511 Congress St., Portland
A restaurant really has to be special for a family to start calling it our place.
We found our place about five years ago, when our Christmas Day reservations at a beloved Chinese restaurant got canceled due to a snowstorm. A friend had mentioned that Golden Lotus, located in the “totally ’80s” Ocean Gate Plaza on Congress Street downtown, was damn good. With every grocery store closed and only booze and cookies in our pantry, we weathered the storm and gave it a try. Now, not only is Golden Lotus our Christmas Day tradition, but we visit every four-to-six weeks. We even named our family group chat “GOLDEN LOTUS.”
Whether you order take-out or eat at a table inside their amazing retro dining room, you’ll find Golden Lotus’ food consistently delicious. It’s fresh, made to order, and perfectly seasoned every time. The portions are grand, the prices are very affordable, and the service is just lovely. We’ve tried just about everything on the menu, and here are our favorites:
Steamed Spareribs in Black Bean Sauce ($9.50) Wee nuggets of bone-in ribs, steamed to the point of “light tug” meat removal. Drenched in salty black bean gravy and served with wide rice noodles, it’s bone-sucking deliciousness.
Sticky Rice Wrapped in Lotus Leaf ($6) A chewy white rice pocket with mushroom and a UMP (Unidentified Meat Product … possibly chicken?) umami bomb. I would be fine having this for breakfast every morning.
String Beans in Garlic Sauce ($7) Not overly fried or greasy; still crunchy and salty, with wok-fried red onions. That’s it, and that’s enough.
Salt & Pepper Shrimp ($14.95) Get these when you dine in and they come crispy fried with red and green onions, julienne carrots, bean sprouts and a generous smattering of fresh jalapenos. See also: S&P Flounder Filet ($24.50), served in boneless cubes alongside its deep-fried carcass.
Spicy Beef Lo Mein ($16.50) Weighing in at around three pounds, this dish has velvety strips of beef and egg noodles tossed with traditional accoutrements. Slurpalicious.
Honey Walnut Shrimp ($9) Deep fried and anointed with a not-too-sweet and slightly creamy sauce. I’ve read that the sauce is made from honey, eggs and mayo. Don’t let that deter you — it’s a masterpiece.
Chicken Feet ($7.95) They have chicken feet! And you’re sure to freak out someone at your table when you suck the gelatin right out of those lil’ paws. Ask for a wet towel.
The beer, wine and cocktail lists are short and sweet. For those inclined to imbibe I recommend a Singapore Sling or the Scorpion Bowl, which comes complete with the giant neon straw and fancy tiki-themed chalice. I drank a Scorpion Bowl by myself once, then asked for a second (note my current sobriety) and was told to watch out, as I’m very small. Don’t let the gruff voice of the owner fool you — she really cares!
Golden Lotus also has your traditional Chinese-American dishes, like eggrolls, General Tso’s Chicken, Beef & Broccoli, etc., but this isn’t one of those eight-page-menu, strip-mall kind of places. They are open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, and I have seen the same friendly staff members there every single time we’ve visited. True respect for some of the hardest-working folks in the industry.
The Golden Lotus flower is known for its healing properties, and though this is hardly a health-food joint, Golden Lotus’ food is certainly comforting. Their menu gives us this inspiring aphorism: “Even amidst fierce flames the golden lotus can be planted.” Go!