One Dish, Two Dish, Red Dish, Blue Dish

The Chronicle Kid Food Squad in Mystery Diner Mode.

The Chronicle Kid Food Squad in Mystery Diner Mode.

photograph by John Anderson

Tien Hong
8301 Burnet, 458-2263
Dim Sum: Sat & Sun, 11am-2:30pm

My earliest memory of Dim Sum is sponge cake. I remember sitting at our restaurant's big round table with the Lazy Susan, or spinning plate, sitting in the middle and being fascinated by all of the carts zooming by, each one full of little plates carrying a different dish. I remember drinking hot tea with endless amounts of sugar in it. But of all these memories, the most vivid is sitting atop a phone book, very content with my big puffy piece of orange sponge cake, a very inexplicable American food among all these fancy Chinese dishes.

Years have passed since then, and now, at age 13, I've explored many of the dishes Dim Sum has to offer. With everything from Curry Squid to Shrimp Dumplings, Dim Sum is definitely a memorable experience. Dim Sum is great because you can see everything before you order it, and if you end up not liking something after all, you can just give your Lazy Susan a little spin and try something else. Everything is so miniature that it seems like it's almost set up for kids, like a little tea party. Another great thing about Dim Sum is that you're constantly finding new foods that you like. My good friend Vince tried Sautéed Chicken Feet ($1.65) when he was five, and to everyone's surprise, he loved it!

On weekends, Tien Hong restaurant serves a fantastic version of Dim Sum. Recently, I went with six family members, including four kids ranging in age from three to 15 years old, and we all tried as many dishes as we could. My youngest and oldest cousin really loved the Spinach Greens ($2.15). They have a kind of vinegary sauce and I highly recommend them. The Spare Ribs ($1.65) are also very good. Some come in a black bean sauce, which is a little spicy with a very peppery flavor. Others come in plum sauce, which is slightly sweeter and has an amazing gingery taste. They come in little bite-size pieces and are lots of fun to chew on. The Taro Root Cake ($1.65) and Turnover ($1.65) are both excellent dishes. They have textures similar to pudding, the cakes being a little firmer than the turnovers. Neither is sweet, but they have little bits of meat in them, giving them a hearty flavor.

Of all the carts to choose from, we had the most fun with the dumpling cart. The younger kids liked the Deep Fried Chicken Dumplings ($2.85), which are really crunchy and have a chicken-soup kind of taste. The older kids and adults liked the Shrimp and Cilantro Dumplings ($2.40), which have a much sharper taste. They both go great with soy sauce, which can be drizzled over just about anything at Dim Sum. Another dish on the dumpling carts is the Steamed BBQ Pork Bun ($1.65). They are like big, puffy white biscuits with sticky, sweet pork on the inside.

Some of my favorite flavors are in the Shrimp Toast ($2.85), which have a creamy sauce and come on a smoky-toasty cracker. The Sweet Rice Wrapped in a Lotus Leaf with Mixed Meats ($2.85) has the most exotic flavor. It is like a sticky rice, close to the consistency of oatmeal, mixed with bits of meat all wrapped up in a giant lotus leaf.

Perhaps the best thing about Dim Sum is that dessert doesn't always have to come last. After so many salty and spicy dishes, a sweet one is just the right refreshment. Some of the best palate cleansers that I've had are the Fried Sesame Seed Puffs ($2.00). There are two different kinds. The round ones are filled with white bean paste and taste a little bland. The log-shaped ones are filled with red bean paste with a very caramely taste that goes great with the crispy sesame shell. I liked it better than the other. The Almond Tofu Pudding ($2.00) is also very good for cleansing your palate. It is like a bowl of white custard with the texture of flan or Jell-O and a faint taste of almond. It's topped with mixed fruit, and my three-year-old cousin slurped it all down. She loved it.

One dish I think kids should steer clear of is the Curry Squid ($2.40). It has a very strong curry taste as well as an unusual chewy texture. There are other dishes such as Assorted Beef Tripes Stew ($2.85) and Duck Feet in Oyster Sauce ($1.65) that I was reluctant to try because I had a pretty good idea that I wouldn't like them as well as many of the other items. Maybe you'll be a tad bit more bold.

With so many different dishes and sauces, you might be a little intimidated at first, but you could always start your Dim Sum experience the same way I did, because they sure have great sponge cake!--Katie Walsh

West Lynn Cafe
1110 West Lynn,
Mon-Fri, 11:30am-10 pm; Sat & Sun, 11am-10pm; Sun, 11:30am-9:30pm

I have been going to West Lynn since I was very young. In fact, I've been going for so long that I have made friends with one of the waitresses. West Lynn is where I go whenever my grandparents come to visit. I also go with my dad, a lot, when he and I have a night out together. The restaurant is pretty casual; you can wear whatever you want there. You can eat inside or outside, but our tradition is to eat inside. And why change a good thing? The ceiling is slanted and has rows of different shapes. When you're feeling bored, just look up at the ceiling and your imagination will run wild and carry you through the time spent waiting for your order to arrive.

