In 2017, Portland’s alt-Asian food scene—exemplified in the past by fusion-minded spots like Smallwares, Boke Bowl, and Expatriate—stopped being so alt. Perhaps spurred by the success of Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok and Earl Ninsom’s Langbaan, local chefs with a yen for Asian cooking don’t seem quite so afraid of the word “authentic” as they once were.
Indeed, authenticity is at the heart of Danwei Canting, a newish Chinese spot on SE Stark Street, just across from the beloved Slammer dive bar. Former Bluehour chef Kyo Koo taps owner Jim Kyle’s 13 years spent eating around Beijing for inspiration. They aim to give Portlanders a best-of playlist from this capital city and melting pot of regional Chinese cooking, from Chongqing egg noodles to Xianjiang lamb skewers.
It’s still early, but there are already standouts. Chinese street burgers, like the cumin-braised lamb, offer handheld comfort—a messy pot roast packed into flatbread. Sichuan province is well represented, with fat, fried green beans curled around bits of spicy, caramelized pork. The La Zi Ji fried chicken is a must-try: a mountain of whole scarlet chiles, minefields of mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, and crackle-crisp nuggets of chicken plastered with shreds of ginger, sesame, and green onion.
But Danwei is a work in progress, with some staples, including muted dumplings and overseasoned noodles, not quite hitting the mark. Koo says with feedback—and several planned trips to Beijing—the menu will undergo significant honing and remodeling. If you were hoping to spend a sleepy afternoon tilting a lazy Susan, this isn’t the place; with the exception of an eye-popping Paul Bunyan–meets–Great Wall mural, the space is your standard-issue industrial counter-service joint.
Danwei is a new breed of Portland Chinese restaurant: an earnest attempt at regional cooking aimed at Westerners, yet pared down from the laminated phone-book-size menus found at many restaurants, with not a General Tso in sight. And, at the very least, it’s already one of the best takeout spots west of 82nd, especially after a visit to the Slammer.