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More Authentic Chinese Food in Agoura Hills at Green Onion

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It wasn't that long ago that Chowhounders were asking where the Chinese community in the Conejo Valley went to get their Chinese food fix and the answers were "Camarillo" and "Amgen's Cafeteria". However with several newer restaurants like Hot Wok, Szechwan Place and others clearly having a Chinese clientele, the options for Chinese food have greatly improved. The latest addition is Green Onion, which is also the most nondescript of all the eateries. It's located at 30651 Thousand Oaks Blvd., and I surely would have missed it if I didn't have the address. But this is the real deal, and a better option than Szechwan Place for those looking for less spicy dishes. I had the beef roll and the baked garlic fish fillet and both were quite good. Obviously not quite SGV in quality or pricing (probably 50 percent higher) but sure beats the cross-country drive. Warning: Order only from the Chinese Specials menu which is kept behind the counter.

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  1. Thank you as always for your extraordinary diligence I in bringing these restaurants to our collective attention.

    Mr Taster

    1. I wish to add one more to your list of Chinese restaurants in the Conejo.

      Mandarin Express, in the strip behind Jack-in-the-Box on Kanan at Agoura Road, is in the "gourmet" Chinese category. Chef Dan is quite creative.

      When you are done, you can walk a couple of doors down to Tifa Chocolate and Gelato for a treat...although Chef Dan at Mandarin Express specializes in very delicious desserts...waaay beyond fortune and almond cookies! Also, their tea selection is extensive -- with very good loose leaf teas -- and unlike most Chinese restaurants that give you the tea bag in a little steel pot.

      Mandarin Express
      5015 Kanan Road in Agoura Hills

      11 Replies
      1. re: liu

        Thanks. Somebody must have bought the restaurant and added to the menu, because when I went there years ago it was awful.

        1. re: Chandavkl

          It is owned by a husband and wife team. The wife is very into teas and other healthy things. She has an impressive cast iron teapot display in the restaurant and she can talk tea. I think she is going to offer some tastings in her restaurant, but I do not know when.

          The husband and chef/owner is extremely capable in the kitchen. He uses fine ingredients and they will accommodate your preferences. The plating is creative and dessert seems to be one of his passions.

          I would love for you to give it a try and report back!

          1. re: liu

            The topic came up a while back but I never made it there. One of these days.

            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/556239

            1. re: liu

              I don't know if I would categorize Mandarin Express as an authentic Chinese restaurant. The food is good, but the menu items are very diverse. The prices are also quite a bit higher than Green Onion and Szechwan Place. The owner is very accommodating and went out of her way to make us feel welcome, they even gave free dessert, a deep friend sesame ball.

              I prefer the more authentic dishes of Szechwan Place, but it's definitely worth a try. I recently had some dishes at Green Onion, only disappointment was the green onion pancakes, oily and limp.

              Has anyone tried Sesame Inn in Newbury Park? I heard they also have a Chinese menu that is pretty good.

              1. re: puppychao

                puppychao, I agree with you that Mandarin Express is not entirely Chinese. The chef/owner is doing fusion Chinese; he calls it "modern" Chinese because the parts of the world are mixing together. His focus is on flavor, and that leads him to spices and ingredients from all around the world. I find his attitude very playful; he enjoys playing with food to create flavor.

                1. re: liu

                  Definitely a nice spin on Chinese flavors.

                  1. re: puppychao

                    Well said, puppychao!

                2. re: puppychao

                  Silly me. I did this posting two years ago and forgot to mention what I ate. And two years later I don't remember.

                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/711952

                  1. re: Chandavkl

                    Even more silly, I was the only person that commented on that post and I don't even remember doing that.

                    Thanks Chandavkl, should've know you'd been there.

            2. re: liu

              what kinds of desserts does he have at mandarin express ?

              thanks.

              1. re: kevin

                Hi, kevin.

                Honestly, I think the chef has no set menu for his creations. It seems like more of a "let's discuss dessert" arrangement. He is very creative and uses interesting ingredients with lychees and mangos and perhaps jack fruit or anything that he has.

                Although we did not order dessert, we spoke with the chef at length last night. He (or his assistant) does scour the ethnic markets for an assortment of ingredients. He is very much into fusion and flavors from all over the world. I am not sure how sophisticated he is, but he is very creative with what he knows. He is also into flavor and this translates to his use of lots of spices and the creative mixture of ingredients.

                If you study his dinner menu, you will get a sense of what he is about. You will see words on his Chinese menu that are new to the cuisine, such as "raspberry" and "banana." He also uses the usual ingredients in different ways. We had a lemongrass dish last night that was delicious! We also had a schezuan pepper shrimp dish that brought out the pepper in a way that I have never experienced.

