Fried rice with beef and broccoli and dumplings, at China Xpress in South Portland. Photos by Ray Routhier

SOUTH PORTLAND — I was pretty confident, because of the name, that China Xpress would be fast. But I wasn’t sure that it could be fast and good.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I tried the new South Portland restaurant recently. Though all the food sits on steam trays, ready to be served, it all tasted fresh.

The broccoli, which I sampled in three dishes, was a good test of this. It was cooked enough to not be crunchy (I hate crunchy broccoli) but was nowhere close to being wilted. The same went for the chunks of chicken in the kung pao chicken and the chicken with broccoli; both were tender and juicy.

But even before I found the food to be tasty, the place won me over for its speed, simplicity and prices. You basically pick your meal on sight, by pointing at things in the steam trays. You start by choosing fried rice or lo mein, then you add what the place calls “sides,” which are various standard Chinese restaurant appetizers or entrees. If you get one side plus rice or lo mein, it’s $6.50; choose two, and it’s $7.50, or $8.50 for three.

The choices of “sides” on the day I went included kung pao chicken, chicken with broccoli, chicken teriyaki, orange chicken, beef with broccoli, beef teriyaki, vegetarian spring roll, dumplings, chicken fingers and crab Rangoon.  You could also buy any of the dishes – rice or lo mein, sides, appetizers – a la carte.

I went in about 1 p.m. on a Tuesday and found no line. So I chose my lunches (I bought two, at $7.50 a piece, and saved one for the next day) then watched the server scoop them into two compartmentalized containers. In one, I chose the fried rice with beef and broccoli and two pork dumplings; in the other, I had the lo mein with kung pao chicken and chicken and broccoli.

I liked the sauces on all three of the meat dishes, including the slightly sweet ones on the broccoli dishes and the slightly hot one on the kung pao. The two dumplings were bigger than most I’ve had – maybe twice the size as at some restaurants – and a little thick. But they were tender and stuffed with lots of pork filling. The fried rice, with little bits of veggies, was a nice accompaniment to the dishes, though by itself a little bland. The noodles in the lo mein were thick and the sauce was a little heavy for my taste.

China Xpress opened in August on a busy stretch of Broadway, between Evans and Lincoln streets. It has a fairly large dining area with sleek, curved-wood chairs and tables. It also has a drive-through window, with a big outdoor menu like at fast-food places. The day I went, and on another day when I drove by, the drive-up window was not open. The eatery’s Facebook page says it’s looking for drive-through workers. But the indoor service was about as fast as any drive-through, at least on the day I went.

Part of the dining area at China Xpress in South Portland.

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