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americanized chinese food in bay area

  • j

where is the best americanized chinese food in the west bay,chow mein was a staple of my child hood diet!

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    1. re: Cary

      That's not old school Americanized Chinese. That's yuppified, watered down, "modern" Americanized Chinese. Subtle but important difference for anyone who grew up on chop suey.

      Speaking of which, I had take-out from the Chinese restaurant on lower Burlingame Ave (south side of street, across from Starbucks) last Friday, and that might rate a visit. I'd never had chop suey before and didn't really like the food at all (lots of diced celery and zucchini in everything), but maybe that fits the bill?

      1. re: bernalgirl

        was that king yuen you went to on b game avenue its on the right side if your going down tword the high school a real small joint

    2. Yeah, probably, now that Yan Can Cook has vanished. Of course, there's always the Bamboo Garden, on Lincoln Avenue in Alameda, a real old-fashioned 40s-style chop suey joint. The East Bay is full of old places like that. Just look in the Yellow Pages for anyplace with "garden" or "Peking" or "palace" in the name. Or "Stix".

      1 Reply
      1. re: Shep

        there seess to be a lot of "pagodas" or "dragons" too.

      2. Tai Chi on Polk St. makes a clone of the Tomato Beef Chow Mein I used to love in the early 60's. Of course, they also have some more modern stuff too..... like General Tso's Chicken.

        Link: http://eatingchinese.org

        Image: http://www.pbs.org/opb/meaningoffood/...

        1. Seriously, though. China Hut, on Lincoln at Webster in Alameda, is very old school. Comfort food for 50s kids. China House, at Santa Clara and Park, up on the second floor, Sam Wo vibes except everybody's real polite. Sweet and sour anything. Or if one finds oneself in Livermore, stop in at Lo's on First st between K and L, for well-executed American Chinese standards. Like Sinatra on the jukebox.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Shep

            I moved to Colorado from Massachusetts and my children and I were incredibally dissapointed when we ordered take-out from what we thought was a chinese restaurant.Maybe it was but just different in the west than in the East coast?Back home Chinese food consisted of batter fried chicken fingers,beef teriyaki(on the stick w/ LOTS of teriyaki flavor)Here it was chunks of what tasted like bland un-flavored meat.The crab rangoon really does'nt differ and the rice here is loaded w/ peas ....YUCK!They also served something called paper wrapped chicken,which was some dry,gray meat that almost tasted burned and it was wrapped in foil,not paper.I miss the chicken wings,loo Mein and jumbo fried shrimp.Why are they so different and is there ANY place out west where Chinese food is like I have described it is on The east coast?

            1. re: crystalmoon1979

              I think asking for Chinese food just like it is on the East Coast is waaaay too vague.

              If you don't want peas in your rice, get STEAMED rice, not fried rice.

              1. re: crystalmoon1979

                Are you basing your judgement of the "west" on one restaurant take out in Colorado? Steam rice is not loaded with peas or anything else. So yes do not order fried rice if you don't want anything with your rice.

                1. re: crystalmoon1979

                  I moved from Massachusetts to California, and I too can't find any chinese restaurants that have chicken fingers. I have really spent a lot of time looking for them, but can only find something similar at chinese buffets, which are really gluttonous and gross, so I have pretty much given up. I think the reason the west coast chinese food is different is because it's more authentic. Growing up, we used to eat Cantonese, but out here are a lot of Mandarin and Schezwan restaurants. At least I have something to look forward to when I visit the east coast!

                1. Gau Paong on El Camino Real and Hobart in San Mateo. Try the GP Crispy Beef too.

                  1. Best old school Chinese American food in SF is at Sun Lan Ting (sp?) on Jackson St. between Grant and Kearny (corner of alleyway across from a bar). Old cafe style booth seating. They have the best roast pork and hamburger steak (with gravy and rice!). Served with either corn or cabbage. Also there's another place called Uncle's Cafe that serves the same on Waverly Street (between Clay St & Sacramento St). They have good chow mein too!

                    31 Replies
                    1. re: mulanone

                      I think the sign says New Lun Ting Café. It's at 670 Jackson St.

                      1. re: Chandavkl

                        Yay Chandavkl! Good work! Are you an oldschooler too? Most "ABC's" I know that grew up in Chinatown have been there.

