7026 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Most dinner entrees $5 to $7.
Credit Cards: MasterCard, Visa.
The name Eggroll Express doesn't do this restaurant justice. On the surface, it's a modest carryout with a few tables and fewer pretensions. The table coverings are plastic, the napkins are paper, there's a soft drink machine in a corner, the fluorescent lights are mercilessly bright, and the turquoise booths are a throwback to the 1960s.
But forget the name and the plastic. This place isn't just a Chinese fast-food joint. There's far more on the menu than egg rolls, and much of what is offered is extraordinarily good. What with generous portions and prices that are a bit lower than in most Chinese restaurants, Eggroll Express is a place to keep in mind.
Appetizers are not the strong suit here and, oddly enough, the egg rolls are not outstanding. Their wrappers have nice, crisp surfaces and are free of excess oil, but their fillings are a little bland. The best of the appetizers is the skewered beef, very tender and juicy, with a good hot-sweet dipping sauce.
Note that "spicy dumplings" aren't dumplings at all, but steamed won ton, a bit soft and waterlogged, in a peanut-based sauce. Crab Rangoon is fried won ton stuffed with what tastes like cream cheese and a hint of crab. Paper wrapped chicken is spiced ground chicken in aluminum foil, pleasant but unexceptional.
The only real appetizer bust is the shrimp tempura, virtually dripping with oil.
The jewels at Eggroll Express are to be found among the entrees. Sesame crispy beef is one of them, an outstanding dish of tender beef chunks, delicately crisp outside and juicy within, served in a slightly sweet sauce and generously dusted with sesame seeds. This dish has a lightness and an interplay of textures that are quite remarkable. It puts most similar restaurant dishes (such as orange flavor beef) to shame.
Another paragon of lightness and balance is kung pao chicken and shrimp. The chicken is tender and well trimmed, the shrimp are plump and sweet, and the sauce, blessedly uncloying, has just the right proportion of soy sauce, hoisin, garlic and pepper.
Another top-notch dish is the fried rice, the best version we've had in a long time. This is fluffy, nonoily rice, intermingled with lots of fluffy, freshly scrambled egg and zipped with a good jolt of pepper. Have it with the excellent thin-sliced pork.
Pork is a winner here in more than one dish. Double-cooked pork is a hefty portion of beautiful pork strips with big chunks of still-crisp vegetables in a good sweet-hot sauce. The beef is a quality product, too, lean and tender. In Hunan beef, with a faint charcoal-grilled flavor, it's served with a good, simple peppery sauce.
Our one disappointment was Peking shrimp. This is a tricky dish in which the shrimp are dipped in batter, deep fried, placed in a sweet-hot sauce, then quickly served while the coating is still crisp. At Eggroll Express the coating was thick and soggy, and the whole dish disappointingly heavy.