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Does San Diego do East Coast Chinese Food?

  • m

After several years, I have found that SoCal Chinese Food generally means 2 things: PF Changs or too much garlic.

Now that we are living in SD, we are looking for "that great place" that does great sit-down and great take-out in the classic old-school East Coast (D.C. and NY) fashion....not too expensive, the crunchy noodles and hot tea are brought right to the table....the soup comes with the meal, the take-out is fast and good...and PLEASE don't be afraid of a little breading. I know you know what I'm talking about..... :)

Please help!

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  1. "After several years, I have found that SoCal Chinese Food generally means 2 things: PF Changs or too much garlic"

    Good to know that you are so well informed and you know what you are talking. I am just curious which chinese restaurants you have visited in the past in SoCal.

    13 Replies
    1. re: honkman

      Yeah I find that statement preposterous, esp. for SoCal, which I assume includes the whole Monterey Park scene. As to which Chinese restaurant the OP visited, I am thinking pf chang.

      1. re: Peter

        I was not trying to offend....and I was not saying that there is NO good Chinese food in SoCal.

        What I attempted to convey (I guess not very well) is that I am not looking for Asian Fusion cuisine, or a trendy fancy restaurant. I am looking for a family-style restaurant typical (to me) of the places I was used to back east.

        1. re: Mrs. Smith

          San Diego is not noted for its Chinese cuisine...you'd be far better off saving it for a trip when you're up in LA's Chinatown (Hop Li is excellent), or LA suburb of Monterrey Park, or San Francisco....they do, however, have many good Thai restaurants in San Diego.

          1. re: El Chevere

            That's odd - I have the opposite impression. What do you consider a good SD Thai restaurant? I've been looking for excellent Thai in the city.


            1. re: e.d.

              I like Celadon and Kitima (same owners) and Kitima.

              1. re: El Chevere

                Last I saw Celadon and Rama in the Gaslamp had the same Owner - Alex Thao. Celadon is My favorite Thai Restaurant in San Diego, but I really don't find the Thai food in San Diego to be particularly outstanding.

          2. re: Mrs. Smith

            Which restaurants did you try on Convoy ? I think there you have a large variety of different styles of chinese food. If you could give us some ideas which chinese restaurants you visited in SD and why you didn't like it than it would be easier to help.

            1. re: Mrs. Smith

              I think it depends on what you consider "good Chinese food". As you're using the term, "good" equals "what I'm used to eating as Chinese food".

              There are probably thousands of family-style Chinese restaurants in Southern California, but I think you're describing a variety that is relatively unknown on the West Coast. The only Chinese restaurant I've patronized that served the crunchy noodles was in Diamond Bar on Pathfinder Bl., but I think it burned down a couple of years ago....(no loss, the food was pretty bad).

              1. re: ricepad

                Now that I think of it, there's a place on Pearl St in La Jolla (Hong Kong?...they advertise New York Chinese food on their sign and are directly across the street from Pearl Car Hand Wash) that serve crunchy noodles and duck sauce.

                1. re: El Chevere

                  Yes, the China Chef across from Marrakesh. We dined there a lot, but since moving to North County, haven't been back for many years. It was definitely NY style Chinese. I used to like both the General Tso's Chicken and the Tung Ting Shrimp.

              2. re: Mrs. Smith

                can you name some of the dishes you are looking for? It will help if you are looking for Americanized Chinese or the real stuff that is found in SF, LA, San Gabriel, Monterey Park, etc.

                There are many different styles of Chinese cooking and if you are looking for stuff you grew up on, it was most likely Cantonese food because that was the first wave of Chinese immigrants.

              3. re: Peter

                Peter was 100% on the money with that post. It seems all to common that people who haven't a clue bash SoCal or San Diego. Monterrey Park is literally over run with excellent & authentic Chinese restaurants. As for San Diego, check out the places on Convoy as there are several dozen which are not P.F. Chang's.

              4. re: honkman

                There are PLENTY of good Chinese food restaurants in San Diego. There are four Chinese restaurants on Convoy St. that really stands out: Jasmine's, Emerald, China Max, and Imperial Mandarin. Jasmine's and Emerald has delicious tasting dim sum, better than any LA dim sum places that I have visited in Chinatown or San Gabriel Valley. Another good dim sum place would Lucky Star in City Heights area on 54th and University Ave. Although these other places may be more crowded and has an appealing atmosphere, Imperial Mandarin is my favorite because of the various delicious plates that they serve. Try the salt and pepper shrimp (request with no shell), catfish fillet (with black bean sauce), salty and pepper chicken wings, and walnut shrimp. The seafood here is excellent!

