April 5, 2012

Eat and Run: Ni Hao

A relative newcomer in Portland, China Taste has some welcome menu options.

I was very excited last year when it looked as if we were getting a new little restaurant in our neighborhood, and even more so after I discovered it would be a new Chinese place.

click image to enlarge

Guo Sen Shi, owner and cook at China Taste, serves up a meal of cashew chicken with mixed vegetables and pork fried rice.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer


WHERE: 1223 Washington Ave., Portland; 878-1388 or 878-1588

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday

CHEAPEST GRUB: Luncheon specials are all $6.95.

WAIT: 10 minutes



RATING: 3 stars on a five-star scale

When China Taste opened on the corner of Washington and Maine avenues, the parking lot was constantly busy with residents buzzing in and out for takeout. After a few weeks, however, traffic dropped off considerably, and after eating there several times, I understood why.

Folks in the 'hood were perhaps hoping for a place that wasn't like every other Chinese restaurant in town, and while China Taste is just fine, it's not really anything new. I slowly found myself migrating back to Thai food for takeout.

Recently, a local paper gave China Taste a good review, so I decided to give it another try.

The restaurant is owned by the same family who owns China Taste in Yarmouth. There's a very small dining area with just four tables, and a small sitting area where you can wait for your food if you haven't called in your order.

The menu is huge, as it is at most Chinese places, and covers the usual territory. I've found the quality of the food to be uneven.

In my early trips to China Taste, I was unimpressed with its shrimp fried rice, preferring the more flavorful version at Veranda Thai down the street on the other end of Washington Avenue. China Taste's eggrolls are just OK.

But I have also had some better-than-average dishes there, including a few during my recent visits that were a cut above other Chinese places. I like the black bean sauce, which has a smokier flavor to it than others I've tried, and the beef and chicken teriyakis are both delicious.

If you have kids who like chicken fingers, the ones at China Taste are tender, hot and refreshingly not dripping in grease as you'll often find in other restaurants. Generally, the vegetables seem fresh and not overcooked.

China Taste serves an array of lunch specials from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. These are combination plates such as sesame chicken and crab rangoon, or shrimp with lobster sauce and an egg roll. They come with either white rice or pork-fried rice, plus your choice of egg drop, wonton or hot and sour soup.

Similar dinner combos, some (but not all) with an extra item, are priced at $8.25 to $8.95.

Chef's specialties range from $10.95 for General Tso's Chicken to $15.95 for Gai Poo Lo Mein, which costs more because it contains lobster and other seafood.

The bottom line: If you're looking for a place you can run into and grab some quick, American-style Chinese takeout for dinner -- and you're not too fussy -- China Taste will suit your needs just fine.

The staff of GO anonymously samples meals for about $7.


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