                        1. re: mulanone

                          Haven't been to New Lun Ting in probably 10 years now. It's funny how the stuff we considered to be authentic in the old days (I'm from Los Angeles) is now classified as Americanized. In a way that's a little bit misleading since Americanized Chinese food runs the gamut from the stuff that the early Cantonese/Toishanese settlers brought over here to the faux Hunan, Szechwan etc. stuff that appeared decades later. But the new food that started coming over here from Hong Kong and China starting in the 1980s is so good and so much better than what we used to eat that I have no qualms abandoning the old school stuff.

                          1. re: mulanone

                            As have a lot ot non-Chinese. I went there often more that 40 years ago.

                            For a dime they would add a fried egg to your hamburger steak over rice. I had a lot of loco mocos without knowing they had a name.....

                        2. re: mulanone

                          Note that other than the chow mein, the dishes you're describing are not Americanized Chinese food but Chinatown versions of American food.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            The problem with some of this stuff is that East Coast "Americanized" Chinese food is not exactly the same as really old school Americanized Chinese food that you can still get at the old school places here. In my experience so far, East Coast places have more extensive menus, many different appetizer choices, and a lot of the dishes seem to have more veggies. The appetizer choices are what Melanie is describing as Chinatown versions of American food. I would add that scallion pancakes are standard at lots of Boston/East Coast chinese places, and you can only find them here at more regional places.

                            For example, many places outside of California will have "lo mein" (chow mein here), chow fun, and pan-fried noodles on the menu, and sometimes the fried crispy noodles (a la "seafood in birds nest" style dishes), while noodle options at a lot of local places here (non authentic) will just be chow mein. I've been working my way through Chinese places on the peninsula, and obviously none of them fit the East Coast style, but I would say that the average quality of "Americanized" places here is much lower than the average place on the East Coast.

                            For the SF'ers- this was the local Chinese take out place we went to in Boston, about a million things on the menu, but has the dishes typical of whta you would get at Chinese place (in my experience) many places outside of California, not just on the East Coast.


                            Another thing is how "tenderized" the meat is, especially chicken. Chicken gets highly tenderized here, and my wife can't stand it (she only likes white meat chicken), so she won't accompany me to any authentic place, but even the Americanized ones just turn the chicken into something else. This didn't seem as standard to me on the East Coast.

                            1. re: P. Punko

                              "Chow mein" in SF Chinese Restaurants is chow mein, not "lo mein." It's pan-fried. Not to a crisp, but it's stir-fried, just as it is in China. As such, it's as authentic as anything on the menu.

                              I don't know what you mean by "tenderized" chicken. No Chinese restaurant worth eating at does anything to a fresh chicken but cook it. (Some "white-cooked" chicken dishes do call call for dry-brining or marinating in rice wine, but these lead to a firmer, not a "tenderized" flesh.)

                              1. re: Gary Soup

                                Many of the places that cater to non-Chinese use frozen chicken breasts.

                                1. re: Melanie Wong

                                  PP's post seemed to suggest that even the "authentic" places tenderize the chicken, though.

                                  1. re: Gary Soup


                                    I think it must be some sort of standard marination that does tenderize the meat. I have read somewhere that sometimes there is a rice wine/baking soda marinade which will definitely tenderize- I think the baking soda is the key for the alteration of texture. As usual, thanks a ton for your input- I always learn a bunch on this board.

                                    1. re: P. Punko

                                      I have heard of a method like that used to tenderize beef in some Chinese-American places, but i can't see how chicken would even need such tenderizing. But then again, who knows what's been done to the alleged chicken in General Tso's Chicken, Orange Chicken, Sesame Chicken etc. a la Panda Express' meat candy?

                                      1. re: Gary Soup

                                        Heh, true. Actually the deep fried dishes are usually more chicken-y- it is the stir-fried ones that are the worst. I am going to do the experiment at home, and I will report back. I think my wife has given up, so it won't be that much of a problem anymore. :(

                                        (but this means I can go to super spicy places)- next up on the list is Hunan on Sansome.

