Thien Hong

To start this article, let me reveal my ignorance to you.

I love Thien Hong. It's a great place. Perhaps their greatest dish is their pepper-salted squid.

That said, I found myself discussing last night's dinner with JLowe today, and I had to ask him a question. Is Thien Hong a Chinese food place?

"No," he said. "It's Vietnamese." I'd struggled with the same thought last night, as I was realizing the variety of noodle soup, Pho-like dishes on their menu.

"But," I said, "their menu has so much of the typical Chinese stuff on it. General Tso's Chicken, Kung Pao stuff, Sweet and Sour stuff, fried rice..." I was at a loss. "Perhaps I should just call it 'Asian.'"

JLowe advised that would be insensitive, and that it would be preferable to research the issue.

So, I Googled "Thien Hong," and based on what I'm seeing, it's sort of a fusion of Chinese and Vietnamese. And, thus, it gets categorized here as "Asian Cuisine" despite JLowe's wise counsel.

That out of the way...

Last night, my other brother-in-law was in town, and so my wife and daugther and I joined her mother and him at Thien Hong because he wanted "Chinese food." Really, if you want quality Chinese food in Portland (whether "Chinese" or Chinese), there are only two places on my radar -- Thien Hong and Hunan. So, even though I wasn't really thinking that Chinese was optimal, given the heat of the day and the usual heaviness of Asian cuisine, I decided that life would be okay.

Thien Hong signage

Thien Hong is a nice, clean, open-air sort of place in NE Portland on Sandy Boulevard, near 73rd. When I say "open-air," that's in contrast to, say, Pix, where the sides of the restaurant are garage-door-like walls that roll up. Thien Hong is open-air in the sense that the room is well-lit (there are skylights all over) and there just seems to be a lot of space. I like that. I hate feeling cramped.

You can really go a couple of ways at Thien Hong. Most of the time, we go for a more traditional Chinese-type dinner. The dishes are all conducive to typical family-style Chinese eating, and a normal entree splits well among as many as 6 people.

Or you can go for the Pho. The bowls are generally large enough to serve at least two comfortably.

You can mix the two, but I don't see that done much. Perhaps it should be done more...

Either way, the meal will generally start with the salt and pepper squid. The stuff really is sensational, and is Thien Hong's signature piece. Our table was between the kitchen and most of the rest of the restaurant, so we were able to bear witness to the popularity of the squid, as we saw no less than 7 plates full being run past our booth to other diners (not counting ours) and dinner hour hadn't hit yet (we were there at 5, since my bro-in-law had to hit the road to home shortly after). I don't know what I love the most about the squid. The plate comes heaping with crunchy leg-parts, which I love, and also chewy-squishy torso parts, which are also very good but are normally what will appeal to more of the people at your table (last night, for instance, I got all the legs to myself as noone else relished the idea of chewing up tentacles as much as me). The chewy bits tend to be more flavorful, but nowhere in the whole plate is there a disappointing bite. Ever. I've never regretted an order of their squid.

We each chose an entree to contribute to the potluck. My wife chose her favorite, the asparagus in black bean sauce, which is always quite good, if a little boring (no meat in the dish). My brother-in-law chose the beef and broccoli, which was boring and, frankly, entirely forgettable. My mother-in-law chose the House Special fried rice, which had shrimp, beef, and chicken mixed into it. Very tasty, though I only actually saw one shrimp on the platter. Plenty of beef and chicken, though, so it wasn't like it was a rip-off or anything. I went with the good ol' General.

A bit of each

The service was prompt, about a 5 minute wait for our order to be taken, and another 7-10 minutes for it to be brought out. Absolutely top-knotch. All of the wait-staff is friendly, and they're generally quite attentive, even when the place is really hopping.

I didn't get to see the final bill, but the prices are not extravagant, the portions are always plentiful, and I've never walked away feeling ripped-off, so I'm sure it was reasonable. And all of us (except my daughter, who's only 21 months and thus has difficulty focussing on eating at restaurants) left full and happy. Too full, in fact, because I spent the rest of the night with that just-ate-Chinese bloated feeling that I always promise myself I won't get next time, and then never fail to get next time.

I think it's safe to say that Thien Hong is my favorite Chinese food place in town, even if they are a Chinese-Vietnamese food place. If you go, make sure to order the squid. Failure is not an option.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like Thien Hong but haven't been in a couple of years. I love the squid there and their mu-shu pork is pretty good. The whole fried fish is very good too. The General Tso's tofu is even better than the chicken (and I am not really a tofu fan at all, seriously) because the tofu is light and almost creamy. Also a winner is the fried tofu with shrimp paste (again, not a fan of tofu but this dish is really good). Another good veggie option there is the garlic dau-miu, or pea shoots/sprouts...very tasty.