12306 SE Powell Blvd 503-206-8292
Forget beef with broccoli and General Tso’s chicken. As Portland emerges as America’s next great food city, every cuisine should share the stage, particularly the fiery, piquant cooking that is Chinese Sichuan. Enter Lucky Strike. It’s just one of a growing collection of worthy Asian restaurants sprouting in strip malls throughout the new Chinatown of outer Southeast. And this little seven-table gem delivers jolts to your taste buds that will revise everything you know about Chinese food.
Close contenders: Du Kuh Bee, Good Taste, Om Seafood
Owner Rita Jia You grew up in Sichuan Province and came to Portland when she was 18. Forlorn at the dearth of Sichuan offerings here, she decided to fix the problem herself. She enlisted boyfriend Stefan Leopold to cook, and together they opened a restaurant—neither of them with any formal culinary training (unless a degree in accounting qualifies). Most dishes are simply meals Jia grew up eating; others come from Leopold’s only experience working in a kitchen: helping out at Jia’s father’s factory cafeteria in China. “We combined knowledge—me knowing what it’s supposed to taste like, and him knowing some stuff he’d learned from the factory,” she says. “And then came Lucky Strike.”
Long nights spent figuring it all out have resulted in some transcendent dishes, like the not-to-be-missed Hot Pepper Chicken Bath: tiny cubes of chicken buried underneath a pile of dried Sichuan peppers. The spicy dan dan noodles with minced pork are cut with sesame paste to take some of that Sichuan edge off, and Mao’s infamous twice-cooked pork is given a local spin with a fine cut of pork belly mixed with tender Chinese chives. The cumin beef is not for the faint of heart, but it’s spectacular if you’re a seasoned devotee of this tangy spice. The dish, like most Sichuan dishes, contains prickly ash, a dried herb that, when you bite into it, sends your tongue on a tour of numbness, heat, and finally, a hint of strange, dry sweetness. —EH