Now let's talk food: West Lynn is a vegetarian restaurant, which means the food is pretty healthy, which is what my mom likes about it. But surprisingly, the food is really good, too. They do have a children's menu that they hand to you when you sit down with a box of crayons that you can color the menu with, if you like. I'm not a menu-coloring type of person, though. This coloring menu is usually filled with kids-kinda-food; it's bland stuff -- you know, cheese pizzas, spaghetti, and other unspicy stuff that kids usually go for. But oddly enough, I don't fall for that -- even though I'm not big on spicy food. I go for the grownups' menu and guess what my favorite dish is? It's called the Pizza Mediterraneo ($9.50). Let me try to remember what's on it: black olives, spinach, onions, raisins, feta cheese, and some other healthy items. I know that right now you're thinking, "Why doesn't my kid want this dish?" Let me reassure you, I would have probably gone for the cheese pizza on the kids' menu, but my mother ordered this for me when we first started coming here and, as it turned out, mothers know best. Not that I didn't fight it at first, but it turned out to be quite tasty and something I order every time. And I usually have an order of steamed broccoli for me.

Oh, and they also have really good bread and they put out a bowl of olive oil that you can dip the bread in. I like this stuff, too.

Now, let's cut to the dessert: I love what they have. I've tried them all, usually when I go there with my grandparents. When I'm with my parents, I'm lucky to get a morsel of dessert. But they do let me get a natural soda, which I really like.

All in all, I would highly recommend that you give West Lynn a try. --Eli Black

Güero's Taco Bar
1412 S. Congress, 447-7688

I started coming to Güero's when I was three. I used to call it "the lizard restaurant" because of the two iguana statues in the little pool in the front. I like the pool. I like to watch the catfish and goldfish swim around. It gives kids something to do while they're waiting to get a table to eat.

When you get to the table, the waiter brings you menus and chips and salsas. I don't try the salsas because I don't like spicy things, though my mother and father do! My mother puts them on chips and makes hot pepper sandwiches. I always throw up when I see her do that. It's all too hot for me!

They have good choices for kids at Güero's. On the Child's Plate ($2.99), you can get one breakfast taco or one quesadilla or one breast of chicken taco (which is my favorite), plus rice and beans and a small drink.

Your menu comes with pictures on it, and the waiter brings you Crayolas in a cup so you can color them. But you can also turn the menu over and draw your own picture. Or if you don't want to color or draw your own pictures, you can eat chips and drink. Or you can look at the pictures on the walls. They've set up lots of pictures on the walls of old-fashioned times. I like to look at them. I look at them make food also, because they have a kitchen right where you sit. I look especially when they shear the meat. I also look at babies. I think families really like this restaurant. They give kids something to do, so they don't have to just sit around.

The Kid Food Squad Unmasked

The Kid Food Squad Unmasked:
(l-r) Eli Black, Michael Kostek, Zack Anderson, and Rosalind Faires; Katie Walsh not pictured.
photograph by John Anderson

I always get the Breast of Chicken Taco. It's just grilled chicken and a tortilla. The chicken is cut up, but it will fall out. It's not glued into it. The chicken is cooked with orange juice, and you can taste the orange juice a little bit but not much. You can never miss the big flavor of the chicken. The soft part of the chicken has a really sharp flavor. There's also a kind of sweetness, a soft sweetness, but it does have a lot of taste in it. I've been to other places that have this on the menu, but it isn't this good. It doesn't have that orange-y flavor.

I like the beans, too. They taste like regular beans, but they're all mushed. They're soft, so you don't have to chew them. You just swallow. And the rice is really mild. It has a really light taste, so it tastes like rice. And that's really great.

I like all the food here, but when I think about Güero's, I think mostly about the Chocolate Flan ($2.29). I love the chocolate flan. I have to eat all my taco to have it, which I always do. There are different kinds of flan you can get, but I always get the chocolate. It's this brown, cup-shaped or upside-down muffin-shaped thing. If you've never seen a flan before, it might not look good, but all you have to do is taste it to find out. It's cold, with a little bit of warmness to it when you get it in your mouth. It's smooth, and it really tastes like chocolate. It's chocolate chocolate. Eating it makes me happy. And eating at Güero's makes me happy. --Rosalind Faires

Fran's Hamburgers
1822 S. Congress, 444-5738

Some fast-food restaurants try to trick me. They try to make it look like they're making hamburgers right when you're there. But I've seen. They have these big boxes of stuff they made already, and they just scoop it up. It's not really fresh.

My favorite hamburgers are at Fran's. The buns are soft, with just a little bit of sweetness to them. And the meat really tastes like hamburger. They put the right amount of salt on them. And they put a lot of mayonnaise on so you can really taste the mayonnaise. If you get mayonnaise on it. You may not. You may get something else, like pickles. And they put pickles on so you can really taste the pickles. It's all really fresh.

And the French fries at Fran's are the best French fries I have ever had anywhere. Definitely better than McDonald's. They have a little bit of crunch to them, and they put a good amount of salt on them, too.

And the chocolate malts make me roll my eyes. They're so good I can't talk about them.

Fran's is also a nice place to sit and eat. My favorite spot is a booth that is kind of hidden and is very cozy. It has a picture of an old-old-old-fashioned hamburger place on it, and I like to look at it. I like the way they've tried to make it look old and the way it's drawn to look kind of like an old movie -- black and white and gray -- and to look very real. There is a lot of old-fashioned stuff on the walls, especially old Coca-Cola stuff.

I also really like Fran, the statue that's on the roof of Fran's. I like that she's a girl and I like her red hair and her pony tail and her guitar. Whenever my mom and dad and I go by Fran's, we always say, "Hi, Fran!"

If I ever met the real Fran, who runs the restaurant, I would tell her how much I love this place and how much fun I have at it.--Rosalind Faires

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