From the red-and-gold glowing tent over the entrance to the two life-sized lion statues guarding the doors, or the more than 300-year-old tapestry hanging in the entrance way, your first steps into Hunan Lion are accompanied with quite an impression to say the least.
Hunan Lion, located off Chain Bridge Road in Vienna across from the Galleria at Tyson’s Corner, is a gourmet Chinese restaurant with the exquisite service and a high class atmosphere that defines gourmet without re-defining your budget.
Catering to many palates, Hunan Lion offers a variety of dishes from seafood, to pork, chicken and beef as well as a decently-sized vegetarian selection.
The restaurant’s trademark dish, Orange Beef ($16.25), delivers a flavorful combination of sweet and tangy. After eating it myself, I can understand why it holds some bragging rights. The dish starts with a crunch from its deep-fried batter and ends with a tender beef center. Its dark sauce, at first sweet, slowly warms to a quite a bite that lingers on your taste buds.
After the meat is deep fried, it is sautéed in a sauce that has both orange peel for the sweet and a dry pepper for the spice. These herbs are served with the Orange Beef, and if you are a spicy foods coinsurer, you may venture to eat the peppers, though those wary of the singe may want to forgo this thrill.
Wanting to get the whole story, I indulged. The pepper delivers a multitude of flavor while adding a surprising zing after about 10 seconds of chewing, one that lingers as much as the chicken flavor. It’s no wonder where this entrée gets its powerful punch.
This dish has as much history as the restaurant itself said Merrifield resident, owner and President of Hunan Lion, Tsai Yang, who opened this restaurant 26 years ago.
“[It’s] the same recipe as when we opened in 1982. You can eat Orange Beef anywhere else and it won’t taste the same as it does here. It’s the real Hunan style,” said Yang.
Yang said that the restaurant started with the House of Hunan in downtown D.C. in 1980, and then two years later the Hunan Lion opened up in the Tyson’s Corner area in a space specifically designed for high class service. The restaurant was designed to include hidden bus boy stations which appear only as walls to patrons, but in actuality conceal dirty dishes and the packaging of doggy bags and take-out, so that the costumers feel catered to and the atmosphere is never compromised.
Although I dined near to closing time, you could see that the quaint restaurant never loses its charm, even though it seemed that my guest and I had it all to ourselves.
While sitting in the calm atmosphere of light music and laughter from some far off parties, and smelling the fresh flowers from every table, you would never suspect that the restaurant was 26-years-old.
Yang said that the restaurant is constantly being kept up to maintain the high standards and quality he and the other owners of the restaurant want to present to the customers.
The upholstery for the booths is ordered from Italy and the wall paper from L.A. Going above and beyond to offer an atmosphere of class, above all Hunan Lion strives to hold true to Hunan flavors, said Yang, while trying as well to hold on to originality.
This was clear at the end of my meal when the Leche ice cream arrived. This mild vanilla and nut-flavored ice cream was created especially for the restaurant and is made homemade at Hunan Lion. It was a great ending to a meal that I will return for soon again.
2070 Chain Bridge Rd., Vienna
Lunch: Mon. – Sat. 11:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Dinner: Mon. – Sat. 4 – 10 p.m.; Sun. 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.