My first experience with Chinese food was at House of Fortune in McLean, where I grew up. I loved it so much that my fifth birthday party was spent around one of wicker tables that still fill the dining room. My fellow kindergartners didn’t exactly appreciate the customary Chuck E. Cheese birthday pizza being replaced by platters of moo shu pork, which became my go-to order for the next decade.
The low-lit dining room looks similar to when the restaurant opened in the mid-1980s. The menu brought to most tables is familiar too, filled with Chinese-American staples such as General Tso’s chicken and my moo shu, which (blame it on nostalgia) still tastes great 24 years later.
I hadn’t been in the restaurant for years—until my mother told me about the “secret” menu. Chef Peter Chin, a longtime executive toque at Mr. K’s, designed it several years ago when he arrived from the now-closed K Street stalwart. The “Chinese side menu,” as it’s labeled at the top, was once only printed for the many native speakers that fill the eatery. Now friendly waitstaff will bring an English version for those who ask; our waitress even seemed pleasantly surprised, exclaiming, “You know good Chinese food!”
She was right about the quality, for the most part. We started with xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings, which, like, ramen enjoy a cult-like following wherever they pop up. Chin’s version arrives with a tender pork-and-chive filling swimming in broth; you can douse them in a vinegary sauce perked up with slices of fresh ginger. The menu has more adventurous dishes than elsewhere in McLean—“sweet and tangy” jellyfish, Szechuan large intestine, fish head casserole—but plenty of options exist for more timid explorers. Spicy mapo tofu won’t numb your lips like Sichuan Village’s version, but the pleasant tingle brought on by ample amounts of chili oil is a nice introduction to mala cooking. Even better is the Cantonese-style salt-and-pepper shrimp and squid, studded with roughly chopped jalapeño, chives, and garlic. Not every dish delivers a home run—a Northern Chinese-style noodle soup came up bland—but after nearly 30 years, the place seems fresher than ever.
House of Fortune. 6715 Lowell Ave., McLean; 703-821-3779.