Of all the new restaurant concepts and ghost kitchens born in the pandemic, Lucky Danger has been, well, pretty lucky. The Chinese-American takeout from chefs Tim Ma (formerly Kyirisan and American Son) and Andrew Chiou (ex-Momo Yakitori) has sold out regularly since its November takeover of Prather’s Alley in Mt. Vernon Triangle. Now, the all-day carryout concept is opening in a permanent Arlington restaurant space on Wednesday, July 21 with a similar menu of takeout classics—dumplings, kung pao chicken, broccoli beef—and a “secret” menu of more traditional Chinese dishes like pig ear salad and whole stuffed fish.
The restaurant concept is a personal one for Ma and Chiou, both first generation Chinese-Americans with French training and finer-dining backgrounds. For Ma, who’s been consulting since his Shaw restaurant, Kyirisan, closed in 2019, the catalyst to jump back into his own projects came from an exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History: “Food, Transforming the American Table.” His uncle’s New York restaurant, Paul Ma’s China Kitchen, was featured, and Ma and his family participated in telling stories of Chinese food as it developed in America.
“We gathered all my family when we got inducted into the Smithsonian. There was a gap in knowledge between our generation and my parent’s generation that could be lost when that generation dies, because they’re truly Chinese, and we’re truly Chinese-American.” At Lucky Danger, Ma says they refrain from describing the food as “Americanized Chinese. We want to tell the story of migration.”
Lucky Danger’s menu in DC and in Arlington is bifurcated between Chinese-American takeout classics that the older generation created to cater to American palates—items like orange beef and crab rangoon—and more traditional Chinese dishes that Ma describes as “the kind of things you couldn’t get at a Chinese restaurant growing up unless your parents were with you.” That includes plates like braised pork belly with mustard greens, or egg omelet with pickled radish. And while the idea isn’t to make cheffy food, there are a few touches from the duo’s fine dining backgrounds, like duck fried rice that incorporates tea-smoked duck and duck confit (both D’Artagnan, though it doesn’t list the boutique purveyor on the menu).
That being said, Ma attributes Lucky Danger’s popularity to the fact it isn’t fussy. “You can know what you want to order without looking at the menu,” he says. (Spring rolls and lo mein? Check). The kung pao is just kung pao. Though most Chinese-American takeouts don’t also serve Szechuan pepper-spiked tequila cocktails like the DC location.
The new Arlington restaurant will offer takeout and delivery only (no alcohol). Customers will be able to order online or place an order at a kiosk on-premise using a QR code. There are a few new dishes on the menu, including scallion pancakes, shrimp spring rolls, and a Ma favorite: moo shu pork with homemade pancakes.
Due to Lucky Danger’s success so far, the team is currently scouting brick-and-mortar locations in the District and other cities as well. Ma plans to keep the ghost kitchen running out of Prather’s in Mt. Vernon Triangle for the time being, and will add Amazon-style food lockers in the coming weeks for a more streamlined pickup process.
“That’s the whole concept of updating Chinese takeout—we want to innovate,” says Ma. “Sometimes we’ll hit, sometimes we’ll miss, but we want to think of ways to bring it into the current dining status. If we can lockers there, we don’t have to have a person there. We can keep a low labor model and pay the people who work there more.”
Lucky Danger Arlington. 1101 S Joyce St, Unit B27, Arlington.
*This article has been updated from an earlier version