There’s a small Chinese restaurant on Roosevelt Way in the University District that’s packed every night of the week. But when you step inside, all of the guests are relatively silent. It’s not because everybody at Little Duck is a spy or just got broken up with. They’re quiet because the food is so good that people forget to talk to each other while they’re eating it.
The dining room looks like a classroom in the ’50s, if classrooms in the ’50s also had baby blue Smeg refrigerators and an abundance of fried rice. There are old-school desk chairs and a chalkboard that lists house specials, like braised ribs and hot and spicy chicken. Steaming plates never stop parading out of the kitchen, so the wisest way to order if it’s your first time here might be to sit back for a moment and see what looks good, rather than picking and choosing from the menu.
photo credit: Derrick Koch
But if you do consult the menu, you’ll find that it has a ton of Northeastern Chinese dishes listed in both Mandarin and English, divided into appetizer, meat, vegetable, and rice/noodle/pastry sections. From the pickled cabbage dumplings tasty enough that they don’t need a dip, to the double-cooked pork slices coated in a sticky sweet and sour sauce, everything comes out piping hot and intensely flavorful. Especially the vegetables. The string beans here are crisp, garlicky, and even tastier than some of the meat dishes. The corn in a buttery sauce with pine nuts has all of the comfort of creamy soup. And, while Little Duck does serve dessert, the only sweet thing you need is the brown sugar caramelized sweet potatoes, which could really be mistaken as candy.
Unless you’re a UW student or are shopping for hand soap at Aesop, chances are you don’t spend too much time in the University District. But Little Duck is a better reason to visit the neighborhood than to see undergrads in their natural habitat or cherry blossoms that make you sneeze. Especially after dealing with the mayhem that is University Village, you’ll be grateful to take a seat at a quiet restaurant that serves some of the best Chinese food in the city.
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Pickled Napa Cabbage & Pork Dumplings
These dumplings often sell out, which tells you just about everything you need to know about them. The filling is so juicy and tart that you won’t need to dip them into any sauce.
Sauteed Sweet Corn With Pine Nuts
This is a nice combination of corn, peas, carrots, and raw pine nuts in a buttery broth. It’s wholesome and light at the same time.
Fried Rice With Eggs
This fried rice won’t blow your mind on it’s own, but it’s a perfect pillow for your entrees, and the scrambled eggs add something special to every bite. Order some for the table.
Double Cooked Pork Slices
We love these sweet and sour crunchy fried pork slices. The ratio of batter to meat is 3:1, which we now believe to be the golden ratio.
Stir Fried String Beans
There’s nothing to dislike about garlicky sautéed green beans that have a spicy kick. These are excellent, and belong on your table.
Hot & Spicy Chicken
This chicken is hot and tingly, and every bite is equal parts juicy and crunchy. Just watch out for little bits of bone.
Sweet Potato Caramelized With Brown Sugar
Whoever popularized the saying the “the icing on the cake” needs to redact it and spread the word about the “sesame seeds on the sweet potato.” Forgo dessert and have a mound of sweet potato hunks instead. The syrupy brown sugar coating quickly hardens, resulting in a crispy, sweet outside and a fluffy inside that we find hard to stop eating. The sesame seeds on top bring it all together in toasty harmony.