On Wednesday we decided to dine in Chinatown for dinner before going to see Killer of Sheep at the E Street Cinema. Although DC's Chinatown is nothing compared to its more famous counterparts in Vancouver, San Francisco, and even Seattle where I used to live, I had heard that Li Ho's noodles were tasty and wanted to check it out.
At first glance, I hoped that Li Ho would support my theory, largely developed and supported over numerous cheap meals in Shanghai, that the quality of the food is often inversely correlated with the quality of the decor. Features like the dingy pink paneled walls, familiar paper placemats and Maneki neko statue perched on the counter drew me in. The place seemed primarily to be a takeout place, since that was our server's first question posed to us when we entered "You want takeout or eat here?"
Taking a cue from the anonymous reviewer that I had stumbled across, I ordered the Xiamen mifen. To my surprise, I switched effortlessly to Mandarin when addressed (in a Southern but not immediately placeable accent) by our waitress (the co-owner? Wife of the owner?). It was comfortingly familiar to listen to the sounds of stir-frying while we waited, stirring up early memories of watching Grandpa with his wok in the restaurant kitchen. When the food arrived, I was mildly disappointed at first glance to see the thin vermicelli strands piled up on the serving dish, since my experience of 'fun,' from childhood meals at my grandparents' dinner table, is of the wide, thick rice noodles slippery with oil that are often stir-fried with beef. However, after my first light and airy (and wok-hey) bite, I was converted. The char siu was nicely flavored and cut into smallish chunks, the egg was your normal greasy (and satisfying) strands, and the baby shrimp were nothing special. The noodles were definitely what made the dish. I'd like to think that my grandfather had such wok chops, and that some day I will, too.
M's duck was just, as we would say, 'ma-ma' (so-so), but the broccoli alongside was cooked just right (i.e., not soggy and limp) and the rice was cooked in a good Chinese style.
I would go back, just for the noodles. You rarely get that kind of taste anywhere but in China (in my limited experience, at least).
510 H Street