                                2. re: Gary Soup

                                  Gary- what is called "chow mein" here, and as you describe it, is called "lo mein" on menus from Utah to Michigan to Massachusetts (places I have been). "Pan fried" are wok-singed noodles that have meat, veggies and sauce tossed on top after cooking as opposed to being tossed together in the wok like what I know as "lo mein." White meat chicken here (and many places actually)is marinated in something, perhaps rice wine as you suggest that gives it a look and texture of almost pre-chewed meat. If you compare how white meat chicken is prepared at many run of the mill Chinese places with Thai places, you will find a difference in texture and look to the meat. At Thai places the meat tends to have more evidence of the grain of the meat and maybe tastes a little bit more dry. There is a large difference in texture between the two preparations. This is a relatively general phenomenon among average Chinese places on the Peninsula. Is this a better description of what I am trying to get across?

                                  1. re: P. Punko

                                    Back in the early 70s when the Asian American ethnic movement originated some wag made comedic reference to "lo fan lo mein." At the time I didn't completely understand the reference because in Los Angeles, lo mein was a semi-authentic braised (not fried) noodle dish which you usually would get on request from restaurants frequented by Chinese patrons. Only when I started traveling the country did I realize the differences in terminology that existed in different geographic areas. I later discovered that what I knew as lo mein was called something like yetcamein in the Midwest, but that term itself meant braised noodles in some places, but soup noodles in others.

                                    1. re: P. Punko

                                      Are you referring to the process of "velveting", where meat is marinated in rice wine and cornstarch (and sometimes egg white)? The cornstarch forms a protective barrier against the high heat of the wok, so the meat comes out more tender.

                                      1. re: daveena

                                        It may not be velveting, but just the simple process of marinating the meat with a bit of cornstarch and soy sauce without egg white. This is like brining and plumps of the flesh making it juicier and more tender. I like the succulence myself rather than the coarse graininess and dryness if you don't do this before stir-frying.

                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                          Ah - thanks for clearing that up. In my head, cornstarch + egg white + rice wine = velveting, so therefore cornstarch + rice wine alone also = velveting. Although, aren't cornstarch particles are much larger than salt and sugar molecules? I think the cornstarch stays on the outside and forms a coating, rather than permeating the meat and bringing in water via osmotic pressure.

                                          I always marinate beef and lamb for stir-frys in cornstarch as well... I love the tenderness and juiciness... also, I think some of the cornstarch falls off and helps thicken the juices from the meat and vegetables and gives everything a slightly glossy sheen. I think Gary's right about velveting and shrimp... now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure only my shrimp stir-fry recipes call for egg white. A lot of the meat ones call for oil with the cornstarch in the marinade.

                                          1. re: daveena

                                            My wife only uses the velveting process for the dish known as "Crystal Shrimp" and, being Shanghainese, usually eschews the cornstarch for arrowroot or tapioca flour (but that's another story). Another distinction between "velveting" and marinating is that the shrimp goes into the liquid mixture just long enough to be coated, and never long enough to marinate.

                                            1. re: daveena

                                              I always do it too for thickening and the smoothness on the palate, though we use tapioca starch at home. Makes me wince when I seen TV cooks instruct to add the thickener AFTER.

                                              I've referred to this as a marinating process, but in fact, I think the best results are when the meat rests for only 15 to 30 minutes. Longer than that and the meat gets overseasoned and the taste of the main ingredient gets lost. I think some restaurants prep their ingredients too far ahead of time and have this problem as well as the meat picking up too much water. Maybe this is what P. Punko has experienced.

                                            2. re: Melanie Wong

                                              It is something like this- my wife can't stand it, but I don't mind it, thus we can't find a Chinese place we agree on

                                          2. re: P. Punko

                                            In the Bay Area and in China (or at least the parts I am familiar with) chow mein (chao mian) by default is pan-fried in the manner you suggest, but the ingredients are added during the stir-fry process, not after.

                                            As another poster noted, the tenderizing process you describe is probably the cooking technique known as "velveting" which IMHO is only suitable for shrimp and perhaps chicken breast, though few dishes using breast meat would be considered authentic. Also, velveting does not use baking soda and is not really a method of tenderizing, just a method for keeping a naturally tender flesh from toughening in the cooking.

                                            1. re: Gary Soup

                                              HK-style chow mein has a pan-fried noodle cake, then the stir-fried ingredients are prepared and dumped on top and not mixed together with the noodles.