                If you head east to the Indian reservations, try the Hong Kong style noodles at China Camp inside Viejas Casino. They serve the noodles perfectly crisp with oyster sauce along with bbq pork and shrimp.

                There's a Jasmine's in East County at the Parkway Plaza mall that serves really good lettuce ground beef with oyster sauce.

                Man, I could go on with the countless number of Chinese restaurants in San Diego from the Clairemont area, to the gaslamp, all the way down to National City/Chula Vista. Just don't go to P.F. Chang's or Panda Express because they are not authentic!

              5. I know what you mean, I miss the east coast places that have good General Tso's chicken, those crunchy noodles dipped in orange duck sauce, etc. It seems like Orange Chicken is the closest thing they've got here to east coast style General Tso's chicken. I usually go to places in and around Convoy St, I heard there's an old school Chinese restaurant called Imperial Mandarin on Convoy but haven't had a chance to try it yet.

                1. Sounds like you need to check out Dumpling Inn on Convoy St.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: JS

                    Other places you might like: Jasmine, China Max Seafood Restaurant.

                    1. re: JS

                      China Max, yes!

                      But Jasmine? The quality/price relationship there seems skewed in the direction of price to me. I think I would try every other Chinese place on Convoy before I would go back to Jasmine. Your results may (and probably do) differ.


                      1. re: e.d.

                        I haven't been to Jasmine in quite some time - mainly because I prefer China Max and Dumpling Inn, depending on what I'm in the mood for. But I've certainly had some good food there, albeit a while ago.

                        Their Szechuan Shrimp and Scallops was great (if not quite authentically Szechuan): giant shrimp and scallops, hardly any filler in the form of celery and water chestnuts, and a generous amount of garlic and jalapenos.

                        1. re: JS

                          Jasmine is abysmally bad for the food and price. I think they've coasted on being the only game in town for years in SD and people thinking that it is "good" Chinese b/c they either didn't know better or had others to compare it with. I would rather wait and head to Vegas, San Gabriel or Artesia (had an outstanding Cantonese banquet there this weekend) for good Cantonese and dim sum.

                          1. re: daantaat

                            I think the last time I ate at Jasmine was over 5 years ago. Sounds like they have gone downhill since then. A shame.

                            1. re: JS

                              I hate it when that happens. I always worry when I post that there is a new chef or something else has changed since I was there last. And then sometimes maybe I got lucky and ordered the right things and the next poster didn't.

                              Not to say that you can't get good food at Jasmine, but I would try China Max, Emerald, Shanghai City (or is it New Shanghai?), or some others first.


                              1. re: e.d.

                                Sadly, New Shanghai is no more. It's been replaced by Jamillah Garden, an Islamic Chinese restaurant. I dearly miss the braised oil-less pork shoulder, and the super spicy szechuan chicken.

                                1. re: JS

                                  As an ex-New Yorker, I vote for Emerald as being "most like" NY Cantonese -- although I actually prefer the newfangled HongKong-ish food at China Max.

                              2. re: JS

                                RE: Jasmine - It's been years for me as well, but I did have good double-steamed soups there in the rare cold weather for San Diego. I think they're a seasonal add-on, not on the regular menu.

                      2. re: JS

                        Dumpling Inn is Northern Chinese food. I suspect from the original post that she is looking for 1970's style Cantonese food. The two cusines are quite different in flavors and textures.

                      3. You might like the Hong Kong Restaurant on Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest--Fifth almost at the corner of University. Try the chow fun.

                        It is Fifth, isn't it, gang? Now I can't remember...

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Cristina

                          Hong Kong is on Fourth, between University and Robinson.

                          1. re: JS

                            Thanks, I had a senior moment. I think the Hong Kong would be just the ticket for the OP.

                          2. re: Cristina

                            Hong Kong has some great food, but their General's Chicken is that same, tired and JUST WRONG variation where they try to spice up orange chicken and call it General's Chicken,

                            People, General Tso's Chicken has NOTHING to do with citrus or orange, it is a beautiful bend of garlic and hoisin and soy and when done right it is sublime. La Manderette, a hole in the wall on the corner of Hollywood and La Brea in LA do the best that I've ever tasted done in a restaurant.

                          3. Just my $0.02 worth, but your mention of "classic old-school East Coast (D.C. and NY) fashion...." may have thrown the hounds off the scent, while NY is a given, folks on the DC board continue to lament the lack of any decent Chinese food in the District, with maybe one or two minor exceptions.

                            OTOH, like you, I occasionally get a desire for the pan fried noodles & bean sprouts that defined the cuisine in my youth. We threw an appreciation party for family and friends up here in central CA last month, picked out some really great dishes from a little local place, but the big hit (this was a seniors crowd) were the two aforementioned, luckily we'd doubled up on that part of the order. Lady PB and I enjoyed the massive leftovers of the other "stuff" for days.

                            1. Are you the same Mrs. Smith that posted on the Home Cooking, General Topics and San Francisco board? Perhaps recently had a child? Originally from a Great Lakes state?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: mysinhs

                                Not me. I guess there are a few of us out there!

                              2. For something close I'd try two different places:

                                Imperial Mandarin on Convoy - is super old school!

                                A few New Yorkers that I worked with in the past often mentioned Szechuan Mandarin on

                                5855 Mission Gorge Road
                                San Diego, CA 92120

                                I've been to Imperial Mandarin many times, though not in the last year or so.

                                I've never been to Szechuan Mandarin, but have it on my list.

                                Also, for old school American Chinese you can try Mandarin Wok on 4227 Balboa Ave

                                Good Luck!

                                Link: http://mmm-yoso.typepad.com/mmmyoso/

                                1. Mandarin Wok is a disaster. 2nd worst Chinese food I've ever eaten. I knew something was wrong when we walked in to find all the customers where caucasian!

                                  - Cashew Chicken: I've never seen red cashew chicken. Over salted. Too sweet. The large chunks of chicken were far too sinewy to pick up with chopsticks... and guess what? The restaurant did not have a chopstick in sight!

                                  - Moo Shu Pork: DISGUSTING. The veges were off. Way too salty. No egg. And they came pre-wrapped with too much hoisin sause! Can you believe that?

                                  - Beef Lo Mein: Awful. Too salty. Chewy like rubberband (the beef, not the noodles).

                                  - Rice: good.

                                  And most perplexing... we heard an occasional gwei lo say "delicious" every few minutes...

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: westcoastfoodie

                                    It is very hard to find good 'East Coast' style American Chinese style food in SD anymore. This was, at one time, also considered West Coast style American Chinese too...before the Dark Times...before the Yuppies!

                                    Now too many 99 cent places and Panda Palaces with their Orange Chickens and hideous and greasy chow meins (lo mein) have moved to supplant them.

                                    But...that said:

                                    I go to a little hole in the wall in UTC on Governor called 'Hong Kong Chef". I have never been disappointed there, though their fried rice is a little lack-luster.

                                    I usually get their Almond Chicken, but I've also gotten Wor Won Ton Soup which is an instant cure for any cold, I promise!

                                    Their Lo Mein is the best I've had in many a year.

                                    The folks there are Chinese and speak with a Cantonese accent. I think they're legit and might even be able to cook some REAL South Chinese dishes if you know what to ask for.

                                    I see a lot of old school New York types going to this place...its got the right flavor and feel.

                                    Give it a try!

                                    1. re: MisterM

                                      "I go to a little hole in the wall in UTC on Governor called 'Hong Kong Chef'."

                                      I don't want to sound like I'm being overly picky, but I am - if it is south of Rose Canyon, it isn't UTC. Just UC. :)

                                      At any rate, it sounds like a good lunch trip for me - thanks for the post.

                                      1. re: RB Hound

                                        Exactly. It is in the "heart" of UC--if you can say that! It is for sure east coast style and the place has been around for ever and is quite tasty.

                                  2. I have no clue if this place is East Coast style Chinese or not, but there is a place in La Mesa that serves some pretty decent Chinese/American food that is probably a throwback to what American's though Chinese was in the 50s and 60s.

                                    It's called Chopsticks Inn and it's located in a strip mall on the eastern end of La Mesa Blvd a block before it crosses Jackson Dr. My mother really likes this place and the few times I've eaten with her I've been pleasantly surprised. It's not your basic Panda Express or PJ Changs, it's just a family run Chinese restaurant serving up some decent to good Chinese/American food. You get hot tea right away - or cocktail if you want, they have a liquor license - and fried won ton strips to snack on while waiting for your food. Nothing has been overly sauced, sweet or sloppy/gloppy. Portions are generous, prices are fair. There are both lunch and dinner specials that come with soup, rice or noodles.

                                    If you're in the East County it might be worth stopping in, if you're not reasonably local to La Mesa, it probably isn't worth the gas.

                                    1. I'm a New Yorker and I thought China Inn in PB had that New York Chinese feel. Good food too. Went there for "Jewish Christmas" last year.

