Chinese food has never been Portland’s strongest point. We’ve got amazing Thai food thanks to Pok Pok chef Andy Ricker’s various disciples, and fantastic Vietnamese, given a healthy immigrant population. But our dim sum palaces, jammed for weekend brunch though they may be, do not yet rival the heights achieved in
San Francisco or Vancouver BC.
Enter Danwei Canting, a fast-casual, counter service restaurant in the Buckman neighborhood of SE Portland that toplines Beijing-influenced street food. My family hit the restaurant on a recent Saturday night, arriving at
5:30 pm to find a short line to place our order and a pretty full restaurant (but tables turn over fast — we snared one right away).
There were plenty of kids scattered around at that hour, and we ran into one of the managers, who had grabbed a table for two with his toddler daughter, who was inhaling a plate of dumplings ($7 for a generous serving of 8, served with a splash of black vinegar for dipping.) He told us kids also love the crispy potatoes ($4) and the kitchen will happily leave off the peppers for the small set; they’ve also got high chairs at the ready. My kids were immediately happy with the free chewy Asian candy available at the counter; I thought the free green tea (even refills) was another nice touch.
My son the carnivore refused to share his crispy pork ribs (two per order for $6); my daughter the vegetarian was happy with her wok-seared green beans and white rice, though the spice level was on the high side for her. We took the manager up on his suggestion and tried the pork dumplings with ginger, chives, garlic and napa cabbage, which were great, but the vegetarian dumplings (also $7), with tofu, sweet potato noodles, scallions, carrots and sesame were bland and doughy. I was happy to break up the heavier food on the table with the tangy xinjiang cucumber salad ($5) but disappointed with the tasteless, supermarket-quality tomatoes in the salad. The chefs should know not to serve those until summertime. We all tried some of my husband’s wonton noodle soup in a shellfish broth, which was savory and satisfying on a cold night. ($11).
The portions here aren’t huge, but a family of four can eat well for around $50. (They’ve got take-out, too). Between those dumplings, cucumber salad and crispy potatoes, there’s plenty for kids to try, and the menu really opens up for kids who can handle a little bit of spice. For dessert, try the dim sum classic egg custard ($3) — they don’t do that one any better in San Francisco or Vancouver.
Danwei Canting: 803 SE Stark Street. 503-236-6050. danweicanting.com. n
Ocean City: The queue for Sunday dim sum brunch here starts early, so get there by 10 am or prepare to wait. Go for all manner of dumplings, stay for the sticky sesame dessert buns. 3016 SE 82nd Ave.
The Tao of Tea: This serene space at Lan Su Garden has tea flights and small plates, including puffed rice bars and mooncakes. 239 NW Everett.
XLB: More counter service Chinese, this time on N. Williams’ restaurant row, this new spot specializes in Shanghai-style soup dumplings, served in steamy-hot broth. 4090 N. Williams Ave.