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Jul 24, 2009 04:05 PM

seeking authenic Chinese in San Diego (or area)


I live in San Diego and honestly would drive hours if someone could tell me where a genuine, non-Americanized Chinese establishment exists. I know I am asking for a lot, but I just returned from a 6-week trip there and am longing for the flavors I was lucky to have experienced. What I appreciated most was that the flavors were simultaneously simple and complex, the ingredients regional and fresh, and always very satisfying. Even a bowl of soup or eggs and tomato always hit the spot. Any suggestions for cookbooks or websites would also be greatly appreciated.

Thanks so much!!

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  1. You don't say where in China you were, but my bet would be you can find some similar cuisines on the Convoy corridor. Kirk recounts many visits to Convoy area resties (and other areas, too) on his blog. If you scroll down to categories, you can pull up just Chinese, Chinese bbq, even posts on just one dish, niu rou mein, of which he is a fan. HTH! His recs are reliable, and you can turn up other hounds' thoughts by searching Convoy on this board, too.

    Is there anything in particular you're looking for?

    1 Reply
    1. re: amyzan

      Tnx Amyzan!

      I actually visited many different cities, so please bear with this list:

      Beijing - Zhengzhou - Kaifeng - Luoyang - Xian - Kunming - Dali - LiJiang - Zhongdian - Chengdu - Mt. Emei - Chongqing - Yichang/Wuhan (Yangtze cruise was great, but also where I understood that Americanized_Chinese food will no longer do!) - Guilin - Yanshuo - Hangzhou - Suzhou - Shanghai. , so I enjoyed many different cuisines of China and found that I loved them all!

      Things I like the most were: what was to become my breakfast staple - a soup for which i can't find the name. It had rice noodles, some sort of pickled green veggies, a spicy ground meat (pork?), scallions. I love dim sum, had some great stuff at Da Fa Cheng and great soup dumplings in Shanghai, but, so far, cant find anything similar here. Tried Dumpling Inn, it was ok, I would def go back, but it just wasn't "it," ya know?

      Even something as simple as the eggs with tomato would be wonderful to come by (it was actually one of my favorite things to eat out there). There was this really flavorful spicy "bean curd jelly," a deceptively simple garlic noodle (tried to replicate it, a huge disaster :o), I could just go on and on...

      Seriously, the only food I did not enjoy was the stuff on the cruise, but I understand that they had to appeal to so many different people so food was, well, certainly not very Chinese in flavor.

      Im actually trying to figure out how to write up a blog about my food experience there since it was so awesome, and yes, I did take many pictures (def got some weird stares!). As soon as I do, I'll be sure to send the link.

      I will try Kirk's blog right now!

      Again, thanks!! :o)

    2. Ba Ren has genuine Szichuan-style cooking. Dumpling Inn is controversial but has what many people consider genuine northern style dumplings (and super jellyfish salad, yum! Took me right "home" to Hong Kong). Pearl in Rancho Bernardo does a fine job with some of the Hong Kong style "gold cup" classics and decent dim sum. China Max used to be so HongKong-y I couldn't believe I was eating in SD (both the cheap peasant dishes and the gold cup stuff) , but friends I used to eat there with have been there recently and said that it may have changed ownership, the food had lost all its zippiness. (Were they right? Can any Hounder comment on that? Kirk, have you been there lately?) Oh yeah - Hakka! There is one: Gen Lai Sen, near City College. Don't even try their cheap greasy kid-stuff regular stir-fry dishes, stick strictly to the "chef specialty" Hakka dishes, like the stuffed sizzle plate tofu. Just a few dishes, not nearly the menu breadth of the Hakka place in San Francisco (Tong Kiang) but at least it's a little something special for SD.

      2 Replies
      1. re: naomiwise

        Super, Naomi!

        I will for sure try Ba Ren this weekend, then run through your list within the next week or so. I didn't get the chance to visit Hong Kong, so I'm very curious to see what Pearl and China Max have to offer.

        Looking forward to it!

        1. re: naomiwise

          I agree with your friends about China Max. I was wondering what happened the last time I ate there, because all the things that used to be so good about the place had changed. The crabcakes were really bad. I found myself apologizing for them to my dining companion, explaining how they used to be so good. I definitely won't be back any time soon.

        2. Since China is such a large country, I'd like to know what specifically you're looking for, there are several choices with regards to Sichuan. My personal favorite is Ba Ren, but for folks who aren't used to "fei ur bu ni" the "rich without greasy" type of food it may freak folks out. They don't do well on twice cooked pork, but have many excellent Sichuan dishes. The Chef used to cook at Traffic Hotel in Chongqinq which I believe was a 4-star hotel. He was also the original chef at ChungKing Restaurant in Monterey Park. Please be aware that this s ChongQing style Sichuan, not Zigong or Chengdu style which is known for their snacks and I've been told is slowly evolving into a more nuevo style.

          I also enjoy some of the dishes at Dede's which tends toward lower oil and less spicy. Strangely, the dish I enjoy most at Dede's is an Uyghur style dish - Cumin Lamb.

          China Chef 2 in Mira Mesa is pretty good as well. I enjoy the tea smoked duck, and a few of the other dishes. Duck at most Hunan and Sichuan places tend to be more boney, many folks who are used to Peking Duck and Roast Duck have a difficult time. But China Chef does well.

          Si Chuan Garden Spicy City (Gui Chao Yuan), is Sichuan/Yunnan, and serves up food similar to it's sister restaurant in Monterey Park, Yun Gui Garden. There are a few Yunnan Dishes, and it's mostly Sichuan. I've really not been too impressed.

          For Shanghainese:
          Shanghai City serves up the usual suspects, like pork pump, "smoked fish", XLB, etc. They also make my favorite Niu Rou Mian, but get it during the weekends when they have Chinese Breakfast. They go through more during that period, and I've found it to b better.
          Chin's Miramar location is strange (in the Holiday Inn off of Miramar), but they have Chinese Breakfast on the weekends as well, with some interesting dishes such as Zhenjiang Crystal Pork (sort of like Spam with Aspic), my MIL claims the Suzhou Smoked Fish is the best she's had since they left PRC. Please be aware that it is only the Miramar location that serves this, though they are opening another location on Convoy.

          Little Sheep is a chain from China, and they do Hot Pot (Huo Guo), it hs been kinda hit and miss the last few times I visited. Dede's and Ba Ren also do hot pot, and Ba Ren also has a "Yie Shi" (Night Market) menu which is skewers in hot pot.

          Folks love Dumpling Inn. I'm not such a big fan, though like Naomi mentions they make a nice Jelly Fish Salad. If you order the Jiaozi, get the shrimp and chive. Folks love the Xiao Long Bao, but I'm not a fan, they just don't do it right.
          There's also Mr Dumpling which opened in the back street from 99 Ranch Market. I thought it was pretty bad.

          As for Hong Kong style Seafood, China Max is probably still the place, though it's been kinda off on my last few visits.
          You can read a ton about Jasmine and Emerald in other posts.
          I also enjoy a few dishes at Golden City like the Kwai Fei Chicken.

          Naomi - We recently went to Gen Lai Sen, and I found it to be better than my previous visit about 7-8 years ago. I'm going to wait for another visit to post.

          There is no Tianjin, Hunan, etc in san Diego at the moment, but there is some good stuff out there.

          Sorry about the kinda scatter-brained post, just kinda throwing things out off the top of my head.

          As a side note, we often drive up to the SGV for our fix as well.

          Ba Ren Szechuan
          4957 Diane Ave, San Diego, CA

          China Chef II
          9225 Mira Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92126

          Mongolian Hot Pot
          4718 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92117

          Dede's Teajuice City
          4647 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111

          Spicy City
          4690 Convoy St, San Diego, CA

          Chin's Szechwan Restaurant
          9355 Kearny Mesa Rd, San Diego, CA 92126

          Shanghai City Restaurant
          3860 Convoy St # 105, San Diego, CA

          Dumpling Inn
          4619 Convoy St Ste F, San Diego, CA 92111

          mr dumpling
          san diego

          Golden City
          san diego

          2 Replies
          1. re: KirkK

            Thanks for posting your list. We went to spicy city, loved it. Szechuan cuisine was something I have avoided because of the abundance of chiles. I was proved wrong again. The food was delicately flavored and outrageously delicious. I would recommend this restaraunt to everyone.

            1. re: KirkK

              Dede's has changed hands and while the spicy boiled fish is still very good, everything else has gone down hill. No beer, the menu offerings are similar but not the same and it just feels like a different restaurant. I've been to Ba Ren twice and find it not very flavorful. I will check your site and see if there is a specific dish that will turn me around on the place as we need to replace Dede's which replaced Spicy City when they changed ownership. We enjoy Jasmine for Dim Sum because it's fun but Emerald is probably better. If you are in the mood for Crab or Lobster, Emerald is the way to go. China Max prices went through the roof for a while and it is definitely not as good as it used to be.

              Spicy City
              4690 Convoy St, San Diego, CA

              China Max Restaurant
              4698 Convoy St Ste 101, San Diego, CA 92111

            2. Since you state that you "would drive hours", the place for you is the San Gabriel Vally. Kirk has covered quite of few spots there on his blog.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Captain Jack

                Yep, got it, and on my way to LA in a few weeks, so I;ll be eating my way through the SGV for sure! :o)

              2. Great website, San Francisco based:

                There have also been several discussions of Chinese cookbooks on the homecooking board. The Fuschia Dunlop books are faves...

                2 Replies
                1. re: amyzan

                  tnx, will be sure to check both out right now!

                  1. re: rocknro

                    I think you'll be pleased. There are too many good Chinese places in SGV, though the list constantly changes as places get better/worse.