                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                MW- this is what I am used to as being called "Pan Fried noodles"- and what I know as "lo mein" seems to be more similar to "chow mein"- although I haven't had chow mein here yet that has that slightly burnt flavor (not in the bad way) that you get with good chow fun/pad kee mao type dishes. The best "lo mein" I have had has been that way- meaning it has been worth ordering.

                                        2. re: P. Punko

                                          PP, do you want some "Duck Sauce" with that? :-)

                                          (A yellowish liquid of sugar and water, supplied in little pouches like Soy Sauce, that I often have seen in Chinese restaurants in Northeastern US, but never in the bay area.)

                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                            Sometimes it is almost like apple sauce-ish.

                                            1. re: P. Punko

                                              That must be the "gourmet" duck sauce! (The ones where I saw the ingredients on the label, if I remember, contained water, sugar, a soluble sorbate food preservative, maybe some coloring, but that was about it.) Someone explained the history of it but I've forgotten. Haven't encountered it in California (with its large population of Chinese immigrants and many Chinese restaurants) nor in my experiences in China.

                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                Wikipedia covers it nicely, and has a picture of the packets:


                                          2. re: P. Punko

                                            Better quality Chinese food on the East coast? Are you serious? I moved from the Bay Area to a suburb of Philadelphia, where I lived for four years, and the downgrade in the quality of Chinese food was drastic.

                                            East coast places have more extensive menus because everything is made up of the same ingredients and sauces, just in different combinations. I was ridiculously dumbfounded when I went to my first Chinese restaurant there (a place called Mi Chong's whose menu is pretty much identical to the one in the link you posted) and was asked if i wanted 'white' or 'brown' sauce for EACH one of my dishes. Each dish then came out with the exact same ingredients for the noodle, meat, and vegetable dishes, just with different meat. I do agree that there were more veggies, but they weren't anything interesting - just broccoli, carrots, snowpeas, and baby corn....in EVERY single dish. Get a pack frozen. Places like that don't exist here because they would go out of business using only those vegetables. I really suggest branching out and trying the amazing Chinese restaurants here in the bay. It's literally Chinese food heaven here after moving here from the East Coast.

                                            1. re: calciumchew

                                              Well out. However, I think P. Punko was specifically addressing "Americanized" Chinese food restaurants. They have a more robust presence on the East Coast than here, and their patrons are probably more demanding that they would be on the West coast, because they have fewer alternatives in the form of authentic Chinese restaurants. More-or-less authentic Chinese restaurants are the rule in the Bay Area, and the few still serving old-school Chinese probably don't try very hard.

                                              1. re: calciumchew

                                                CC- Gary essentially has said what I was really saying. When I post on the boards I try to be very specific about the terms I am trying to define, or when I use them I also define them. I love the authentic Chinese Food in the Bay Area. The food I was specifically discussing was the kind that you might find at your neighborhood take-out place/sit-down place. And I don't mean neighborhoods like Oakland Chinatown. I was trying to convey the culture shock that many people feel when they move to the bay area and what their experiences have been and what their palates are used to.

                                                1. re: P. Punko

                                                  You might try Windy's in Palo Alto on University Street up by El Camino. They used to be in Chico, hence the Americanized, and won awards, hence the high quality. Their food isn't old style so much, but it is Americanized with good fresh vegetables etc. And you can find some authentic dishes too. Family-owned:).

                                        3. I think of House of Nanking as pretty americanized. They don't have necessarily americanized dishes, but they use more western ingredients and the flavors are more distinctly western. Very good though (even to a Chinese like me).

                                          1. King Yen in the Elmwood makes a great Kung pao Chicken,sweet sour pork,fried rice,Mongolian beef,almond chicken.

                                            If thats what you mean by Americanized Chinese.