                One time when we were there we saw a diner come in and just order an "omakase" dessert. He was served three different desserts and they all looked wonderful. He uses a lot of fruit. I think I would like to go there just for an "omakase" dessert!

                I might add that one table last night ordered an "omakase" dinner. This left it up to the chef to serve them. We left before they received all their dishes, but they seemed happy!

            3. Is that Chinese menu in English (or if not, do you remember what was on it?)

              10 Replies
              1. re: cant talk...eating

                It is in English. Unfortunately I didn't think to study it further after they took my order. There were several "baked" fish dishes though it's really more like steamed fish. Remember seeing onion pancakes and something that sounded like it might be XLB. I do have their take out menu but it's thoroughly unenlightening.

                1. re: Chandavkl

                  Actually the take out menu does have a few random items from the Chinese menu, including cuttlefish balls, sizzling basil tofu and seafood tofu claypot.

                  1. re: Chandavkl

                    I thought this address sounded familiar. When I started working here (by Costco) it was a Mexican (Taqueria style) that was okay for what it was. tTen it was a Thai place (fair food; poor service), then it was a Hot Dog place (terrible!!). I haven't been by in ages so I don't know what it's been lately.

                    Thanks to Liu, we've become regulars at Mandarin Bistro. But it is a drive and while we've been going there almost every Sunday night, we still longed for something closer. So, following Chandavki's adivse, I tried it today for lunch. Unfortunately since I ate solo, I could only order one dish, so not a very thourough review.

                    The one dish I had was very good. I ordered the Spicy Basil Beef from the Special Chinese Menu. I asked for extra spicy. It came pretty fast, it was a large portion, and it was moderately spicy. I can say if the other dishes are like this one it'll be great!! The service was friendly and efficient (3 ladies working the front).

                    I'm going to plan a lunch with some of my fellow workers, the Asian ones, and we'll give it a full workout.

                    Thanks Chandavki!!

                    1. re: LesThePress

                      I've often wondered if we can collectively retrain these restaurants used to catering to bland Western palates.

                      When a dish is advertised as spicy, and/or when we've specifically requested a dish to be prepared extra spicy, why not send it back and insist the dish be prepared as its meant to be?

                      If enough "foreigners" return the dish, the restaurant may start to get that we are not a monolithic block that is uniformly scared of capsaicin.

                      Incidentally, I am suggesting this as someone who rarely returns dishes. There is a great difference when a patron returns a well prepared dish that they just don't like, versus a patron who returns something that is not prepared well. One is the fault of the patron, the other the fault of the restaurant. If it's the fault of the restaurant, I have no problem sending it back.

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        I never return a dish for not being as hot as I like it. I understand that most American taste buds can't handle the level of heat I like and retaurants are being carefull not to over spice thier dises.

                        In Asian restaurants I always request Chili Oil (as I did today) to kick up the spice level. In Mexican restaurants I always order fresh chilis (usually Jalapeno). In BBQ places I brink my little bottle of Blairs hot sauce to add to thieir BBQ Sauce. In Italian I ask for the crushed red peppers, which other places also have (BJ's, Claim Jumper, Cheescake Factory and so on).

                        It seems Indian is the only place I never have to add any spice to, they usually comply with my requested heat level.

                      2. re: LesThePress

                        Oh, NO...LesThePress.
                        We were at Mandarin Bistro this past Sunday night...did we miss you again?

                        I walked into Green Onion last week, just to get a feel of the place. Nothing made me want to return, but with Chandavkl's post here, I will make it a point to try it for dinner one night.

                        1. re: liu

                          Hi Liu,

                          That's funny. We were planning on going after we attended my daughters birthday party in LA which started at 1:00pm and we thought we'd be home fairly early. We didn't leave until after 7:00pm so we just stopped at BJ's on the way home!

                          One of these days. . . . . .

                    2. re: Chandavkl

                      This was one of my first ventures into Chinese food when I moved to the area from Hacienda Heights almost a year ago. The owner was very nice (I believe they'd recently reopened) and I got a picture of the Chinese menu, which I posted on Yelp, but since they don't allow zooming, it's a bit hard to read.

                      Unfortunately, I wasn't overly impressed with their food. Their beef roll was a little weird (possibly b/c they thin their hoisin sauce with soy)--definitely not up to the standards of 101 Noodle Express. I've only been twice and I'm definitely not as up to snuff on Chinese food as you, Chandavkl, but I've been avoiding it. Maybe it's time to go back and try again.

                      1. re: Joycesq

                        Well, one needs to discount the food for the location. Otherwise there'd be little Chinese food eaten outside of the San Gabriel Valley by true Chinese food enthusiasts. It's like sometimes finding a particular Chinese dish at a particular location is almost more important than how good that dish is.

