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Dec 20, 2005 01:31 PM

Great meal at Chopsticks in San Rafael

  • g

For 26 years I have passsed by Chopsticks Restaurant in San Rafael daily and never ventured in to the cinder block hut with the yellowing bulletin board and electric beer signs in the window. Recently, buildings around Chopsticks have been torn down or upgraded to make way for the new Elephant Pharmacy, and yet Chopsticks still stands! I figured there must be some reason. Also, I vaguely remember a mention by Melanie Wong about a beef stew there.

So, I began to sample menu items as take out. Pot stickers, won tons, and egg rolls are all house made and are some of the best I've had anywhere. The war won ton soup is flavorful. The chef has a great touch with sauces, and the prawns an lobster sauce are excellent. Mongolian Beef, snow peas and water chestnuts, eggplant with garlic sauce are great, and the salt and pepper prawns are perfectly fried, and best if eaten there. Many standard dishes, well above standard preparation.

The food here is largely designed for tight budgets, which is a good thing, but limits the selections. One day, in the kitchen, I spied a beautiful, dark brown glazed chicken. When I inquired, I was told it was for the family, but could be ordered with about a week's notice. Do they ever do any thing with crabs, I asked?
Well, yes, I was told, sometimes people bring in crabs, and they will prepare them.

Last Saturday, 10 of us dined on this special chicken, ginger and green onion crab, and many items off of the menu (salt and pepper shrimp, Mongolian beef, pot stickers, and more).
The food was great! The ambience was non existant as was heat on this cold rainy evening, but as soon as the wonton soup and tea and beers arrived, things warmed up considerably. I don't know what the name of the chicken preparation is, but I do know that the preparation takes several days and involves purchasing special chickens. The final step is frying and chopping the whole chickens into serving size pieces and the skin is crisp, the meat moist and the flavor anisey. I bought the live crabs at the Loch Lomand Bait Shop, where a local crabber keeps his catch in pens in the bay. Ten bucks per live crab, running two and a half to 3 pound each. Including this cost and a number of Tsing Taos,and 20% tip, the cost was around $25/person.

I look forward to trying the beef stew when it is available. They only have it sometimes as it is another dish that takes several days to prepare.

Chopsticks Restaurant
508 3rd Street
San Rafael

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  1. s

    A little late, but this looks great! Thanks for the post.

    1. Nope, can't say that I've been here or tried the beef stew. Your recent mention of the crab sounded so good, i thought I'd revive this thread to see if others had recs here.

      508 3rd St, San Rafael, CA

      23 Replies
        1. re: gumbolox

          Thanks for the link, and for continuing to talk about this place. Odd that the reviewer described the food as Mandarin and Szechuan, but none of the dishes ordered except perhaps "Mongolian beef" as American-Mandarin would fall in that category.

          Any experience with bringing in a whole fish or wild game and having them cook it?

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Finally got around to chopstix in San Rafael. Daughter and I had lunch there today. Perhaps the WORST Chinese meal in my life, including some pretty far-out meals in rural Missouri. I wouldn't take in road kill and let them cook it.

            1. re: OldTimer

              What did you two order -- and where did it go wrong?

              1. re: Sarah

                My daughter ordered the eggplant, and said it was OK, not very spicy. I had the lunch plate with Mongolian beef. Perhaps five tiny pieces of beef and loads of onions and celery, not seasoned at all (menu said "hot"...should have said "bland"). Fried rice was tasteless and the chow mein was just some noodles sauteed in a bit of brown gravy. The fried won ton skins with sweet-sour sauce were the best thing on the plate. I can't understand how they are still in business with some pretty good Chinese places in San Rafael.

                1. re: OldTimer

                  What do you consider the pretty good Chinese places in San Rafael? I am still looking for some decent Chinese food in the area.

                  1. re: Sharon S.

                    I've had good lunches over many years at Pier 6, 1559 4th St, and House of Lee, 885 4th St (great pot stickers).

                    1. re: Sharon S.

                      I suppose Yet Wah is about the best in SR. The place by the theater in San Anselmo is pretty good, as is CJ's in Larkspur. I happen to like Jenny Low's in Vintage Oaks, and Peking Wok in Terra Linda isn't bad for economy and good taste. One thing that bugged me about Chopstix was that the lunch was over $6.00 and the tea was $1.20. It is not good when a place like that is overpriced.

                      1. re: OldTimer

                        >I suppose Yet Wah is about the best in SR.<

                        I'll have to respectfully disagree. I've only been there once, five years ago, but the food was so mediocre/bad that I wouldn't go back. I remember Yet Wah from my San Francisco days many years ago and the San Rafael place is a very poor imitation of that. I even had one of my favorite items from that SF Yet Wah era, mu shu pork, and it was so inferior to "the way it was" there was no comparison. I took a Chinese friend there that time and we both agreed on the lack of quality of the food.

                        1. re: Mick Ruthven

                          I agree about Yet Wah, I'd love to know where you go for Chinese food in SR.

                          1. re: Sharon S

                            There's House of Lee, Ping's, Chrysanthemum and probably others that are not coming to mind (new place in Montecito SC). Maybe we should be assigned one each to taste test!

                            1. re: Sarah

                              Went to Ping's not too long ago on a 2/1 coupon. I was actually pleasantly surprised. Kind of like old school Chinese/American.

                              1. re: Civil Bear

                                Ping's is nice, and it's the only place I've seen hereabouts with mu shu pork on the lunch menu.

