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Opinions on Sam Woo's

I was just reading the 61 rating thread on Sam Woo's (not a big surprise, Chinese restaurants don't rate very well in general). But, they've been around forever, and yet we never go there. I've never heard any chinese person recommend them, either. Considering the breadth & depth of chinese restaurants in Southern California, how does Sam Woo's rate & what's good about them?

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  1. let me put it in an analogy... do you recommend your friend to go to Denny's? Or Mimis Cafe? etc etc.

    I go to SamWoo for convinent and variety of common-yet-variey of family dishes.

    I'm chinese raise & born in HK for 18 yrs. So... that's my take of it.

    1 Reply
    1. re: kelvlam

      I guess I rate Sam Woo higher than you do. I struggle to find places that do regular staples like chicken chow mein and beef chow fun as good as Sam Woo does. My local Sam Woo gives me nice fat won tons stuffed with shrimp that very few other places come close to equaling, much less being better.

      But I live in OC, where solid Cantonese food is much harder to find.

      Just curious, what places would you recommend for chicken chow mein (Hong Kong style), beef chow fun, and won ton soup? My list for these favorite dishes is way too short, and I'd love to know at least 5 places that you would rank over Sam Woo to get this stuff. Only place in OC that I've found to be on par with Sam Woo is SW Seafood.

      I tried Har Lam Kee in SGV, and that was pretty good. Any other recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Recommendations in OC would make me consider you Chinese food god. :-)

    2. go for the Canto equivalent of comfort food. Cha sui and rice (or any BBQ+rice), various saucy/gravy and rice dishes, won ton mein, yang chow fried rice, etc. More like hang over food than transcendental grub. You can go to other places for better dishes of the same, but how much better can these dishes get? One can pretty much find the same at the various HK/Western style cafes in the SGV, so we pretty much bypass Sam Woo's now a days unless we're looking for take out BBQ.

      1. it also depends on which location as well. some are not a as good or clean as others.

        1. I think they vary. I used to live in Rowland Heights and would go there to grab take out BBQ pork and some sides or a garlic/soy sauce chicken. Average cost for a huge meal = $6, which you really can't beat after a long day of work. My parents, who are Americanized Chinese, really liked their dim sum. I thought it was fair. Overall, it was great for convenience. It was better than anything I can now get in West LA or Marina del Rey, where I now live.

          1. Not all Sam Woo chain reataurants are the same in my opinion. Prices vary too. I find most of them are a little higher than most Chinese places (especially the one in Las Vegas). Dishes are quite generic but decent. Foodwise, It's like saying which McDonald's is the best? It fills the tummy but not really a place to gather the clan for a special night out.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Clinton

              I go to the one on Sepulveda for the roast duck, yummy.

            2. I can't speak to the different branches of Sam Woo, but the one in Rowland Heights is pretty good. I think you can't go wrong with the bbq items (still the best roast duck in my area), and chow mein, chow fun. My favorite is wonton fun soup, with 1/2 plate of duck (hold the sauce) on the side.

              Their regular stir-fry items are hit or miss. Nothing too terrible, but I had better food elsewhere. C rating doesn't bother me (as long as it's not a sushi joint), but 61 is kind of low.

              1 Reply
              1. re: notmartha

                The Sam Woo in Rowland Heights is now called Leung Kee (or something like that). Same menu, slightly higher prices than the last take out menu I've got.

              2. I can't agree more with everyone as of the "they vary" comments. And hounder beware, ***DO NOT*** eat at the Las Vegas location, it's horrible to a point that I can't describe in word, and it's waaaaaaaaay overpriced than the regular Sam Woo.

