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Lucky Danger is an American Chinese takeout restaurant located in Arlington’s Pentagon Row. Chef and owner Tim Ma started the concept in November 2020 as a pop-up in Mount Vernon Triangle. Its name is meant to be playful. “Lucky” was often used in the names of old school Chinese restaurants in the U.S., and “Danger” was a fun word to add to it.
Initially, orders were placed online by selecting pickup time slots at the start of the day. This helped the restaurant manage the volume of requests while putting out the best quality of food, and ensuring the safety of staff and customers as COVID-19 held strong in D.C. Due to the popularity of Chinese takeout in general, and the overall popularity of takeout early in the pandemic, the pick up times filled pretty quickly. Lucky Danger regulars expressed their desire to order spontaneously, prompting the restaurant to pivot to on-demand ordering.
“Chinese restaurants have run in my family for a long time, so it was only a matter of time,” Ma says. He operated American-Chinese pop-ups in other restaurants, but decided to finally give it a home base. “Our family had an exhibit inducted into the Smithsonian American History Museum in November 2019. That really kickstarted my path to Lucky Danger,” he says. Ma, who is Chinese-American, found a permanent home for Lucky Danger in 2021 on the outskirts of the Pentagon City Mall.
The inside of the store is light and bright, with their blue and red brand colors on the walls and front counter space. Fun artwork of Lucky Danger’s mascot hangs in front of the spacious open kitchen. At the main counter is a stack of menus next to the kiosk where you place an order.
As you browse the menu, you will notice it’s similar to what is found at any Chinese takeout spot, also known as “the carryout” to DMV natives. The Lucky Danger menu is much more condensed, but still has the popular dishes Chinese takeout fans have grown to love. The team has improved traditional recipes while preserving their authenticity, especially since they are decades old at this point. From beef lo mein to General Tso’s chicken, there is something here for everyone. “The flavors are intense, but simple, all in a good way,” one customer mentioned.
Lucky Danger serves a handful of appetizers. The fried veggie spring rolls are served in pairs and filled with shredded cabbage, bamboo, mushrooms, and scallions. The cooks prepare the hot and sour soup every morning, with a broth that incorporates lily flowers and wood ear mushrooms for added depth. Ma is also the culinary director of Laoban Dumplings, where the tiny but flavor-packed pork and chive wonton dumplings are prepped. Lucky Danger chefs boil them, then toss them in homemade chili oil before serving.
My absolute favorite American Chinese takeout appetizer, which is also my favorite Lucky Danger menu item, is the popular crab rangoon. They’re served with housemade garlicky sweet and sour dipping sauce. Spring roll wrappers are filled with crab and cream cheese, folded into pouches, and deep fried until crispy. These are the absolute best crab rangoon I’ve ever had in my life! They’re so good, I almost forgot they were made with imitation crab meat. I wanted to keep this one a secret, but it’s my job to tell you where to get the good eats, so … you’re welcome.
There are several pork, beef, chicken, seafood, and vegetable entrees, all served with a side of steamed white rice. Or, you can fancy it up and order duck fried rice to go with it. Chef Mikey, Ma’s right hand man on Lucky Danger projects, suggests this over the traditional chicken lo mein. Cooks saute the seasoned rice with chunks of smoked duck breast, toss it with fried egg, and sprinkle it with fresh sliced scallions.
The drunken pork is Lucky Danger’s newest item, which I inhaled when I got home. Boneless pork butt slices are marinated in sake, soy sauce, and mirin, lightly fried, then tossed with more of the marinade. Even with the amount of sauce the pork swam in, the peppers and onions cooked with it stayed nice and crunchy 2 days later.
There are two shrimp dishes available for seafood lovers. The ketchup shrimp is lightly tossed with Heinz ketchup, garlic, ginger, and scallions. Salt and pepper shrimp is deep fried and served with onions and jalapenos, then covered in Lucky Danger’s peppercorn blend.
Flaky blue catfish is another pescatarian option. I went for the catfish and red chili tofu entree. The tofu and fish are cooked in a sweet and spicy chili sauce and loads of garlic, and served like a stew. If you’re a sauce lover like myself, you’ll love this one! Drizzle it over a bed of fluffy rice and dig in. This is definitely a spicy one, but tolerable. Both the catfish and tofu melted in my mouth. Literally.
The array of veggie options will make you want to try every single one. As an avid meat eater, I am passionate about mushrooms, and the trumpet mushroom entree is to die for. They are sliced into coins and cooked in a wok with onions, pickled mustard greens, soy paste, soy sauce, and Shaoxing, a Chinese rice wine, making their own gravy. A spoonful of these tender mushrooms and crunchy onions will definitely turn a mushroom hater into its number one fan.
Fresh orange slices accompany each order placed with Lucky Danger. At the end of a great meal, Chinese restaurants would serve the citrus to refresh your palate. Ma wanted to keep this tradition with their to-go orders. “It is a gesture of hospitality in a takeout bag,” he says. In the past, some customers were confused on which citrus they received, thinking they were lemons. Now, a cute label is placed on top that simply states, “These are oranges.”
All of Lucky Danger’s amazing food is packaged in paper cartons. With the amount of saucy goodness in their entrees, the containers still held up with travel and fridge storage. Leftovers reheat extremely well. It would be best to warm up the rangoon and spring rolls in the oven or air fryer to keep them crispy, but they still taste great from the microwave.
If you have difficulty choosing your dinner, Lucky Danger offers family meals that feed three people. Crab rangoon, Chinese greens, fried cashew chicken, crispy orange beef, salt and pepper shrimp, and duck fried rice make up the “Meat Fish Veg OK!” dinner. Or you can go with the veggies only meal, which comes with spring rolls, wok-fired green beans with garlic, stewed eggplant with basil, kung pao veggies, trumpet mushrooms, and veggie lo mein.
If you’re looking for a dope and enhanced version of the classic DMV carryout, Lucky Danger is the place you’ll want to visit. Order a bit of everything to get the true experience. But don’t get the crab rangoon. I want them all for myself.
Lucky Danger will soon return to Northwest D.C. They will open a stand in the Western Market food hall in Foggy Bottom in the summer of 2022, serving the same menu as the Arlington location.
Lucky Danger is available on third party delivery apps. Orders can also be placed online or in person for pickup. Store hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Prices range from $5–$10.
Lucky Danger, 1101 S Joyce Street # B27, Arlington. luckydanger.co.