                                            1. I’ve been eating high and low Chinese in SF and Oakland for decades and never ordered egg foo young, which seems to exist only in bad jokes about Chinese food. Today, on a whim, I ordered egg foo young at Gold Medal in Oakland. Wow. This classic was soothing and delicious. The Gold Medal special version has slices of char siu, shrimps, and shredded chicken tossed with mung sprouts and threads of onion. The stir fry was bound with scrambled egg. The whole mess was allowed to sit in the wok for awhile to get toasty on one side. The final product is placed upside down into a generic Pyrex pie plate so that the browned dome is on top. It sits in a delicious sauce that tasted a lot like the roasted ducks hanging at the front of the restaurant. Lots of scallions sprinkled on top. Egg foo young’s so Americanized, I was embarrassed to order it, but it tastes so good I have to order it again.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: jbgd

                                                Believe it or not, egg fu yung has an authentic cognate in China, called "hibiscus slippery-fried egg" (芙蓉煎滑蛋). "Fu Yung" is dialect for furong, which means hibiscus. Here's a recipe (in Chinese) with a picture.


                                                Here are the ingredients as translated by Google:

                                                Main ingredient : eggs 200 grams, 60 grams of pork meat, mushrooms water 10 grams of fat, 30 grams of dried and sliced bamboo shoots, ginger 10 grams

                                                Excipients : lard 100 grams, 10 grams of sesame oil, black pepper bit wet starch 10 grams, 4 grams of salt, MSG 3 grams, Mao Tang appropriate [Mao Tang is a basic soup stock]

                                                1. re: Gary Soup

                                                  "There is a small chinese restaurant in the peppermint plaza in El Cerrito just a few doors down from Ba Le (good bahn mi) that has egg foo yung." One large omelet. Sorry no name. More research since first posting.
                                                  Kam Yee Restaurant
                                                  10166 San Pablo Avenue
                                                  El Cerrito, CA 94530
                                                  one yelper had the pork efy and did not complain. I enjoyed my roasted pork for 2 meals.

                                                  1. re: Gary Soup

                                                    The egg fu yung of yesteryear Chinatown (Jackson cafe and the like) consisted of three pancakes of egg, bean sprouts etc. containing little pieces of BBQ pork or shrimp or whatever with a pour of nice gravy over the top. Egg fu yungs I've had in recent years consist of one large pancake, with or without the bean sprouts and covered with a pile of stir-fried whatever bound by a little gravy.

                                                    I like the old style better, and if anyone knows where I can get it in Marin let me know

                                                    1. re: Sharuf

                                                      Is the new style egg fu yung perfectly circular? Sound like the "authentic" version. Next time I see EFY on a menu. I'll have to try it.

                                                      I recall the old style well. It was an irregularly shaped little frittata-like pancake with plenty of bean sprouts in it. Three was another egg dish I liked much better, though, a moist but not runny scramble with lots of onions and BBQ pork or Chinese sausage in it. It was somewhat similar to what you might find in a Japanese "donbury" dish. The BBQ pork version was called "char siu dan".

                                                      1. re: Gary Soup

                                                        I used to see the egg scramble over rice , but that seems to have vanished.

                                                2. Check out Tao Tao in Sunnyvale. I haven't been there in a while since I moved, but we had a large group of people who loved the food. Also their bar is great - heavy poor on the Mai Tai!

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: grinch

                                                    Tao Tao! Yes! On Murphy. Still there when I last looked. Strong Mai Tais and "Chinese" chicken salad by the cement-mixer full. (That might be the classic 1970s Americanized Chinese food.)

                                                    Tao Tao as I know it was a residue of old Silicon Valley of the 1960s and 1970s. When people drank cocktails before lunch, and the engineers in the aerospace firms were warned not to hang out at Walker's Wagon Wheel because Soviet spies trolled for information there. (I am not making that up.)

                                                  2. The best tasting old school Americanized Chinese I know about is JADE DRAGON in Daly City. It is at the end of a small block stripmall on Junipero Serra Blvd. It is near the City Hall area on a street that parallels the 280 freeway. Westmoor exit is probably closest. This place offers pretty decent food when you order from the menu in the dining room. AVOID the temptation to detour into the side room where they have an all you can eat buffet. The buffet food is cheap and poor quality.....unless you just want to pig out on fried chicken, egg rolls and chow mein.
                                                    JADE DRAGON has very tasty Won Ton Soup. Hot and Sour soup isn't good there. They have gluttonously yummy fried rice, cashew chicken, mongolian beef too.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: NickyPicky


                                                      Jade Dragon Restaurant
                                                      2368 Junipero Serra Blvd, Daly City, CA 94015