Tony Cheng’s Seafood Restaurant

A Chinatown fixture for over 30 years.

From June 2005 Cheap Eats

If you're looking for Tony Cheng's Seafood Restaurant, go up the stairs to the second floor. The ground floor is Tony Cheng's Mongolian Barbecue, where despite the appeal of constructing your own dish and having it cooked for you on the huge circular grills, everything tastes pretty much the same. The Seafood Restaurant has perhaps the most accomplished kitchen in Chinatown. The menu is mostly Cantonese, but there are also some spicier Hunan and Szechuan dishes on the menu.

Take a cue from the fish tanks at the entrance and order such dishes as Dungeness crab in season, shrimp with asparagus in black-bean sauce, whole fish, fresh seafood on crispy noodle, and fish filets with Chinese vegetables. Tony Cheng's serves dim sum every day. On weekdays, it's ordered from a menu. Better to time your visit for a weekend and eat a wider selection from rolling carts.

From March 2005 “Best of Chinatown”

By Robert Shoffner 

With rare exceptions, Chinese restaurateurs and chefs work in anonymity. Exceptions that come to mind are T.T. Wang, the original chef at Manhattan's great Shun Lee restaurants, whose Shun Lee Dynasty was the first Chinese restaurant to earn a four-star review from the New York Times; Wen Dah Tai, once head chef at Uncle Tai's Hunan Yuan in Manhattan; and Henry Chung of the Hunan Restaurant in San Francisco's Chinatown. In or out of Chinatown, Tony Cheng is the only Washington name readily associated with Chinese restaurants–so much so that a Washington Times sports columnist refers to the area around the MCI Center as "Tony Cheng's Neighborhood."

When Cheng closed Szechuan and concentrated on his seafood restaurant, he hung onto the Occidental regulars from his former restaurant by keeping the spicy dishes they loved on the menu alongside specialties from Canton and Hong Kong that appeal to the local Chinese community.

Twenty-eight years after he opened his first Chinatown restaurant, Tony Cheng still can claim that his place not only is the busiest in the neighborhood but also attracts the largest number of Chinese diners. What has made Cheng a success with Western and Eastern patrons is his devotion to buying the best available raw materials and paying the salaries required to maintain a kitchen comparable to some of the best in Chinatowns of Manhattan, San Francisco, and Vancouver.

But premium-quality products and the kitchen talent required to prepare them properly result in the highest-priced menu in Chinatown: Lunchtime combination plate specials are $9.95, while neighborhood competitors lure customers with combos priced as low as $3.70. The packed dining room at Tony Cheng's Seafood Restaurant is a good indication that plenty of diners are willing to pay for the best quality.

Recommending the best dishes from a menu with more than 200 main courses–not counting the weekday à la carte dim sum menu or the expanded selection served from carts on Saturday and Sunday–is daunting. Some of the spicy specialties carried over from the old Szechuan menu include chicken with wine sauce, crispy beef Szechuan style, shredded pork with Szechuan pickle, and probably the best ma-po bean curd in the metro area. Some of the dishes that Tony Cheng's Chinese clientele enjoy are the Dungeness crabs stir-fried with ginger and scallion, whole sea bass steamed with ginger and scallions, shrimp steamed in lotus leaves, and a Cantonese classic, chopped boiled chicken in ginger sauce made with a full-flavored, free-range chicken.

A new-old dish, available by request, was first cooked from a recipe written in Chinese that was brought in by a customer who had enjoyed it years earlier at Shun Lee Dynasty in New York. It is a Szechuan dish called Bamboo-Steamer Beef–slices of beef crusted with crushed rice and pepper and steamed on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes in a small bamboo steamer. The contrast between the crunchy coating of rice and the juicy tenderness of the beef is stunning. And you can enjoy it only at Tony Cheng's Seafood Restaurant.