Housed in a nondescript building on SE 3rd Street, on the surface Chan's meets most of the common Chinese restaurant stereotypes: An exterior that stands out only for its awesome old-school pagoda-shaped sign and an interior that can best be described as a Howard Johnson's after Pier 1 had its way with it. However, I found all of this encouraging. Serving the area since 1986, Chan's staying power is proven. So if it isn't style or kitsch or gimmick that keeps the crowds coming in, then it must be substance.
Greeted by a photo of Mr. Chan himself welcoming customers at the door, the stage was set for friendly, cheerful service. The menu, expansive to say the least and bordering on unwieldy, covers the entire map of China. Self-described as focusing on Szechuan, Hunan and Cantonese cuisine, that isn't the half of it. Dishes are broken down further into preparations like Shanghai, Beijing, Mongolian, Kung Po, Yu Hsiang, Mu Shu and curry, as well as traditional American-Chinese concoctions including Chow Fun, Lo Mein, Egg Foo Young, Sweet and Sour and the like.
Since my deadline precluded the 100 or so visits it would require to cover the gamut, I decided to sample a couple of Chan's specialty dishes and a couple of my long-time favorites. Like calamari is my litmus test for Italian restaurants and the basic taco for Mexican, hot-and-sour soup is my bellwether for Chinese food, so I went with a cup to start. On the darker, savorier side, as opposed to the lighter and eggier, it was reminiscent of the hot and sour of my youth only could have used a little more hot and a little more sour.
For specialty entrees, the Mongolian Shrimp ($12.95) was a lovely heap of wok-seared shrimp with onions, water chestnuts and chili peppers on a bed of rice noodles. Light but with big flavor. The Szechuan from the Sea ($12.95), on the other hand, was a little too sweet and a little too saucy for my taste, but the veritable pound of scallops, shrimp and filet of sole made it a great value. If I ordered it again, I'd ask that they go light on the sauce and sub out the zucchini and carrots it came with for another vegetable. One very nice thing about Chan's is that they welcome such requests.
My go-to Chinese favorites were House Chow Fun ($9.95) and House Mu Shu ($9.95). The Chow Fun was tasty and pretty standard with stir-fried wide rice noodles, sprouts, green onions with shrimp and chunks of a variety of meats. The Mu Shu, a dish I cannot live without, went beyond the ordinary and maybe even surpassed the version from my childhood that I hold all mu shu up against. (If you haven't had it before, think Chinese fajitas.) The filling - shredded cabbage, carrots, onion, celery, egg and wok-seared roast pork, chicken, beef and shrimp - was delicious, light and generous with the proteins. The flour pancake wraps were thin yet elastic enough to hold a large scoop and a smear of hoisin sauce without breaking.
While I'll never abandon my beloved Bamboo Room altogether, I'm definitely adding Chan's to my repertoire - particularly when it's a mu shu kind of day.
1005 SE 3rd St., 389-1725. Open for lunch and dinner daily