Oriental House has been a staple on the St. Matthews dining landscape for more than 40 years, and unfortunately, the building looks it. The oriental-style woodwork on the outside has a tremendous amount of peeling paint and appears to be suffering from a little dry-rot. But as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, perhaps it doesn’t serve one well to judge a restaurant by its exterior paint.

I have been driving by the place occasionally for almost 30 years and almost weekly for the last 8 years and had never stopped in to try it out because, well, I knew nothing about the place, and lets face it, it looks a little the worse for wear. Finally, a bit over a month ago, after getting tired of the dramatic decline or the outright closing of the Chinese restaurants we normally frequent, we did stop by at lunchtime to try them out. Actually, Lynda had already been in there a few days prior to our visit with her friends, but this was my first visit and it turned out to be a pretty good experience. I knew I would have to come back with my reviewer hat on and write up a posting.

This past Saturday evening, Lynda took me there for my birthday dinner after I had settled on cuisine du jour,  as we hadn’t dined on Chinese for a few weeks. It was only a few minutes after 5, so the dining room was almost empty when we walked in, certainly not as busy when we visited a few weeks earlier — it would be filling up quite a bit before we left though.

The dining room looks pretty much like a hundred other Chinese restaurants I have been in, from Florida to Oregon — and certainly not nearly  as nice as some I have visited in say, San Francisco or Chicago — but the interior was obviously in better repair than the exterior. A cashier/carryout counter by the entrance, a scattering of tables and booths for the patrons and oriental artwork/carvings adorning the walls. Nothing fancy, but ultimately, quite familiar.

We both started off with a couple of egg rolls, chicken for Lynda and a vegetable one for myself ($1.30 each). While the price is comparable to what we usually pay for an egg roll at other restaurants around town, these were probably half again to twice as big. Mine had been fried to a wonderful crunchy brown on the outside and the veggies had just been heated all the way through, but hadn’t gotten hot enough to steam away the fresh, crisp texture. Lynda said that hers was very much the same.

Lynda decided to try the Orange Chicken ($9.50), a large platter of fried chicken with broccoli in an orange sauce that had little whole red chilies in it and served with a small bowl of steamed rice. I sampled a piece of the broccoli and found the sauce to have an incredible orange bite to it, with the broccoli to be perfectly cooked — still crisp to the bite with a bright color to it, rather than the pale over-cooked condition you would see in some other restaurants. Lynda said the chicken was very nice and tender and that the sauce had a warm spiciness from the chilies that got a little warmer as you went. Although, Lynda had gone in pretty hungry, she proved no match for the size of this meal and probably left a third of it behind.

Orange Chicken. ©2008 Doug Rivers.

Lynda's Orange Chicken. ©2008 Doug Rivers.

Over the years, I have come to favor Mongolian Beef as one of my favorite dishes that I order in a Chinese restaurant and it has become my litmus test to judge a restaurant by. Unfortunately, when I have ordered it here in Louisville, it has been served up as an overly sweet imitation of the dish I have come to love in other cities. What I have gotten at Oriental House is not sweet at all and is more like what I prefer when I order the dish. Thinly-sliced beef — could have been just a tiny bit more tender, but was fine — in a Mongolian brown sauce with green peppers, lots of sliced onions and little slivers of  tender bamboo shoots. Again, the vegetables were cooked just right and the sauce was rich and flavorful that started off just a little spicy and grew more so as you ate, until it was moderately hot at the end. I had substituted fried rice (65¢ extra) for the steamed rice and I am pleased to report that it was one of the better bowls of rice that I have had in Louisville; nicely tender and no huge chunks of egg mixed in it, which in my opinion is a textural no-no. I was able to finish off my dish, but it was a very satisfying portion.

My Mongolian Beef. ©2008 Doug Rivers.

My Mongolian Beef. ©2008 Doug Rivers.

On the whole, a very nice meal, with very prompt and efficient service from the waitstaff. Even the fortune cookies were nice and fresh, but they can’t take much credit for those; besides the fortunes were strange and the lucky numbers didn’t hit in the Powerball drawing that night.

9 out of 10 stars.

Not aware of any website for this restaurant.

4302 Shelbyville Road


Oriental House on Urbanspoon

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