My traditional end-of-the-month restaurant review for this last full month of summer is of the family-owned Tai Shan Chinese Restaurant, located at 622 H Street (MAP), just down the street from the iconic Friendship Archway in the heart of northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood.
The first time I visited Tai Shan was memorable. Interestingly, however, it was not because of the food. It was on August 23, 2011. I can remember the date because I stopped in on my way back to my downtown office after a long bike ride on the Metropolitan Branch Trail. And as I rode through Chinatown, I could see that traffic in the streets was gridlocked, and the sidewalks were overcrowded with people who had evacuated the nearby buildings. I had been alone and somewhat isolated from the city while I was riding on the trail, and based on what I was seeing I was fearful that there had been another terrorist attack. I went into the restaurant and asked what was happening, and it was then that I found out that there had been an earthquake. I had not felt it, and did not know about it until that moment. They were still open for business, so I got my order to go and ate my lunch that day across the street from the building where I work while I waited for engineers to inspect the building. A couple of hours later we were advised by security personnel that we could enter the building only long enough to gather our belongings, and to drive our cars out of the basement parking garage if we were parked there. Although a number of buildings and structures in the city suffered significant damage, such as The Washington Monument and the National Cathedral, our building was deemed safe and we were able to return to work the next day.
I have been back to Tai Shan a number of times since that initial visit, and despite an expansive menu specializing in authentic traditional favorites as well as specialty entrees, my customary order is the orange chicken with steamed rice. In fact, I’ve been back so many times that several of the servers there recognize me and ask me if I’ll need a menu or will I be ordering the orange chicken again. I have tried numerous of their other offerings as well, and based on the dishes I have sampled, combined with the inexpensive prices, I can understand why Tai Shan has been awarded several Washingtonian Best Bargain Restaurant awards.
A stalwart among Chinatown’s more than twenty Chinese and Asian restaurants; Tai Shan’s informal atmosphere reflects the traditional culture of the neighborhood. Simply furnished and decorated, the décor consists of solid wooden tables and chairs with an Asian flair, pastel floral tablecloths, festive and colorful lighting, and traditional Chinese lanterns. Although somewhat small in size, it is still roomy. And a wall-length mirror on one side of the dining room helps provide an illusion of extra space. Tai Shan’s name is Mandarin for “peaceful mountain,” and the quiet and comfortable setting, which provides a respite from the hectic city just outside its doors, helps it live up to its name.
The fortune from a fortune cookie I got recently with my lunch read, “You will travel to many places.” I thought this was very applicable to me, and I interpreted it to apply to my adventures travelling by bike in D.C. When travelling to Tai Shan, you should know that they provide no parking, and nearby street parking is very limited. But it is easily accessible by Metro, with the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro Station just a half a block down the street. Or you can do as I always do, and put transportation worries aside and go there via bicycle.
The Chinatown restaurant is sometimes known as D.C.’s other Tai Shan, because Tai Shan is also the name of a famous panda cub who was formerly a resident across town at the National Zoo. While the panda was universally liked, the restaurant has received mixed online reviews on such sites as Yelp, Urbanspoon and Foursquare. Nonetheless, I have always found Tai Shan to have quality food, generous portions, fair prices, and fast and friendly service. So I recommend Tai Shan. But perhaps you should go and decide for yourself.
UPDATE: After operating for 21 years at its H Street location in Chinatown, Tai Shan closed its doors in August of 2015.