Peking duck is a plan-ahead meal: There aren’t many places that make it, and those that do usually need at least two days’ notice to prepare your feast.
But dear lord is that duck worth the effort, since Peking duck is like the very best of Thanksgiving, with more flavor and a better poultry. Often carved tableside, it’s all crispy, shellacked soy-sweetened slices of skin with a tender layer of fat and a little pink meat, ready to pile into steamed buns with hoisin and scallions. Next, you’re likely to get the rest of the duck stir-fried with mushrooms and other tasty tidbits and a heaping stack of lettuce wraps.
At Departure downtown, Chef Gregory Gourdet has made a Peking duck feast every December—the natural time to enjoy the labor-intensive dish.
“Peking duck is one of the great celebratory global meals,” says Gourdet. “It’s a natural choice for the holiday season as it’s a meal best shared with friends and loved ones—rich, savory, roasted meat, with a DIY garnish eaten with hands.”
Every Peking duck can easily feed three to four, and you know you’re gonna want some tasty sides, like any proper holiday meal. Grab a few loved ones, form a flying V, and eat this mighty duck.
This is the most expensive duck in town at $106, but tucking into this bird is a true delight. The duck is cured in five-spice, blanched in honey and Chinese wine, hung to air-dry for six days, roasted daily, glazed with honey-soy, and served with a house-made plum sauce, candied kumquats, scallions, hoisin, and cucumbers. Gourdet serves it with mandarin pancakes, encouraging guests to make mini sandwiches out of the feast. Afterwards, all the bits of meat left on the bones are transformed into a savory duck fried rice made with heaps of scallions and rendered duck fat. AND THEN there’s that duck broth and the duck dessert. 525 SW Morrison, departureportland.com, available Dec 1-30, reservations required
Downtown’s go-to Chinese restaurant for dumplings (oh, those juicy lamb numbers!) is actually named after the eponymous dish and gets the prime real estate on the menu. Just make sure to call ahead—the restaurant is always slammed, and it can be a bit of a negotiation to get your mitts on one of their prized fowl.
Go for it and get the $55.95 three-course experience: Peking duck served with pancakes for wrapping the tasty skin with cucumber, scallions, and the best sweet sauce we tried, duck meat with bean sprouts, and a duck bone soup with hints of ginger. There’s a reason this is the house that duck built.
1968 SW 5th, 971-801-8888, reservations strongly recommended
You’ve probably been to the granddaddy of Portland’s dim sum scene, but they also make a pretty pleasing Peking duck. It’s also the most momentous feeling, the full head-on duck rolled out on a cart while people eating sweet-and-sour shrimp stare on enviously. You can get two courses for $35, starting with a platter full of crispy skin, and finishing with a stir-fry and lettuce cups. Throw in some Tsing Tao and an appetizer of the wok-seared wontons and live your best life.
8733 SE Division #101, wongsking.com, call ahead for availability
Pure Spice is one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in town, and their duck is also exceptional. Unlike other restaurants, you order the two courses à la carte, with a duck platter and buns for $25.95 and lettuce wraps with duck for $13.95. It’s very clear these lettuce wraps are what PF Chang’s turned into their signature dish of suburbia, but the real thing is so much better, done here with green and red peppers, water chestnuts, and other nummies. There’s also far more meat than usual on this duck platter, meaning I took some home to make my own duck fried rice later.
2446 SE 87th, purespicerestaurant.com, call ahead for availability
Sure, you can get a half Peking duck for $16, and you can even walk in and order it at lunchtime. But really, just bring some mates and go full two-course duck for $36. The buns here don’t look like they’re made in house, but they are some of the fluffiest ones we tried, and the duck filling for the lettuce wraps was surprisingly robust, mixed with shiitakes and Chinese sausage. It’s a China Town experience worth going to China Town for.
238 NW 4th, 503-228-1688, call ahead for availability
In general, Powell’s Seafood does not make my list for best Chinese in Portland, but this two-course Peking duck for $38 was a sleeper hit. While some presentations of Peking duck involve just the crispy skin for the first course, Powell’s Seafood also keeps a thin-layer of meat in there too, making for a more hearty bun stuffing. The remaining duck was transformed into an ENORMOUS portion of rich, perfectly savory stir-fry for those lettuce cups. Though this was my final fowl on a serious duck-binge, I’m already ready for more (which is good because we definitely had leftovers).
6633 SE Powell, 503-775-3901, needs 48-hour notice