Taste-tested opinions on restaurants just come with a food writer's territory.

When the territory in question is local Chinese restaurants, however, I lack recommendations for newspaper readers. I figure they're at as much of a loss as I am on this topic, or they wouldn't call the newspaper for advice.

The problem, as I see it, is the Rogue Valley's Chinese restaurants are all pretty similar. None really stands out from the rest; all offer a pretty generic, Americanized take on this cuisine.

So where to eat when a craving strikes for Southern Oregon's ubiquitous form of Chinese cookery? My vote goes to the establishment with the most bustling business, so customers can be assured dishes and ingredients are as fresh as possible.

In the Rogue Valley, that restaurant arguably is Ling's. A Ling's fan for years, my husband has tirelessly tried to convince me of its merits. A recent Friday evening visit proved there's plenty who agree with him.

The White City restaurant's parking lot was packed when we arrived. Inside, tables were just as crammed with customers and dishes heaped high with food.

Eating at Ling's is either about the seven "special combination dinners" or four "special family dinners." As with most other Chinese restaurants, Ling's makes these all-inclusive affairs with soup, appetizers, steamed rice and hot tea or coffee.

My husband appealed to my preference for spicy food and suggested the only family dinner denoted with an asterisk and described as "Szechuan" chow mein and chicken, as well as "yu shiang" beef and pork fried rice ($9.95 per person). I searched the menu in vain for a bean-curd dish before tacking on orders of pea pods sauteed with oyster sauce ($5.95) and vegetable egg foo young ($6.75).

Not that we needed additions to the family-style dinner. It was clear from portions on surrounding tables that our order would have fed two more people. A la carte preparations of chicken, pork, beef or shrimp range in price from $7.70 for mar far chicken to $9.85 for "happy family," a melange of meat, seafood and vegetables.

Because it felt like ages since I'd had egg-flower soup, I was a bit disappointed that family-style dinners come with soup of the day, in this case clam chowder. While the chowder had passably clammy flavor, it should have been hotter and was somewhat lumpy with an undissolved thickening agent.

Slices of barbecued pork served for the appetizer were moist and juicy if not exactly tender. While the eggrolls — judging from the filling's adherence to the wrapper — are housemade instead of frozen, their flavor is muddled and ingredients unidentifiable except as a homogeneous paste.

By contrast, there was no mistaking peas and carrots in the foo young. The egg was fluffy inside, crisped on the outside, and the pancake contained just a bit of bean sprouts rather than being overwhelmed by them as many versions are. The pea pods, happily, were crisp-tender with a nice sear from the wok and just lightly tossed in sauce.

If I hadn't already concluded that Ling's stir-fried dishes are superior to its deep-fried ones, the yu shiang beef would have proven the point. Its assortment of vegetables — carrots, bell peppers and more pea pods — also was nicely seared and the ideal texture while strips of beef were so tender they could be cut with a fork. The sauce was an arresting red hue but accented the ingredients' charred flavor with a hint of garlic.

Neither truly spicy, the chicken and chow mein both belied the term "Szechuan." The latter, however, contained tender bits of chicken and a generous quantity of shrimp.

It would be a stretch to call myself a Ling's fan. But the next time, that unwholesome craving for Chinese food strikes, that's likely where I'll be.

— Sarah Lemon

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