                        1. re: Chandavkl

                          Funny that you said "discount." Lunch for 2 here runs me about the same as dinner for 4 in the SGV. :-D But yeah, I know what you mean. I was really excited to see the beef roll on the menu, but the reality of it was kind of a mess: greasy bing, dry meat and the salty sauce. I've had some other dishes there, but I tend to go with the '80s-style (most would call it New York) food, rather than the "secret Chinese menu." Same goes for most of the Chinese food out here.

                  2. ok, i'll hit this place up especially mandarin express, though i don't live anywhere near westlake village, agoura, thousand oaks, etc.

                    1. I didn't want to start a new post on this little place since this thread's gotten so expansive:

                      Hot Wok
                      28708 Roadside Drive Agoura Hills, CA 91301

                      In same parking lot as Yamato (just east of Do-It Center). I'd read a few things online about it and wanted to see for myself. I heard they had lamb and sure enough, about a half dozen lamb dishes. No hand-cut noodles (just store-bought kind), so I asked which dishes used lamb rib and was directed to something like "spicy lamb chop" or similarly vague. Also got stir-fried lily, and was told would be cabbage, and spicy. I do like a spicy cabbage so I shrugged and said fine.

                      Having had Sichuan lamb rib both in the SGV and in Queens, this differed in that it used pretty large pieces, maybe an inch by an inch, and fairly fatty ones, almost like lamb short ribs. They also threw in some gringo stir-fry items like chopped onion, sliced carrot and snow pea, which was just weird. Never been to China so maybe that's what they do but more likely, they just grabbed some veggies to dumb it down a tad. It was nicely spicy (chili oil, dried chilis, and Sichuan peppercorn). The cabbage was basically fried with cumin in sort of a thin chili sauce. Sort of unusual, but really good (and fairly spicy - not Yunan Garden, I'm weeping it's so spicy but ok).

                      Biggest surprise was "barley tea" which was a nutty tea mixed with sweetened condensed milk (I think), like Thai iced tea. I think of barley tea as Korean (also NE Chinese?), but they were out west with all that cumin, so I have no idea what region is represented by this place. Had a few specials written down, but otherwise the authentic dishes appear to be scattered through the regular menu. Needs more exploration. Chandavki - you been yet?

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: cant talk...eating

                        Glad to hear it's chugging along.

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/676051

                        1. re: cant talk...eating

                          Barley tea is very popular in Japan in the summer. Made from roasted barley ("mugicha" in Japanese) it is nutty, full-flavored and refreshing. Apparently next to zero calories.

                          1. re: cant talk...eating

                            cant talk...eating, you have the Chow spirit in you! I am glad to read about places that are local for me.

                            We tried Hot Wok many months ago, and it was not memorable. There just was not enough to call me back, but it is funny how I do remember their barley tea.

                            If you liked the barley tea, you can easily find it in any Korean market (and other Asian markets, too). Drop a bag into a quart of cold filtered water and steep in the fridge to your preference. It is a wonderful warm-weather refresher!

                            1. re: liu

                              Thanks for this, but specifically, with milk? Is that a regional Chinese thing? I've had a lot of barley tea but only at Korean restaurants, and never with milk.

                              Chandavki -missed your post. You will admit the title was misleading! ; )

                              1. re: cant talk...eating

                                Original poster appears to have moved out of state.

                                1. re: Chandavkl

                                  You're no longer in LA?

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    I wasn't the original poster of that thread and was disclaiming any connection to the title.

                                    1. re: Chandavkl

                                      What a relief. Losing you would be like losing Ocean Star or Old Country Cafe from the SGV culinary landscape.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        Hahaha.

                          2. I'll agree... it took me forever to find decent Chinese out in these parts (and I'm an NYC Jew, so this is a serious priority) and finally happened upon this place. Not the end-all-be-all, but actual Chinese food like what I'm used to. Now the only Chinese place I go to in the immediate area.

                            Regarding Mandarin Express, which some of this thread is about: It is fine, but it doesn't satisfy my Chinese craving. To be clear *neither* of these restaurants are particularly "authentic" in the "this is what restaurants in China are like" way, but Green Onion is authentic in the "this is real, quality, NYC Chinese food" sort of way. Mandarin Express is a little pricy for what it is, and it is interesting. But it doesn't satisfy the craving.