                Also, Sam Woo for Chinese-style-BBQ food is more or less always fair-to-good quality from them. Like many have commented, if you just want to get a dish of BBQ pork with Soy-Marinated Chicken rice, or a quick meal of Wonton noodle for lunch, you can't go wrong with Sam Woo more or less. Like Clinton wrote, how do you rate which McDonald is better? :-)

                For OC-hounder, I agree it's hard to find Cantonese-style Chinese food. The closest would be in Rowland Height/City of Industry for more variety. Within Irvine itself mostly are Taiwanese style food. So I don't disagree with Wonginator's comment.

                BTW, there are 2 Sam Woo within Irvine, one I call -the real- SamWoo which is in Culer Plaza on Irvine Center Dr/Culver, while the other I call -the fake- SamWoo which is in the plaza of Walnut/Jeffery.

                I dunno about the quality of SamWoo in other places, but I've tried the one in LasVegas's Chinatown, both of Irvine, City of Industry/Rowland Height, the one in San Gabriel Plaza.

                7 Replies
                1. re: kelvlam

                  We went to the LV Sam Woo many, many years ago and it was really good. Haven't check recently so sorry to hear it's not as good now.

                  Even within Rowland Heights/Hacienda Heights it's not that easy to get good cantonese nowadays. I tried roast duck at Pakai, and Seafood Village - both were not that great. Recent dinner at Seafood Village left me with a bad taste in my mouth (literally). We used to have Sea Harbour and that was good, but alas it's gone. So which cantonese at RH is better than Sam Woo?

                  1. re: notmartha

                    Honestly family dishes... not a whole lot of places i Rowland Heights/City of Industry/Hacienda Heights. I'm Chinese so I've all my usual places name known in Chinese... I wonder what they are called in English :-s

                    Not to derail the Sam-Woo topic, but instead of restaurant, I will go for hk style cafe instead. Cafe-wise, Red Ant is my #1 choice, then Boston as well as Boston Kitchen, Maxim will be next and when there's absolutely no choice (such as... I'll die if I skip this meal), then I'll consider going to Garden.

                    And if not Sam Woo, the best alternative I'll say is Taipan Kitchen that's next in the plaza of the Hacienda Heights Ranch 99 (off Azusa).

                    Taipan Kitchen
                    1629 S Azusa Ave, Hacienda Heights, CA 91745

                    Boston Cafe
                    1631 S Azusa Ave, Hacienda Heights, CA 91745

                    Rowland Garden Cafe
                    18406 Colima Rd Ste H, Rowland Hghts, CA 91748

                    Maxim Cafe
                    18904 Gale Ave, Rowland Heights, CA 91748

                    1. re: kelvlam

                      Thanks for the tip. I've tried everything on uour list except for Red Ant and Boston Kitchen (in the old KFC building?). Taipan used to be good, but then it went kind of downhill and I never went back.

                  2. re: kelvlam

                    The "fake" Sam Woo in the Walnut/Jeffrey plaza is SW Seafood, which I mentioned above. It is probably my current favorite Cantonese place in OC, with Sam Woo just a slight notch behind. I really don't have a 3rd favorite for Cantonese in OC, as all the other good Chinese restaurants are Szechuan-style.

                    I've read some recent rave reviews of Fu Wing Low in Fountain Valley, but wasn't impressed when we ordered the chicken chow mein, beef chow fun, and won ton soup. Maybe there are other things that they do well, but not those items.

                    1. re: Wonginator

                      i love the "fake" same woo that wonginator is talking about. i go there all the time. they are pretty quick to serve and the food is satisfyingly good (imo). its the most convenient place for me to get decent cantonese food since there arent too many places around here.

                      1. re: Wonginator

                        Hey Wonginator,

                        Yah, for me, I can only vouch for the personalized / custom Chef's Menu that I asked Kenny to put together at Fu Wing Low. :) I wouldn't trust anything on their regular Americanized-Chinese menu.

                        As for another OC Cantonese choice, have you tried Phoenix on Culver? (near the 5 Freeway) IMHO, it's the best quality Cantonese restaurant in that area (I only went to SW once, and the 2 dishes we tried weren't very good... I'll have to go back and try some other ones).

