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Mary Pols

Mary Pols is a staff writer for the Portland Press Herald.

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Posted: December 22, 2016

If you like Li’s Chinese food cart, get a seat at her restaurant down the street

Li’s Place in Freeport has a bigger menu than its mobile counterpart.

Written by: Mary Pols
Shrimp with vegetables at Li's Place. Photos by Mary Pols

Shrimp with vegetables at Li’s Place. Photos by Mary Pols

I’ve been a fan of Li’s Chinese food cart in Freeport for a few years now, so I was thrilled this spring to discover the family that runs it, led by Li Jin, had opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant on a quiet side street right off Main Street.

My son and I have been dropping by Li’s Place regularly since then, ordering the same delicious lo mein and chicken fingers we used to get at the cart on Bow Street, along with homemade dumplings ($7.25) so good that my son routinely asks for a second order.

A couple of weeks ago, as we were picking up take-out, Jin presented us with a much more extensive menu, about a dozen new dishes — new to them anyway. These are the standards of most Chinese restaurants: General Tso’s chicken, broccoli with beef or shrimp, sesame chicken. That’s nice, I thought, doubting we’d break routine.

But over Thanksgiving in Maryland, my son’s grandfather offered him a taste of an order of General Tso’s chicken and because Pops is way cooler than I am, my son actually gave it a try, then came back home telling me how good the General’s chicken is.

Li's Place is on West Street in Freeport.

Li’s Place is on West Street in Freeport.

Within days, we were at Li’s Place on West Street, ready for variety. He got the General Tso’s ($14.95); I asked for the shrimp with vegetables ($14.95). The price gave me pause, but then I remembered what Li’s portions look like: enough for a big lunch, two days in a row.

We sat at our usual window table, which gave me a chance to eye her neighbor’s apple tree and the carpet of fallen fruit below it. I was tempted to do some gleaning on the way out. The restaurant was quiet, just one other table of two, both gazing deeply into their devices and not speaking. Usually when we stop by, even just for take-out, I see at least one of the people I know who work at L. L. Bean’s corporate offices nearby, so I know people have found this joint, but it definitely deserves more customers.

Everything was ready in under 10 minutes. Jin herself waited on us (sometimes her teenage son rings us up) and brought us water and to-go containers. I believe that she may be the most reliable smile in the midcoast; she always cheers me up.

So does the food. There was a point when I thought I’d given up Chinese completely in favor of lighter Asian fare, like Vietnamese, but life with a near-adolescent means seeking common ground wherever possible, and my son has been eating dumplings since he was a toddler.

Li’s food is basic but clean tasting, with minimal grease (OK, not the chicken fingers, which are grease central, but they’re also made with meat that looks like it came off a chicken, instead out of some grinder). The vegetables with my shrimp included celery with a good crunch, carrots with real flavor, broccoli (ditto), cabbage and mushrooms. The shrimp were big and meaty. I tasted my son’s chicken and wished I’d asked for some heat with mine. The spice was mild enough for him, but still had good kick to it. General Tso’s chicken, with deep fried crunch and sweet sauce, has always seemed tantamount to ordering a Big Mac, so I never get it. But it was, in fact, delicious.

We left to with heavy to-go containers, which served me well for lunch the next day and, since my profligate son has an anti-leftover policy, will probably make for a third lunch as well. Next time we go we’ll split a more expensive dish and a half order of lo mein ($6 to $7.50 depending on what protein you add).

I know we’ll be back, probably within a month. This place of Li’s is a keeper.



Li’s Place

WHERE: 51 West St., Freeport
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily
OUTDOOR SEATING: No, but if you want that, you can head over to Bow Street, where the family still runs a food cart.

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