I now turn to Great Wall Szechuan House near Logan Circle. Stick to the Szechuan items on the menu. Also notable in the city in Chinatown Express on 6th Street south of H. There’s a little box on the menu featuring cheap dumplings, cheap fried noodles, cheap noodle soup, and cheap pork buns. None of this stuff is great, but it’s all an excellent bargain and delightfully close to the movie theater and the Verizon Center.
But my favorite Chinese place in the area is, like most of Greater Washington’s very best Asian food, in a random strip mall in the suburbs. Thus, if you’ve got the means to go there check out Hong Kong Palace in Falls Church. Note, though, that despite the name this is a Szechuan place. Try the lamb with cumin.
For more on the general subject, check out the “Chinese” section in Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide.