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San Diego - good Chinese?

Hi everyone! Any recommendations in SD for good Chinese food? Preferably Hong Kong style, but I'm not picky! I recently moved here from Vancouver, and miss some of my favorite restaurants there. Thanks in advance!

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  1. Check out KirkK's blog mmm-yoso.typepad.com and also Candice's reviews on sdcitybeat.com. But Ba Ren does some serious Sezchuan!

    1. I like China Max, but I don't claim to be a Chinese cuisine expert.

      5 Replies
      1. re: stevewag23

        I was pretty disappointed the last time I went to China Max. And also by Emerald. Both seem to have dropped in quality by quite a bit in the last year or two.

        1. re: mikec

          Its probably been 2 years since I last went.

          1. re: stevewag23

            That's the thing about Chinese restaurants, they can totally change in just a few years. In LA I always had to keep up with which restaurant was "in". Problem is proper Chinese cooking takes 10 or 20 years of experience, and in LA they always hired some genius chef from HK/China/Taiwan and once he got his visa and a year under his belt he'd quit and double his salary elsewhere. But for that year, the food was spectacular.

            Needless to say no matter how good a place gets it's hard to sustain. I had great meals at China Max too both dinner and dim sum, but that was years ago and I haven't had a chance to go back. But I keep hearing about how they're not as good as before. I've seen no evidence one way or another, but it's been mentioned before.

            1. re: royaljester

              I went to China Max recently for dim sum. It was OK mostly, but I thought that their barbecue sauce for their pork (char siu bao, any of the other bbq pork things) was way, way too sweet. It was like dessert!

              Regarding dim sum -- because I haven't been to any of these for dinner: of China Max, Emerald, and Jasmine, my friends and I were least impressed with China Max. Emerald was the most consistent but doesn't really stand out, and while Jasmine is uneven, they have *amazing* chicken dishes and what seems to be a bit more variety.

              1. re: Jishin

                Great thing about Jasmine is they have Jasmine Express where you can order every dim sum on the menu to go. We've tried a lot and they have some real winners including the fried pork bun. Generally, Jasmine is our goto place for Dim Sum in Convoy. Someday I'd like to try Pearl again but it's hard to get in on weekends.

      2. I visited Vancouver a little over a year ago. That city is definitely a Chinese food mecca. I am afraid that you are likely to be disappointed with the pickings in San Diego.

        If you have experience with Chinese/asian cooking, you might want to check out the 99 Ranch Market in Kearny Mesa.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Encinitan

          Yeah, it's definitely going to be hard to find restaurants up to par with Richmond, BC quality in SD. For dim sum China max is really good but I would avoid them for dinner. For cantonese Emerald used to be good but its been a couple years since I've been there. Golden City is a little cheaper but their dishes seem to be hit or miss.

          In general SD is not the best place to find good cantonese food.

        2. I like Pearl in Rancho Bernardo and Peking Wok, which is way up in Bonsall, but worth the trip.

          1. sorry cdn_in_sd, but Chinese food here is not that great. I grew up going to Monterey Park/San Gabriel Valley area of L.A. for Chinese food and Richmond is of that ilk. But you won't find anything like that here, I'm afraid. There are a couple of good Szechuan places, though, like Ba Ren and Dede's. Dumpling Inn has decent dumplings/XLB but it's tiny and fills up quickly. If you like Chinese breakfast you should check out Chin's. And lastly, for Canto style food some of my friends like Hong Kong Restaurant. I don't remember being super impressed when I went there, but it's open late so I tend to go after drinking and wouldn't trust my judgment one bit!

            You'll soon find that out the big Canto joints (aka the ones that have cart space for dim sum) here are Emerald, Jasmine and China Max in the Convoy district and Pearl in RB (smaller, no carts). Emerald has a late night menu after 9pm, I think, of standard canto fare, but I don't think they'll hold a candle to Richmond, BC.

            Man, I wish we had Canto cafes here...

            Ba Ren
            4957 Diane Avenue
            (858) 279-2520‎

            4647 Convoy Street
            (858) 279-5999‎

            Dumpling Inn
            4619 Convoy Street
            (858) 268-9638‎

            9355 Kearny Mesa Road
            (858) 536-2300‎

            Hong Kong Restaurant
            3871 4th Avenue
            (619) 291-9449‎

            2 Replies
            1. re: RTee

              I can't disagree with this post except Pearl does do carts and is your best bet for dim sum but is way up in Rancho Bernardo which makes it a great place before hitting the Wild Animal Park.

              Jasmine, Emerald, and China Max are about the same in quality with Jasmine having the most room, despite what you may hear the dim sum is perfectly adequate.

            2. I think most don't really know what you're referring to when you say "Hong Kong style". I do. I'm Chinese. My wife was born and raised in Hong Kong, so I think I know what I'm talking about here.

              Let me say that I've been to Vancouver many times, and the Chinese restaurants there are generally far superior to most of what you'll find here in San Diego. However, China Max is clearly the best available here. That being said, not everything on the menu is good, but some dishes are quite good. Having been a regular since they opened, I can also honestly say that there have been some uneven periods. I think that's inevitable in the restaurant business with frequent kitchen staff turnover. However, the owners and mangers are very diligent in trying to maintain consistent quality. If you go frequently and establish a relationship with them, they will even make things for you off menu (if you can speak Cantonese).

              5 Replies
              1. re: HubbieO

                Good point.
                Personally, though I'm far from an expert on the subject. When someone says "Hong Kong style" I tend to ask a few questions to determine whether it's Hong Kong style Seafood, and higher caliber(banquet) style restaurants, Dim Sum/Yum Cha, Hong Kong Cafe style dishes or Guangdong/Cantonese style restaurants.
                For Hong Kong style seafood, China Max has been the most consistent over the years.

                1. re: HubbieO

                  HubbieO - I like China Max - it's my go-to Chinese place - and have enjoyed many of their dishes in the 8 years I've lived here. But I am no expert. What are the restaurant's best and most authentic dishes in your opinion?

                  1. re: Divamac

                    All the dishes are authentic. I just like some dishes more than others. But, as with any cuisine and restaurant, there are some variations in flavoring and ingredients. Even a hamburger is not the same at every eatery.

                    I usually let me wife order as her Cantonese is much better than mine. I might not get the entire name right in Engish, but some of my favorites are:

                    1. The watercress soup w/almonds and meat
                    2. Fisherman crab, or lobster, or fish, or prawn
                    3. Sauteed string bean (with meat)
                    4. Salt baked pork chop
                    5. Baked pork chop w/ Peking sauce
                    6. Stir fried noodle w/special soy sauce

                    1. re: HubbieO

                      Thanks for he recommendations. The salt baked pork chop, crab, and sting beans are all favorites of mine. I haven't had the soup or the noodles. I'll make a point to try them on my next visit.

                    2. re: Divamac

                      Second the Salt Baked Pork Chop.

                  2. It's been a few years since I went, but Pearl in Rancho Bernardo was awesome when I went. One of the reasons I haven't gone lately is the wait can be 1-2 hours at times like Saturday lunch, so they must be doing something right. Don't know if it's still like that..the restaurant is affiliated with Emerald in Convoy.

                    1. We went to Emerald's yesterday and ordered Homestyle noodles, lobster, and stir fried bean sprouts. They apparently got a new chef about 6 months ago and I guess it shows because all three dishes were exceptional. I'm originally from LA, and it's as good as most places on my rotation back in LA (i.e. much better than the average place in LA, but obviously not as good as the best). The main difference being in LA you can always get it cheaper due to intense competition, but I've long accepted that as part of San Diego's trade off.

                      The noodles (thin rice noodles) were seasoned just right with great ingredients. This was the best surprise and it was my wife's pick. Lobster's always my favorite dish and they got it right. I usually get either garlic and scallion style or salt and pepper style (the latter is better but harder to pull off right). A warning but live lobster is expensive wherever you are in SD due to lower demand (i.e.high turnover is needed to keep costs low).

                      If value is what you're looking for, the homestyle noodles were like $10 and would make an excellent take out. I think lobster was just under $40 but I got two. I usually don't get stir fried bean sprouts because I can make them well and it's cheap at home, but the wife wanted vegetables and ruled out alternatives. They definitely make them way better than I can and in retrospect it was a winner if cost is no concern.

                      It's just three dishes (two of which should be easy for any decent chef), but seeing how hard it is for most places in both LA and SD to get them right I have to give credit where it's due. All I ask from a Chinese restaurant is that they make all my favorite dishes with care and the way they ought to be - good Chinese cooking is all about execution rather than innovation. I'll be back in the near future and a bit more adventurous, so we'll see. I'll also try out China Max since it's been a while and they've got some good stuff.

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: royaljester

                        great to know, thank you. We are also transplants from Vancouver and miss Canto style food tremendously! We have tried the usual, large scale suspects (China Max, Jasmine, etc.) as well as a few holes in the wall, all to no avail. WE even tried China Fun because it is run by Chinese people and thought perhaps it would be like HOn's, but alas, no.

                        1. re: toutefrite

                          truth be told, if you REALLY want good Cantonese, then drive up to the San Gabriel Valley (Alhambra, Monterey Park, etc) for stuff that can hold its own against the Vancouver scene.

                          1. re: daantaat

                            I have, and yes, well worth it but unfortunately, I am surrounded by insane people who don't find that drive for dim sum reasonable. heathens

                            1. re: toutefrite

                              must have brain transplant for heathens. NOW.

                            2. re: daantaat

                              Yeah, though having been here 7 years all my favorite Chinese places in LA are now either closed or under new management. Even my new favorites get closed after a year or two for the most ironic reasons like "too successful" (sold the business, moved elsewhere to open another restaurant), "too excellent" (chef quit the job to get hired by a more expensive restaurant), etc..

                              At any given moment though, there are definitely hundreds of great Chinese places in LA. Some great gems of all ethnic foods too.

                              1. re: daantaat

                                While SGV clearly has the best Chinese food in the US, it still pales to Richmond, B.C. True story--I live in L.A., and after my last trip to the Vancouver area, and could not bear to eat at any LA area Chinese restaurant for a full month after my return from Canada. And that was after having only a week's worth of Vancouver area food. Somebody who is actually from Vancouver might never get used to the Chinese food down here.

                                1. re: Chandavkl

                                  Anybody know if Spicy City on Convoy is still going...It was quite good a couple years ago

                                  1. re: plantman

                                    It's still there. It changed owners maybe a year or so ago though. According to Kirk K the food quality dropped when the new owners took over. I've never found anything on the menu (before or after the ownership change) that I found to be particularly outstanding. A lot of the dishes are pretty good but nothing that special. Last time I was there they had a cold dish steam table but I didn't try anything from it.

                                    1. re: mliew

                                      According to a chinese friend the chef at Spicy City changed again very recently.

                                      1. re: honkman

                                        Any indication of the quality of food going up or down? Regardless of quality though Spicy City seems to be doing pretty well business wise. Everytime I drive by there's usually a wait on Friday/Sat night.

                                  2. re: Chandavkl

                                    I'd think this would be especially true for Cantonese food, seeing as so many from HK took up Canada's offer of residency after the transfer to China. But there's a huge variety of Chinese food in LA with a wide range of quality. It's not like all Chinese people living here have good taste after all. =)