Dish: Sweet and Spicy Beef Noodles
Place: Lucky 8’s China House, Capitol Hill
On the plate: From the menu: “Thin egg noodles with beef, garlic, and sweet chili sauce.” You’ll also notice bamboo shoots, onions, carrots, water chestnuts, celery, and green onions on the plate.
Supporting cast/What to do: You’ll find soy sauce and chili pepper sauce on your table, but you’ll likely need neither. The noodles are saucy and hearty, to the point where you might want to order something more. (See below.)
Noodling around: Lucky 8’s is a new restaurant that’s been open since the start of the year. The feel is both retro and contemporary, full of fun especially when kung fu movies play on the wall.
I tried both shrimp lo mein and chicken chow mein, but my main focus was the sweet and spicy beef noodles, which uses fresh lo mein noodles made in the International District and available at Hau Hau market. The noodles include a generous portion of tender beef, along with a good mix of vegetables. The sauce is made with Szechuan hot bean paste, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine–and is spiked with red chili flakes.
This hearty, “masculine” dish reminds me of zha jiang mian, which benefits from sliced cucumber to cut through the intensity. While celery serves that purpose in Lucky 8’s beef noodles, the dish is bold and powerful–perhaps too strong as an entrée for some diners. When my partner said she could envision a smaller portion with a bowl of rice, we learned that the chef sometimes serves just the meat and sauce over rice as a meal. I suspect the dish might be modified a bit during the warmer months ahead.
If you want more: There are some interesting options on the menu, particularly in the section of starters. My partner really liked the house-made, braised pork bao ($5.95 for 2).The relatively thin dough is not as bready as most (a good thing!), and the dip of bean sauce sports bold flavor. Meanwhile, I indulged in Szechuan spareribs ($5.95), a Flintstones-type of affair. The big ribs are slathered in a bright and spicy sauce of Szechuan hot bean paste, soy sauce, and vinegar–cashing in the chef’s North Carolina roots–and the accompanying house-made pickled vegetables bring balance to the dish.
Be aware/beware: Lucky 8’s exceeded my expectations. Critical of many of the new Asian restaurants in Capitol Hill (and beyond) that claim authenticity, I was worried that Lucky 8’s American-Chinese classics would disappoint me. But the goal seems to be to make recognizable dishes in a bold way, which I applaud. I didn’t get to try the apparently popular fried rice or General Lucky Tsao’s chicken, but aside from the spring rolls, which are never my favorite, the other items I tried were interesting and delicious.
That said, be sure to ask about what’s not on the menu.
Lucky 8’s often has some specials. If you’re lucky, you’ll find duck dumplings. Pan-fried like pot-stickers, they’re done in two different wrappers, making for a pretty presentation. The dipping sauce contains teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, and orange juice/zest.
Also not on the menu but a refreshing finale: a scoop of Bluebird chocolate ice cream dusted with matcha powder, topped with puffed rice, and boosted by a little Cointreau.
And how about this: Home delivery is available in proximity by bicycle.
First published in Seattle Weekly’s Voracious on May 7, 2012.
A closer look at Lucky 8’s China House:
Lucky’s 8’s interior
Braised pork bao
Sweet and spicy beef noodles
Bluebird chocolate ice cream with matcha powder, puffed rice, and Cointreau