Nearly ever Thursday evening of my childhood my family ate takeout from Peking Palace, a strip-mall Chinese restaurant down the street from our house.
Bug-eyed, swishy-tailed fish in a tank kept a watch over the cash register at Peking, and a golden Great Wall of China rose out in three-dimensional majesty from an ornately framed painting near the back. The restaurant was owned and operated by the lithe Judy, who knew all her customers by name.
Wonton soup with thick-skinned dumplings and pinkish-gray strings of pork, tinfoil-wrapped Mu Shu crepes and purple plum sauce as sweet as jam, bright-red spare ribs, watery chicken curry with water chestnuts and skinny strands of bell pepper: when people I know in Seattle talk about this food today, they call it “Americanized Chinese” food. But it was the only Chinese food served at restaurants in my hometown, and it was as steady a part of my diet as Wheat Thins and cheddar after school and roast chicken and green beans at Sunday supper.
I’ve never really experienced such food in Seattle until recently, when I went to Chungee’s Drink and Eat, the new restaurant at the corner of 12th Avenue East and Denny Way. Chungee’s is the newest venture to fill the shoebox-shaped corner space, in the past few years it has housed a burrito and pizza joint serving unconscionably bad food, and a short-lived Mediterranean restaurant called Esmarelda.
Chungee’s has red walls, chopsticks wrapped in paper, and place mats depicting the Chinese zodiac—the very same placemats on top of which diners ate chow mein and egg rolls at Peking Palace. A long skinny bar lines one side (Chungee’s has a promising-looking happy hour) and a few tables are wedged into the tiny dining room. The food is straight-forward “Americanized Chinese,” but it isn’t junk food. The meat and veggies are fresh and well-seasoned; it’s satisfying workday fare served promptly and politely. Plan to wait 15 minutes for a takeout order if the restaurant isn’t busy, and don’t overorder: Wonton soup ($6.95), one General Tso’s chicken ($9.95) and a Chungee pancake ($4.95)—which tastes mostly of scallion—will feed two people with leftovers more than likely.