My usual Jewish Christmas ritual of the latest “Star Wars” offering followed by dim sum with friends was obviously not possible this year, but one makes do with what’s available. For me, that meant Season 2 of “The Mandalorian” and a solo feast from Our Zone, a Sichuan restaurant in Brighton; inside its unassuming storefront waits an extensive menu full of flavorful (and blessedly affordable) delights.
I was facing down the holidays-in-isolation depression so I went all in, ordering enough food for at least four meals — eliminating cooking and dishwashing while I gave myself a chance to create a family-style plate of many different tastes.
Our Zone’s menu offers a few items for diners seeking American Chinese fare — sweet and sour spare ribs, lo mein. And who doesn’t love soup dumplings? But the best reasons to order here are dishes like dan dan noodles — just the right balance of tender and chewy, exploding with flavor — and cucumber in special sauce, which provides a crisp counterpoint to the rich textures of Sichuan double-cooked bacon. If you need inspiration, the website offers many pictures, or just ask for whatever sounds tastiest; I do every time I order here, and there hasn’t been a dud in the bunch.
Another recommendation: Think ahead and pick up a purple sticky rice ball for the next morning. Wake up, steam it, crack it open to reveal a hidden cache of egg and pork, drizzle it with soy sauce, and enjoy it with your coffee.
Our Zone, 1583 Commonwealth Ave., Brighton, 617-789-3688, www.ourzone.online. Appetizers $6.50-$10.50, entrees $9.50-$19.99, desserts $6.95-$8.50.
A.Z. MADONNA, reporter, classical and pop music
WINSOR DIM SUM HOUSE
Dim sum is communal food and not designed for takeout. Nor is a three-course Peking duck feast, but I have ordered both to-go during a pandemic. Living on the South Shore, my go-to dim sum place has been Winsor Dim Sum House in Quincy. Before COVID-19, the family-friendly restaurant was part of our eating out rotation, but during the pandemic we settled into a rut of ordering pizza or sushi. Project Takeout inspired me to branch out and try to replicate a dim sum spread at home.
Be forewarned: The dim sum takeout menu is not as extensive as if you were dining in, but you won’t go hungry. We ordered the dim sum platter ($10.95) that lets you sample the classics, including har gow (shrimp dumplings), shu mai (pork-and-shrimp dumplings), and barbecue pork buns. We then added silky rice noodle rolls with minced beef, steamed spareribs, tripe with ginger and scallions, and sautéed clams with black bean sauce. We also lucked out in what can be a hard-to-find-item: ma lai go, a pillowy sponge cake.
I also like Winsor for its homey dishes that few other Chinese restaurants serve. The braised beef brisket with tendons and radish casserole is almost as good as my mother’s, as is the chilled black fungus and cucumber dish.
I miss the experience of dim sum with food rolled out in carts and shared family-style around a table with a Lazy Susan. But one bite of har gow, no matter where I am, transports me back to the way life was.
Winsor Dim Sum House, 706 Hancock St., Quincy, 617-655-8799, winsordimsumhouse.com. Dim sum $4.75-$5.25 an order; main entrees $10-$20. Cash only, unless you order through a delivery app like UberEats or Grubhub.
SHIRLEY LEUNG, Business columnist
ZOE’S CHINESE RESTAURANT
As a city-dweller who doesn’t own a car, my relationships with some of the takeout restaurants nearest to my Somerville apartment can be characterized as ones of convenience. That’s not the case with Zoe’s Chinese Restaurant, which I would gladly walk miles to visit even if it weren’t across the street.
Li Su and Jun Yang opened Zoe’s in 2000, naming it after their daughter. They later sold it to Tina Zhou, who had worked at Zoe’s for years. The restaurant’s forte is its Sichuan cuisine: I’ve been told by friends who have spent time in the province that dishes like the fish fillet with hot chile sauce ($24.95) compare favorably to the food they ate while in China.
Unfortunately, my body no longer tolerates spicy foods like it once did, so my go-to orders usually stay in the realm of American Chinese dishes, at which Zoe’s also excels. The highlight of my standard order is the Mongolian beef ($17.95), which offers impressively tender meat atop a bed of scallions and peppers.
The dumpling options are all solid as well, with my current favorite being the flavorful steamed juicy pork buns ($9.50). And the General Gau’s Chicken ($14.95) is perfect comfort food, a blend of sweet and crispy providing solace during an isolating pandemic. Pro tip: Be sure to mention you’ll be paying in cash when you order if you want a 5 percent discount.
Zoe’s Chinese Restaurant, 296-298 Beacon St., Somerville, 617-864-6265, www.zoessomerville.com. Appetizers $5-$10, entrees $14-$25.
KEVIN SLANE, Staff Writer, Boston.com