A comfortable spot to enjoy familiar, new Chinese specialties

Nestled on a corner of the Chinatown International District, hidden behind vertical blinds that are closed even when the place is very much open, is a poorly kept secret called Hing Loon Seafood Restaurant.

The place, which opened in 1991 but feels like it's been there forever, is a busy cafe with friendly service that dishes up an authentic experience in a district getting overrun with bubble-tea cafes and niche bistros. Here, meals are served on white Formica tables — not because they are retro, but because they are practical.

With King Café closed, Hing Loon rivals Green Village as the most genuine and genial joint in the Chinatown ID.

I can't read a lick of Chinese, but I can read the English translations of the more than 50 specials written on sheets of white construction paper and taped to the walls of this cozy, 88-seat room. If you prefer to ignore the writing on the wall, pick from a menu bursting with a staggering number of choices.

This is one versatile kitchen.

The cooks favor the sea — sea bass and sea cucumber, as well as more pedestrian shellfish such as prawns, scallops and squid. But diving into meat dishes also is a worthwhile exercise.

Craving an aromatic, filling and inexpensive bowl of soup? The restaurant offers many varieties of congee (rice soup) and noodle soup, reminding us that there are alternatives to Vietnamese pho.

If exotic is your thing, Hing Loon is your place. No, I didn't order the Assorted Beef Organs with Tendon & Radish Hot Pot ($8.95) or the Pig Feet with Noodle in Soup ($6.50), but I promise to try the Cold Chicken in Wine Sauce with Jelly Fish appetizer next time.

Hing Loon is a good place to start a lazy day or end a late night, opening earlier and closing later than most places in the district. Your meal will be topped off with the standard fortune cookie and a sweet sesame-ball pastry — something a little different and something a little more, which describes Hing Loon perfectly.

Country-style pancake: Looking like a mini-pizza, this off-the-wall (as in, it's not on the menu) appetizer balances sweet (the dough) with savory (dried shrimp, green onion and Szechuan cabbage). Especially tasty topped with a smidge of the black-bean-and-chili condiment, which is on each table.

Dumplings soup: Big pillows stuffed with shrimp, pork and mushroom swimming in a flavorful chicken broth. Basic and good, it would make a fine light meal all by itself.

Stir-fry seafood: This special from the wall puts emphasis on the fish and vegetables, as opposed to the sauce. Shrimp, scallop, white fish and a tofulike fish cake combine for the seafood medley, which comes with honey walnuts and green beans. We couldn't eat it all, but I wouldn't let our server take it away until I picked out every last walnut.

Szechuan-style smoked duck: Another special, this is one big honkin' duck — a lot of meat and not a lot of fat. A nominee for "Dining Deals Bargain Dish of the Year."

Check please:

Itemized bill, meal for two

Country-style pancake $4.65

Dumplings soup $4.50

Stir-fry seafood $9.95

Smoked duck $10.95

Rice $1.80

Tax $2.96

Total $34.81

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com

Hing Loon Seafood Restaurant

628 S. Weller St., Seattle; 206-682-2828



Hours: 10 a.m.-1 a.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Drinks: Beer and wine.

Credit cards: V, MC.

Accessibility: No obstacles.

Rating: Recommended.