                          2. re: Mick Ruthven

                            Went to Yet Wah the other day and ordered almond pressed duck for nostalgia's sake (a yesteryear specialty that has almost vanished from menu land). Didn't much like their rendition.

                            Also noticed that their prices were half again as high as a typical Chinese restaurant.

                          3. re: OldTimer

                            Just saw this and had to reply. I must say that the one time that I got a lunch special at Chopsticks, I didn't care for it. Seemed like mainly a carbo-load. Fried rice, chowmein and fried wontons all at once? And a little bit of Mongolian Beef thrown in. Figured it was there for those who really needed to fill up for cheap, definitely a demographic that is a significant part of their customer base. And I do think that around $6 for that quantity is cheap. I mean where do you get that much edible stuff for under $10 in Marin for lunch? I have often had the rice plates, however and have always enjoyed them. And the chow mein on the regular menu is loaded with delicious ingredients as is the beef chow fun.
                            In my initial post and in the IJ review many different things were recommended and I stick by my opinions based on almost weekly visits for the last 2 years, not just one visit. I generally agree with the IJ review, too, though I really like the poststickers and the eggplant, which usually seems plenty spicy to me and I'm from Louisiana. Maybe they just know how I like it.
                            By the way, I concur with Mick Ruthven's respectful disagreement re Yet Wah and have always found Jennie Low''s to be very middle of the road. The places I like these days, besides Chopsticks are not in Marin: Koi Palace south of the city; Spices 2 in the city; and China Village in Albany.

                            1. re: gumbolox

                              I always get the rice plate w/s&p porkchops, very good but wish they'd throw in some greens. Next time I'll have to try the chow fun. If we're going to stay in Marin but move out beyond SR, I'll have to throw in Feng Nian in Sausalito as a contender.
                              Lunch only, I generally go to SF/Oakland for Chinese dinners.

                              1. re: Sarah

                                Although not as cheap as Chopsticks, I found China Village in the Northgate Mall wasn't bad...My favorite Chinese place in Marin in Tommy's Wok...not cheap, but lots of vegetables, brown rice and free range chicken...

                                Tommy's Wok Chinese Cuisine
                                3001 Bridgeway Ste H, Sausalito, CA 94965

                                1. re: melisky

                                  Will have to try China Village when I'm in area. Usually go to the Roasthaus, but since the new ownership, maybe it's time for a change...

                                  1. re: Sarah

                                    What about Ming Garden in San Anselmo? I've been going there for over 10 years and have always found the food consistent and fresh. Plus, they deliver.

                                    1. re: calalilly

                                      Goodness, in reading all the posts I realized there's a lot of restaurants I haven't tried, Ming's one of them. There's also Confucius on the corner across from Pier 6, Dynasty in Tiburon. I like Feng Nian's lunch specials but can't abide the h&s soup, any h&s soup from any restaurant, but that's just me, apparently.

                                      1. re: Sarah

                                        Thanks for reminding me of Confucius. I went there quite a while ago and was quite surprised at the high quality of the food. I don't really know why I haven't been back.

                                        I also like Feng Nian (Sausalito). The things I've had there seem to vary from OK-good to very good.

                          4. re: Sharon S.

                            Try the Yu Shang:


                            Chinese not bad at all.

                            Sushi's hopelessly outclassed, but much higher priced, at Sushi Ran in Sausalito. Not to say Yu Shang's bad, not a bit. Just not inventively excellent like Sushi Ran.

              2. I often meet my husband for lunch in SR and have the opportunity to visit the many incarnations of Tsing Tao Restaurant on B St.

                For lunch, at least, we liked the Tsing Tao in between when they remodeled and cleaned up their act and when it became Eric's (years?). Eric's was just OK and we did not frequent it.

                It's once again under new owners and we stopped in the other day. It was good and worthy of another visit.

                I'm not sure if you can judge a Chinese restaurant purely on their lunch special but Hot & Sour soup was good (I give it a "B"). The Broccoli Beef was fresh and had just the right crunch on the Broccoli. The Prawns in the Szechuan Prawns were plentiful and was not too saucy or too sweet as some can be. Not sure what the app. was supposed to be....if it was a deep fried won ton, there was no center, just the fried noodle. I don't eat that anyway. All for about $7.

                Again, the lunch special does not a review make, but it was worthy of another try in a "decent" Chinese starved area. It might add an alternative option to the disappointing choices listed above.

                3 Replies
                1. re: MSK

                  Also, If we're talking about Marin at large....How has Feng Nian in Sausalito faired lately?

                  1. re: MSK

                    Since Marin is being talked about I love Lily Kai in Mill Valley. It slightly reminds me of Eastcoast style. And the portions are large...

                  2. re: MSK

                    I used to like Tsing Tao a lot when it was run by the two brothers (one named Bobby), particularly the Hunan shrimp which had fried shrimp with a really nice spicy sweet dipping sauce and good spicy chicken wings with s&p, sliced jalapenos and some carrot. I went in for dinner after they sold it and was really disappointed, didn't even want to take the leftovers. I'm glad to see an uphill report and will give it another shot when I am next in the area.

                    I also liked Pier 6 long ago and like CJ's, House of Lee had lots of options, including dim sum with overall pretty good quality, disliked Yet Wah and Pings. When I worked in Sausalito, I ate lunch at Feng Nian pretty often and thought it was ok. It was more convenient than good.

                  3. Chopsticks closed effective January 1, 2009 as it lost its lease. There is a note on the door that they hope to open elsewhere in Marin.