Way back when Your King Chen and his wife May Pao came over to the States from Taiwan, they had an interest in opening a restaurant. In 1984, they opened China Dynasty on William Cannon, just west of Westgate Boulevard, where China Hill Restaurant now sits. They had the help of their kids: Jody, Jenny, Robert, and Albert, who all worked in the restaurant through the years, when they weren't earning degrees at UT. In 1989, space opened up in what was then the brand new shopping center anchored by the H-E-B, on the northwest corner of Slaughter and Manchaca; it's been there ever since. Once the parents got up there in years, they turned the business (and the family sauce recipes) over to the kids; it's still family-run.
China Dynasty is a couple of blocks away from a friend's house, so we tend to eat there often. Here's what I've noticed about the restaurant in general. They don't rely on MSG for extra flavor, but instead base their sauces on rich stocks. You can taste the richness of their stocks, especially with the soups. The sauces are not oily, they use a minimum amount of oil, and even dishes that are deep-fried come out crisp and non-oily, with thin batters. All of the ingredients are fresh and high quality, and the prices are very reasonable (although they're threatening to go up slightly soon, prices have stayed the same since 2006). The kitchen staff has been there forever, and Jim (Jody's husband) works back there also, maintaining consistency.
I love their hot and sour soup ($1.25/2.50): it has a rich pork stock, balanced tanginess and spice, and comes with pork in it (a rarity these days); the wonton soup is also fantastic. We like to get bowls of hot and sour as well as a side bowl of the spicy dumplings ($2.95 for 6 wontons) and add the wontons to the soup; the spicy wontons are really good in their sauce as well (a rich soy-ginger with a hint of sesame). The egg rolls ($1.25) are meaty and pork-alicious, with a very crispy wrapper.
From the specialties menu, we're suckers for their version of General Tso's chicken ($8.95) done here with a rich, spicy brown sauce, and more importantly, cooked with boneless chicken thighs, so that the deep-fried meat stays moist and flavorful. I wish every Asian restaurant would ban chicken breast, unless the meat is first velveted to keep it moist. Ditto for their orange chicken or beef ($8.95), done with a spicy-tangy orange spice loaded with smoky red chiles and caramelized orange rind.
From the chicken world we love their black bean sauce (8.95) but have just one issue: We have to bring our own fresh chiles to add to it. They make it using dried red chiles, and we're partial to green chiles; they accommodate, and we love the result. The chicken with mushrooms ($7.50) is also fantastic, loaded with perfectly cooked fresh mushrooms and a rich garlicky sauce based on chicken stock.
We order heavily from the beef options here simply because they use good beef and cook it right. Tender Mongolian beef ($7.95) is a fave, with scallions and a slightly spicy sauce. Beef with fresh mushrooms ($7.95) is a must (we had it last night, actually): again, tender beef in a rich brown sauce, packed with sliced mushrooms. Simple and delicious. We also frequently order mixed meat moo shu ($8.95) which comes with four pancakes, fried egg, julienned vegetables, and dry spiced tofu. I slather it with their incendiary housemade chile paste with oil and really heat it up. One of our frequent orders is China Dynasty's pork egg foo young ($9.95): two massive "omelets" loaded with shredded pork, sitting in a rich, brown sauce loaded with garlic and onion. Many restaurants don't do this dish because it takes extra time to do it right; their version is excellent. One thing we always get from the back page of the menu is plain stir-fried soft noodles ($4.50), and we get them to top it with lots of stir-fried garlic, which we then dress with the chile paste. It makes a perfect addition to any meal.
China Dynasty also delivers to a limited area, and they do about 30% of their business in to-go orders. Service is exemplary and friendly, and we would be remiss to not mention our favorite server, Amber (who is related to the ex-owner and chef from Java Noodles, Johanes; we miss his food!). Amber is without question one of the finest servers in Austin: unobtrusively attentive, friendly, efficient, and knowledgeable. Bottom line: China Dynasty sits on an elevated plain; we love this place. Nothing fancy; just great, dependable Chinese food.
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