DC Chinatown’s Li Ho Food (501 H Street NW) is the kind of dive that makes other dives seem opulent by comparison. Mostly a takeout joint, it has seating for a dozen or so people but the tables and chairs are bare bones, nothing on the walls, mostly exposed kitchen is a grease fire waiting to happen, even the fairly large windows are barely translucent after years of buildup of questionable substance.
The food turns out to be a fine value. I hadn’t been since maybe 2007, and if anything the orange beef has improved over the years: the chunks used to be too small but are now right-sized, good breading-to-beef ratio, and the sauce is a nice spicy-sweet balance (could lean a bit more to the spicy side but that’s nit-picking). Certainly best orange beef I’ve had in greater DC (a low bar, alas). Pork lo mein, so often an afterthought, is also above average, with surprisingly rich meaty chunks of pork; the noodles are pretty greasy, but that’s not a big negative in my book. Portions are huge, prices are reasonable, and if you eat in, you might enjoy as we did listening to the owners have animated discussions in Mandarin (or something) as they sit at the table behind you. I also love how the male half of the ownership team serves dishes with an exaggerated flourish, as well as a smile. The quality service, though a bit slow, is a match for the quality divey atmosphere.
Large portions also sometimes extend to the fortune cookies. Mine contained three fortunes, two of which were identical: “You will have no problems in your home.” I’m hoping that makes it doubly true, and doesn’t somehow cancel itself out. I also got: “From now on your kindness will lead you to success.” My friend Carl is an experienced cataloger of cookie fortunes; I wonder what he will think of this trifecta?