Hours: Monday through Sunday, noon to 10 p.m.
Price Range: From $4 for chow mein dishes to $12.95 for lobster Cantonese.
Credit Cards: All major.
Reservations: Not necessary.
Special Facilities: You can share dishes for a nominal extra plate charge; accessible by wheelchair.
Atmosphere: Plain, but there are tablecloths and a concerned air.
You've just visited the National Zoo in order to lend moral support to the panda proliferation effort -- a little cheering on for the hapless couple. After the children have grown restless and bored and begin asking why the pandas just lie around and sleep all the time, you realize that everyone is starving.
You take a quick mental survey of the immediate Connecticut Avenue vicinity and come up with nothing but expensive hotels and canopied French places suggesting a delicacy to which your Saturday jeans cannot possibly measure up.
All is not lost if your group will stay in the panda spirit long enough to eat Chinese as well as observe it. We can suggest Chin's, an unprepossessing place on Connecticut Avenue, which is not above producing a hamburger for the faint of heart. It also produces some Szechuan stuff with real fire instead of just fleeting auras of Eastern spice.
We started out with the obligatory egg rolls and found them excellent. The covering was crisp and not greasy, the filling more than groundup celery. In fact, the egg rolls were outstanding.
The same was not true, unfortunately, of the barbecued pork we ordered for our other appetizer. It was greasy and not overendowed with flavor.
But the main dishes were all successful.
Beef Szechuan was wonderful. The main ingredients were standard; strips of beef, onion, carrot and green pepper. But the seasoning was something quite a bit more than the usual unsatisfying twang that most Chinese restaurants offer their American customers. It stopped just short of being too hot for me, and I'm no chicken when it comes to chili pepper.
The beff Szechuan was $7.
Our son, with that terrifying "I-could-eat-everything-on-the-menu" look that teen-age boys produce so readily, ordered lobster Cantonese, a dish he thought would be cheap because the menu said "seasonal price." It wasn't cheap, but it was very good.
The menu description of this dish makes it sound singularly unappetizing, mentioning as it does "pork and black beans" and "rolled in eggsauce" in conjunction with hunks of lobster. The effect, though, is of lobster in a nicely seasoned sauce. At $12.95 the dish is clearly not a bargain item, but then you might absolutely have to have loster and there it would be.
My husband chose shrimp lo mein, which managed to be light and satisfying at the same time. Lots of tiny shrimp were mixed in a spicy (but not hot) sauce with assorted Chinese vegetables and served on cellophane noodles, the soft, transparent noodles of Chinese cuisine. This dish was also a cut about average, I thought, and at $6.50 something of a bargain.
Chin's seems to draw both tourist and neighborhood resident. The service is friendly and attentive, the portions huge, the prices ranging from around $4 for chow mein dishes to top dollars for lobster.
And listen to this: If trekking up and down those long zoo hills has worn you down, you can simply go home and pick up the phone.Between 5 and 9:30 p.m., Chin's will deliver.