                        1. re: exilekiss

                          Phoenix is a great alternative... but just a bit $$$ for the size/portion of food that they serve.

                          A few doors down... there's also a Chinese restaurant that serves pretty good deep-fried salty fish :-) I forgot their name... but it's next to Coldstone.

                    2. Let me first say that Sam Woo is not actually bad but prices do vary from one location to the other. I once had a craving for roast duck and pork while on a business trip in Vegas and decided to order it. For the price of that modest dish, I could have bought a whole duck ala carte from LA Chinatown. On another occasion (same place), I ordered the beef stew won ton noodles and it cost over $8.00+ (and that was a while back). But in contrast, the Sam Woo in Cerritos near the old Fedco was priced quite reasonable and the food was prepared above average. I guess it depends on the individual management and especially the quality of the cook(s). That could easily make or break you.

                      1. I'm a Chinese gal in OC. We used to go the one in SGV and Rowland Heights for dim sum but there are much better options out there. It's an okay default place if you've got the craving.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: rawkstar04

                          Well put. I still like Ocean Star or NBC for dim sum but that's me...

                          1. re: Clinton

                            Since you are already over at that corner of Monterey Park already, you are missing out if you don't visit Elite -- my winner for dim sum!

                            Elite Restaurant
                            700 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754

                          2. re: rawkstar04

                            Thought we are talking about Sam Woo BBQ. I think all the Sam Woo restaurants that serve dim sum is closed?

                          3. From my understanding, Sam Woo's is not a chain run by a single entity. Instead, there was an original Sam Woo's that must have been decent. Then that owner allowed his kids, relatives, or whomever to open restaurants under the same name. Who knows? Maybe the guy did not trademark his name, or did not want to go through the legal process to protect it. Anyway, the quality, menu, price, etc.. at one location therefore has no bearing compared to another location with the same name.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Conankun

                              Sam Woo is not a person's name. It means "Three Harmonies" in Cantonese.

                              My family still goes to the Cerritos one every now and then, whenever they're in the mood for non-dim sum Cantonese but don't want to drive to the SGV. Not fantastic, but serviceable. The live prawns are really good when they have it (I wish I knew the recipe for the dipping sauce). But there are better places in the SGV.

                            2. Is that little red, run-down shack on Garfield still standing? It's across the street from Garfield Medical Center. You know, the one with the windows so occluded by airborne soy sauce + grease that you can barely make out the menu posted on the inside. If it is still there, anyone know what letter grade (or numeric score -- which is more likely the case) it received? Atrocious looking place, but great for shrimp chow fun, har gow, and shu mai takeaway.

                              3 Replies
                                1. re: ns1

                                  Yeah, that's it. Does it have a name? A grade?

                                  1. re: Waverly SGV

                                    it's called dim sum express. not sure about the grade.

                              1. I go there because it is convinent and cheap, and it is a place with various comfort food dishes and semi decent BBQ dishes. I have only been to the one San Gabriel, the one in the 99 Ranch Market plaza. You don't have to wait long, it is like grabbing a burger.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: Liz

                                  First I thought Sam Woo was not a chain but a concept using name of Sam Woo. And can I say something really silly, I seem to remember much better meals at the Sam Woo places I have eaten at in Orange County than I now get at the couple I've tried Sam Woos in the SGV. ??

                                  1. re: Liz

                                    Sam Woos do differ a lot but one can count on a minimum standard that is at least "good" for BBQ and noodle stuff. The little Sam Woo in the Ranch 99 mall off Valley, IMHO is the best of the Sam Woos in that area for BBQ, noodles and dinners. The better dishes are written on the wall boards-- salmon head with taro hot pot, boiled tripe, lobster vermicelli etc. I always get their deep fried intestines which is better than those served in most restaurants. The one in Rowland Heights is quite good too. Dishes are so cheap, I'd overorder and take stuff home.