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: whiner

                              I grew up in the SGV, so my tastes are a little different, whiner. To me, Green Onion doesn't quite make food the right way (e.g., there's soy sauce thinning out the hoisin, which makes it both the wrong consistency and the wrong flavor). Hot Wok also doesn't quite get it right (just had their chow mein and beef broccoli the other night and both were OK but didn't hit the spot), so I'm on the lookout for something that's a little closer to what I'm used to. So far, nothing I've tried in the area is anywhere close (I've also tried Szechuan Place, China Garden and Lakeview Garden)--of those, the one that is most reminiscent of what I grew up w/ is China Garden, but that's b/c they serve what I like to call "'80s Chinese food."

                              I'll keep looking--but thanks to everyone here for the discussion. It gives me places to scope out.

                              1. re: Joycesq

                                If you grew up in the SGV, you need to lower your standards. I don't think there's any reason for somebody with the talent to create SGV quality Chinese food to open up in the Conejo Valley.

                                1. re: Chandavkl

                                  Maybe they were confusing "Conejo" with "Cojone" when they chose the location.

                                2. re: Joycesq

                                  Joycesq,

                                  Welcome to Chowhound.

                                  Your expectations are not different from ours because you grew up in the San Gabriel Valley. Almost everyone posting on this thread is a long time Chowhound user, and we're very familiar with the standard of quality set by the Chinese restaurants of the San Gabriel Valley. I've spent most of my ~decade on Chowhound talking about Chinese restaurants in San Gabriel Valley, and I'm a Jew from New Jersey.

                                  The value of this thread is to find something comparable but not equal to what can be found in SGV. In Agoura Hills, the goal is to raise the bar from the floor whereas in San Gabriel the bar that needs to be raised is already pretty high.

                                  None of us here are operating under any alternate expectations.

                                  Mr Taster

                                  1. re: Mr Taster

                                    Sorry if I came across as meaning that I'm expecting to find food that's on a par--I think I'm just surprised that the quality is so different and that a lot of people in the area (as evidenced on Yelp anyway) are trumpeting that the food here is "authentic." LOL at raising the bar from the floor.

                                    But yeah, like whiner, I think I'm looking for something that'll satisfy the craving, even if it's not exactly like what I'm used to.

                                    Thanks for the reply, Mr Taster.

                                    1. re: Joycesq

                                      Please don't confuse Chowhound and Yelp! There are no checks and balances in Yelp reviews, whereas hyperbole on chowhound tends to get called out (at least on the Los Angeles board). The upshot of this is that if some fool comes out and says OMG CHIPOTLE IS THE BEST BURRITO EVER, you can count on a flurry of reliable posts indicating why this is not true :)

                                      Mr Taster

                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                        OK--I'm starting to think I'm just expressing myself badly. :-)

                                        There's definitely no way I'm confusing Chowhound and Yelp. I think I've just gotten lazy and resorted to Yelp because it's easier to look up a restaurant and read its (often wildly inaccurate) reviews than to find a thread on Chowhound. I'd spent a good long time learning to read Yelp reviews in the SGV, but I was surprised at how much of a recalibration I had to do to make the reviews for this area work for me.

                                  2. re: Joycesq

                                    Re: "the one that is most reminiscent of what I grew up w/ is China Garden, but that's b/c they serve what I like to call "'80s Chinese food.""

                                    I think we're talking about two different San Gabriel Valleys here - as someone who also grew up there, also in the 80s, *and* at the risk of sounding annoyingly pedantic, there was a tectonic shift in Chinese food there in the 90s, when a huge wave of newcomers from China started setting up shop and transforming it to the wonderland of regional Chinese food it is today. So, what I remember about Chinese food from my early childhood are hoisin-heavy dishes at Shanghai Garden in San Marino (long gone) or Wing Wah (next to Monty's?) and Spring Garden in Pasadena - these are/were classic 80s places.

                                    As for the food of "today's" SGV, I have to disagree that it's a quality issue, or that places like Szechuan Palace or Han's are "inauthentic". If anything, it's really a crapshoot to see if they can survive doing hot pots and duck blood soup out here where people are really wanting - and don't get me wrong, I love this stuff too - "classic" 80s Chinese food.

                                    Of course, there's the nostalgia factor - nothing is ever as good as you remember (at least for me), and just the vagaries of taste. That said, I've had vastly different quality food the times I've been to Szechuan Palace, one time almost inedible (= old?) chicken, so don't give up on these places, and report back when you find some gem on a menu around here! : )

                                    1. re: cant talk...eating

                                      You're right...again, expressing myself badly. There was definitely a change between '80s Chinese food in the SGV and the stuff that's there now. For my purposes, I'd prefer food that's like what's currently being served there, but occasionally, I'll lapse and have a craving for mushu pork or orange chicken or something. :-)

                                      For now, I've reset my expectations for the food here to that '80s food. If anything rises above that, I'm running here to post. :-D