Wheat Bay, Qiao Noodle House lights up the Lloyd District restaurant scene

Wheat Bay, Qiao Noodle House lights up the Lloyd District restaurant scene

Last October, two new restaurants opened blocks apart in the Lloyd district, each offering regional Chinese specialties, popcorn chicken and french fries.

Before last year, Lloyd was not exactly known as a Chinese food destination. In addition to Frank’s Noodle House, a beloved hand-drawn noodle and zhajiangmian joint in a converted Northeast Broadway home, options were mostly limited to old haunts such as the Chens Dynasty, orange chicken kiosks in the mall (the invincible Chicken Connection) or trips to Shandong or Chin’s Kitchen in Hollywood to the east.

Wheat Bay (1618 NE Sixth Ave.), also adjacent to Uniquely Chengdu, is the second location of a Sichuan restaurant near the University of Oregon campus in Eugene. Qiao Noodle House (1409 NE Weidler St.) specializes in Crossing the Bridge Noodles, a unique hybrid of hot pot / noodle soup. Each is interesting in its own right. Together, they help deepen the bench for Chinese food in Lloyd and Portland in general.

We both visited during the last month, once each to eat, and after the COVID cases started shooting up in January, takeaway. Here is what we found:

Wheat Bay

As you might have guessed from the original campus-adjacent location, Wheat Bay’s menu is affordable, reasonably quick, and consistently hot. Hungry students can pick up popcorn chicken, “spicy wavy fries” (spice-dusted potato boats) or a bag of barbecue pork buns for $ 9 or less per person. right. Thin slices of beef wrapped in pancakes with scallion dripping with sweet hoisin sauce. Noodle soups are burning and filling.

You can make an extensive meal in Wheat Bay, perhaps built around the whole grilled fish buried in red pepper ($ 43). But you are more likely to get away with noodles. Wheat Bay delivers with a dozen options, including early favorites, including BBQ pork, spicy hot pot and sauerkraut beef broth, each with a selection of thick wheat or rice-based noodles.

The menu reminds me of Mi├án, a noodle-focused spin-off of Chengdu Taste, the famous Sichuan restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles. So while Wheat Bay may not have the breadth or polish of suburban imports from Seattle, such as Beaverton’s Taste of Sichuan in Beaverton or Southwest Portland’s Szechuan Chef, it knows its way around ma and la, the hot and stunning pillars of Sichuan cuisine. Mapo tofu – one of the better versions in Portland – swims in a smooth red sauce sprinkled with minced pork. Ordered to-go, it comes separated from its white rice bed by a small wall of steamed broccoli. With apologies to Duck House, the Sichuan specialists near Portland State University, was the last time the central city had dumplings in a chili oil, this bright, spicy and fragrant was during Lucky Strike’s run at the Hawthorne Theater.

There are a few flaws. Dan dan noodles arrive with minced pork suspended on a salad leaf over a tasty but surprisingly mild broth, ala Japanese tantamount, a ramen style inspired by the Sichuan original. A mysterious order of “steamed vegetables” turns out to be a large bowl of the same steamed, under-seasoned broccoli that came with our mapo tofu.

But there is enough here to keep things interesting for a meal or three. We look forward to testing the water on the Chengdu meat steamer and diving deeper into the dessert menu, which includes black sugar ice jelly and petite, pleasantly cool sesame crust, pumpkin-filled mochi pancakes.

11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, 1618 NE Sixth Ave., 503-822-5383, wheatbayportland.com

Spicy broth, raw beef, rice noodles and other cold cuts at Qiao Noodle House in Northeast Portland's Lloyd district.

Spicy broth, raw beef, rice noodles and other cold cuts at Qiao Noodle House in Northeast Portland’s Lloyd district.Michael Russell | The Oregonians

Qiao noodle house

A hungry student also plays a role in the house’s specialty at Qiao Noodle House, another new restaurant less than half a mile up Northeast Weidler Street from Wheat Bay. According to legend, the wife of a scholar who studied for his imperial exams on an island in the middle of a lake in Yunnan province, would bring her husband her favorite rice noodle soup every day. But as she crossed the bridge to reach him, the broth would be cold, the noodles soaking wet.

One day, the diligent wife found out a hack: Packing the broth separately keeps it warm thanks to the protective layer of chicken fat developed on top, preventing the noodles and other toppings from getting overcooked.

The dish called guoqiao mixian or Crossing the Bridge noodles has since spread across the globe, though this is the first version we’re found in Oregon. The restaurant comes from chef Li Shu Yao, who also owns Pot & Spicy, the Sichuan drywall on Southeast 82nd Avenue. Li moved to Portland in 2015 after living in New York, where she worked under a Crossing the Bridge noodle master at Yun Nan Flavor Garden in Brooklyn’s Chinatown.

At Qiao (“Bridge”) Noodle House you are asked to choose a broth (the tomato base and the golden versions are our favorites) and meat (from thin slices, hot stew curls of beef to exciting scoops of fried pork rind so full-bodied when you cook them). The soup still arrives bubbling in its black kettle – there is no need for the protective fat layer – with imported Chinese rice noodles and toppings arranged in small bowls on a nice tray.

You are asked to work fast now, and slide the pink meat and quail eggs in before the broth cools, followed by as much as you like of yellow corn, black mushroom mushrooms, thin slices of SPAM, tofu strips, herbs, peanuts and pickled greens you might confuse with used tea leaves. Thick noodles go in the end, to preserve their elasticity. (Vegetarians note: The mushroom broth arrives with eggs and SPAM, unless otherwise requested.) For the quick work, you are left with a warm, nutritious noodle soup perfect for a cold winter day.

Cold and spicy cucumbers, tofu skins and pork ear salads, Taiwanese-style popcorn chicken and traditional curly fries round out the short appetizer menu. Takeaway orders come with the noodles separated, but the rest of the ingredients fell into the hot broth. Considering how much plastic packaging is left in play these days, it’s probably the best. The scholar may not thank you, but the Earth will.

11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday-Monday, 1409 NE Weidler St., 971-319-6159, qiaonoodlehouse.com

Michael Russell, mrussell@oregonian.com, @tdmrussell

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