Lunch for $10 or Less: Zhongshan

Google "once-bustling Chinatown," and you'll find stories about them in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Butte, Mont., and even Calcutta, India. Almost always, there is one last remaining restaurant where a city's Chinatown once thrived.

In Baltimore, the holdout is Zhongshang Restaurant, which really is something of a newcomer. Zhongshan opened only a few years ago, but 323 Park Ave. has been home to Chinese restaurants like Chinatown Cafe and Joe's Peking Duck House.

I'm a fan of Zhongshan. A few years ago I had a Hong Kong-style New Year's dinner there, complete with twin lobsters, jellyfish and fried snow crab, and there are Hong Kong specialties every day at Zhongshan if you know to ask for them. Usually, I just want the good versions of classic American-Chinese cuisine.

I've been showing up at Zhongshan a lot lately. It's the season. When the weather starts turning cold, I want Chinese food every day. I'm talking about kung pao chicken, General Tso's anything and lo mein noodles. It's one of those caveman things there's no use fighting.

I want Zhongshan for lunch, too. They have a lunch special, the kind where $6.95 gets you an entree, some white rice and maybe a spring roll.

True, this isn't the world's lightest lunch, especially if you go for kung pao chicken or shrimp egg foo yung. But Zhongshan has healthier options, like steamed chicken and shrimp with mixed vegetables. There are some offbeat choices, too, like spiced salt fried squid and lamb meat.

I wouldn't get the steamed chicken and shrimp again. It was OK, but it wasn't what I wanted. I wanted the salty thrill of kung pao chicken or the slurpy pleasure of lo mein. I must have known I was ordering wrong because I also ordered string beans with pork. In for a penny, in for a pound, right?

Next time, I'll order what I want. Zhonghsan is an uphill walk from the office. That's got to be 500 calories right there.

Zhongshan Restaurant

Where: 323 Park Ave.

Contact: 410-223-1881

Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner

Lunch entrees: $6.95-$7.95

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