                                    1. re: poggibonzzi

                                      the sam woo my family and i go to regularly is on Valley Blvd between Garfield and Atlantic on the north side of the street. its a hole in the wall that I would drive by and miss for years....finally got it down!

                                      Try that one, the same waiters and waitresses have worked there for over 15 years, which is pretty impressive for me.


                                      1. re: AteTooMuch

                                        Yup, that's the best Sam Woo (one of the originals).

                                        The cross street on Valley Blvd is Sixth Street.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          what about the one on garvey between garfield and atlantic in mpk?

                                          1. re: rickym13

                                            never been to it, i am kinda happy with the woo i go to, so i stick with em. now i might have to go check it out

                                    2. Hey empfam,

                                      Lots of good replies to your question. Here are my thoughts:

                                      Sam Woo is average Cantonese BBQ (Shao Lah) food with some locations offering expanded menus with additional items (fancier XO Sauce Seafood, etc.). Years ago, (with less competition) Sam Woo provided some decent-to-solid Cantonese BBQ food at a ridiculously cheap price (it still is cheap in some locations), getting stuff like a huge bowl of Chinese Pork & 1,000 Year-Old Egg Porridge for ~$3.95! :)

                                      They expanded a lot, and as others have said, the quality varies GREATLY from location to location. They've even tried different concepts like "Sam Woo Bistro" near South Coast Plaza in OC for a fancier "PF Chang's / Americanized Chinese"-style, etc.

                                      Currently, all my CH groups (in OC and LA) have reached the conclusion that Sam Woo has become mediocre at best (some are downright horrible - too oily, never changing out their oil for deep-fried dishes (like Salt & Pepper Pork Chops that taste... gross)). Even the the most popular SGV one (in the 99 / Focus Plaza on Valley & Del Mar) has gone downhill, IMHO.

                                      Also, the quality of their BBQ varies greatly depending on timing. If you get there when they just made a fresh batch of Roasted Duck or Roasted Pig... hurray! :) You may get there and have some Char Siu or Roasted Duck that's been sitting around for most of the day (blech), and the quality is much worse.

                                      What's your goal on this topic? To try some new Chinese restaurants? Or the Cantonese BBQ style? Or just curious about trying Sam Woo?

                                      If it's the curiosity factor, IMHO, you would do better to skip it and try some far better Chinese restaurants around LA. :)

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: exilekiss

                                        to be honest, I was just wondering how it is that they exist, considering the quality of chinese restaurants around here (even in Orange County!). also, i wanted to see if anyone would actually rave about it, and if so, why.

                                      2. I've been to the one in San Gabriel Square many years ago, and thought it was way too greasy, salty, and unrefined Cantonese (even for standard family fare stuff).

                                        There is a Sam Woo in Toronto that I had the pleasure of going to in the 90s. All I can say is that Sam Woo, whether affiliated with the Southern Cal ones or not, blew everything else out of the water.

                                        There's also a SW in SF, in a 100+ year old building, literally the arse crack of mankind in San Francisco's Chinatown that a lot of late night clubbers and sentimental Americanized Asians love a lot for some reason. I'm sure there's no affiliation, but if there were this might just be the worst one :-)

                                        1. Sam Woo in Chinatown isn't the best. But the one in Irvine is excellent. Don't know how the chain is structured but you ould think it's a totally different owner.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: wise1too

                                            I know that this is an old chain but just to set the record straight there is no chain called Sam Woo. It is a generic name as someone mentioned earlier. The name Sam Woo is not a person's name but has a definite meaning in Chinese and has come to represent to the Chinese who patronize it the fact that it is a Cantonese Deli type of restaurant. It always has duck, chicken and pork and all the things that go with it like intestines, etc. They also usually serve some standard dishes like chow mein and often some dumplings, etc. The reason that they are all so different is because they are all individually owned and operated only having the name in common. Seeing Sam Woo is like seeing the word Diner or Hamburgers or Cafe on an eating establishment.