I had my husband’s van for the day last Monday so a friend and I could go thrift store shopping. When I picked him up at the end of the day and, of course–as soon as we caught ourselves up on the hugging and kissing we’d missed being apart all day–we started playing our traditional “what do you want to eat?” game.
After a bit of backing and forthing, we decided we wanted Chinese, and that it had been way too long since we’d been to Chen’s Village. It was definitely time to fix that!
Chen’s is actually very close to his office, so there’s really no excuse for us not getting there fairly often. The problem is, we usually leave his office and start driving elsewhere before we actually decide what we want to eat … and, by the time we make up our minds, we’re already so far away from Chen’s that we usually don’t think about it.
Here’s the actual address, and a link to their site:544 Elliott Ave West Seattle, WA 98119 Phone: (206) 281-8838
Let me be up-front here: most people don’t go to Chen’s for the ambiance. It’s been there for as long as a lot of people can remember, and–honestly, much like many of the older businesses along that part of Elliot Avenue–the restaurant itself is kinda threadbare and dingy, both inside and out. That area was born solidly industrial, but–with the recent addition of Whole Foods, several apartment buildings that offer a view (even if it is just a view of working docks, with the occasional glimpse of water … but, hey … the rents are cheaper than downtown), and then the new blocks of high-rise office buildings that have started crawling ever northward along Elliot, ones high tech companies are now calling home–someone’s been trying to bring that neighborhood up a few notches in the last decade or so.
Right in the middle of all that urban regrowth, Chen’s is still stuck in the old world. Its face is dingy white-painted (I think it’s) concrete block. It sports cheap lighting and beer and sports posters on the outside, with a pool table and a bar in the back.
In other words–at first glance–there’s not much to recommend Chen’s as a place to eat.
Likewise, you’re not going to look at their menu and go “OMG!” or WOW!” In truth, there’s not much there beyond standard sorts of Chinese restaurant fare found in most American cities: Kung pao, General Tso’s, eggroll, wonton soup … basically, the basics. The Coral Prawns and the Salt and Pepper Fish Fillets are about the most exotic things on the menu … and they’re still pretty basic.
The waitstaff is fairly attentive … most times. I usually find their service excellent, but I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say that I have had to go hunting for a server there on occasion. And–it bothers some people, but it really doesn’t bother me–they sometimes bring your food to you as it gets ready in the kitchen … NOT in any sort of pre-prescribed standard meal order. That means you may occasionally get your appetizer with your meal, or your soup last, or any number of other meal-order faux pas that certain Americans seem to have real problems with. It doesn’t bother me personally, but maybe that’s because I’ve eaten in quite a few very authentic Chinese restaurants over the years. It’s not the first time I’ve been served like that, and it probably won’t be the last. Plus–personally–I appreciate getting my food at its peak of heat and flavor, so I don’t have as much of a problem with the custom of bringing your food as it’s ready … not as much as some other people apparently do.
Okay … I’m not really selling you on Chen’s, am I?
Nope! Actually, I’m just addressing all the potential downsides with you first, getting them out of the way before I start making you drool!
The reality is, don’t let looks or unusual service customs keep you from trying this great restaurant. I’ve eaten at Chen’s probably 30-40 times in the seven+ years years we’ve lived in Seattle … and I’ve never once had a bad meal there … ever! Their food is always hot, fresh, and amazingly tasty! Plus–bonus points–it’s really cheap, too … especially at lunch! It’s not unusual for my husband and I to have lunch at Chen’s for around $20.00 total, and that’s for an appetizer, two full meals–including soup, rice and eggroll–and a generous tip! Dinners aren’t that much more expensive from there.
That particular evening, we started out with an order of Crab Rangoon and an order of eggrolls. Both were awesome, but I especially love how light and crispy the wrappers are on their Rangoons! I also added a cup of wonton soup to my meal, and it was so good I just wanted to crawl right into the bowl. My little cup contained two walnut-sized wontons that were lovely all by themselves, each cram full of spiced minced pork, but my soup also contained a nice-sized slice of Chinese BBQ pork and what tasted/chewed like pieces of velvet chicken.
If you’ve never had Chinese velvet chicken before, it’s white meat chicken that’s basically cut small and blanched/slightly pre-cooked in hot, boiling water first, then cooled before it’s added to the final dish. It’s so-named because the process makes velvet chicken amazingly soft and delicate, and VERY easy to chew and swallow. That makes it absolutely wonderful in my book. Thanks to the aftermath of my gastric bypass surgery, I sometimes have problems getting chicken down–or, technically, keeping it down–even six years post-op, especially when you’re talking about white meat. Most times, I have real problems eating chicken, but velvetizing it makes it easy for me to eat chicken again!
It wasn’t just the extra goodies in the wonton soup, though. It was the soup itself. The broth base to my soup was just absolutely marvelous: salty and savory and just completely delicious! If it came out of a can, it’s a can I’ve never been able to find … and I haunt restaurant supply stores (Asian and other wise) on a pretty regular basis. Nope–to me–it tasted wonderfully homemade … but it was also dense despite being thin, and complex on the tongue. I could have easily eaten a quart of it all by myself–even with my food restrictions–so I was sad to see my cup of soup gone so quickly.
As far as main courses go, my husband ordered his favorite: Bell Pepper Beef. When our waitress delivered it to the table, the first whiff made me regret not ordering that for myself. In addition to thin-sliced beef, the dish featured big chunks of green pepper, broccoli, onions and carrot, brought all together with a bean-based sauce. It smelled so good I wanted to put a little behind each ear
And, of course, I forgot to take a picture of it before he ate it all. I keep forgetting this blog stuff, but I’ll try to get better at it!
Myself, I’ve grown rather partial to Chen’s Salt and Pepper Fish Fillets.
They dust strips of whitefish fillets with salt, pepper, and cornstarch, then fry them fast and hot. As they come out of the grease, the pieces of fish go into a dry wok, where they’re quickly stir-fried with green onions, dried red peppers, garlic, and a host of other secret spices. When it hits your tongue, it’s soft and crispy and salty and so many other flavors all at the same time, all dancing around on your tongue! The only thing that would make it better in my book would be a small bowl of sweet and dill tarter sauce to dip that fish into! Remember, I’m a Georgia Girl
Over the years, I’ve also really enjoyed Chen’s Sizzling Rice Soup, Dry Sautéed String Beans (for two people, we often split an order of string beans and an order of the Salt & Pepper Fish … makes a great combo), and at least half of their beef and chicken entrees.Like I said, I’ve never gotten a bad dish there, so … basically, I’ll give it the best rating I can give any restaurant: I’d eat at Chen’s anytime! Just call me! A!