I know Chinatown can be intimidating. We think it’s so easy, because it’s our job to just drive up and down Spring Mountain Road trying out every little (sometimes sketchy) restaurant to our hungry hearts’ content. But it’s trickier than that. There are so many places to eat, and much more than just Chinese food with which to experiment. How do you know which restaurants are best, or at least most approachable? How can you know if you’ll love it, or what to order? Even for the adventurous eater, it’s a lot to chew on.
I pledge to do my best to translate all the exotic Asian cuisine I can get my chopsticks on, to make you feel more comfortable lunching along our other, cheaper strip. I’ve even got the perfect place for you to begin your Spring Mountain odyssey, a Chinese restaurant where you can stick to favorite flavors or take off the training wheels.
1900 Asian Cuisine lives on the first floor of the densely packed Pacific Asian Plaza, where it moved from an upstairs spot several months ago. The original restaurant was called Three Villages; there I discovered the slippery, savory noodle dish Eight Treasures ($7.95), slathered in spicy shrimp, pork, peanuts, bamboo shoots and more. It’s still on the menu, joined by other dishes everyone will love: xiao long bao ($6.95), or pork soup dumplings, served in a metal steam basket and delicately filled with tender meat and hot broth; beef roll pie ($7.95), something of a Chinese burrito with thin slices of meat and fresh herbs rolled into a flaky, delicious rice flour wrap; and shrimp or pork and vegetable wonton soup ($7.95), bright and clean and tranquilizing.
So many Chinese restaurants offer multi-page menus with little variety. This menu is perfectly sized, and you order dishes with a pencil, sushi joint-style. I love that it’s not completely Cantonese, focusing more on Northern Chinese cuisine. But the best part is that we can eat here together, sharing the stuff you love and sampling the out-there dishes I can’t wait to try. I’ll upgrade our soup dumplings to include some crab stuffed inside with the pork. Maybe we’ll change it up with seafood-stacked hot and sour soup ($10.95) instead of the wontons we already know we love. Experiment with different dishes at 1900 and enjoy some small surprises: A simply described plate of pork belly with garlic sauce ($6.95) is served cold, thin strips of supple pork wrapped around cucumbers and drenched in a sweet, sour, pungent sauce that will stay with you for days.
Maybe I’ll talk you into trying the frog in Sichuan sauce ($15.95), one of the most amazing dishes I’ve ever encountered. A massive bowl of what looks like an incendiary soup contains endless chunks of tender meat—it eats like fish, but careful with those bones—and layers of garlic, fresh ginger, peppercorns, chilies, and other tongue-tingling sensations. Sichuan frog will get you high. When you’re ready, it’s a must.
But take your time. Work your way through. That’s the fun of eating our Chinatown.
1900 Asian Cuisine 5115 Spring Mountain Road, 998-8989. Daily, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.