                                      1. I'd suggest trying the Chinese restaurant in UTC: Peking Palace (by Cozymel's). It's reasonably well-executed 60's style Gringo-chinese.

                                        1. Hey

                                          I'm from San Diego and I just came across this post. I know of a great Chinese restaurant in San Diego, specifically Mira Mesa called Szechuan House. The owner has had the place for over 20 years, so that tells you how good the food is. They have really great, tasty lunch specials for around 7 dollars that come with soup, appetizers, and the main entree. Anyways, my favorite dishes there are the Mongolian Beef, Chow San Shein, and Chef's shrimp. Their other dishes like Kung Pao and Orange Chicken are also great. Well, I hope you can check the place out. Btw, it's kind of hidden....but it's right across from Burger King......just fyi I like to catch dinner there and then head over to Edwards for a movie.....always a great time:)

                                          1. We are from "back east" - NYC - and miss the good old Cantonese style of Chinese foods - especially crispy noodle chicken chow mein with all the onions. If you are ever up in North Orange County - there are many decent ones which serve the crispy noodles and hot tea and the soup comes with the meal, etc. In Fullerton there is the Magic Wok not far from the Brea Mall. The Magic Wok is good but the Panda Inn in La Palma serves excellent Chinese food with hot tea, etc. They are on Orangethorpe not far from Valley View. Their Sunday Buffet is fabulous. Hope this helps! Sorry, don't know any places in SD. But if you're ever up this way, you will be very pleased with the Panda Inn for lunch or dinner. Magic Wok comes in at a close second.

                                              1. re: stevewag23

                                                China Max is yuppie food not the real thing
                                                There prices are so high they are comical

                                                1. re: LarryP

                                                  I love China Max. And every review of China Max I have ever read here says that it's authentic Hong Kong style Chinese. Everything I've ever had there has been wonderful (crabs!) and its clientele is mostly Asian families. Yuppie? Hardly.

                                                  However it is not East Coast Chinese (what does KirkK call it - ABCDE "American Born Chinese Dining Establishments"?). I've looked for 6 years to find the Chinese food I grew up eating, but have always been disappointed. I live in Mission Valley, so I occasionally go to Szechuan Mandarin Restaurant on Mission Gorge Road. It's always packed, and there's never an Asian person there other than the staff. But I get chips and duck sauce on the table, pork lo mein, hot and sour soup, and moo shu pork. It does in a pinch between visits back home.

                                                  Szechuan Mandarin Restaurant
                                                  5855 Mission Gorge Rd, San Diego, CA 92120

                                                  1. re: Divamac

                                                    If you're in MV you aren't that far from the China Inn in La Mesa. La Mesa Blvd. about a block west of Jackson Dr., across the street from the big fireplace/outdoor store. It's in the same category as Szechuan Mandarin. Very few Asians eat there either, but the owners are and they are super friendly, definitely an ABCDE. They also have display cases where they sell cheap jewelry.

                                              2. Shanghai City on Convoy. Every dish there is fantastic, they're quick andthe waitresses are nice.

                                                I was last there on Christmas and every table was PACKED. Also try Ba Ren, Spicy City, both of the restaurants in 99 Ranch Market (the front restaurant if you want more Taiwanese style food), etc.

                                                There's also China Too in the Gaslamp. The Chinese guy who owns it is from New York and the sign proclaims that it's "New York style Chinese food". It's okay, the kung pao chicken is good though.

                                                1. i might be totally off base, but i think op is referring to polynesian/chinese-american restaurants. i grew up in boston and worked weekends in a place like that when i was in high school. they had dishes like chicago chow mein (with the crispy noodles), bbq spare ribs, egg rolls that were filled with mostly celery, moo goo gai pan, egg foo yong, chicken chop suey, butterflied fried shrimp, etc. places like that still exist in some form not only on the east coast, but also in colorado, texas, ohio, nebraska, new mexico, arizona, most of the rest of the u.s., and rural areas of the west coast, too. the big-time polynesian places, ala trader vic's, are probably limited to the northeast, and they're dwindling, too. the influx of asian immigrants from the 1970s and forward has made the chinese-american menus from back in the day harder to find in urban areas of the west coast.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. I worked at Sheng Hai Low in the 50's. I know what you're talking about. The closest I've seen IS the Szehuan Mandarin. It's nice that those places are gone forever. The Chinese food is much improved these days. Bali Hai is the old school Polynesian/chinese fantasy food for WWII naval officers who'd stopped over in Hawaii...eeek! I can't believe it's still there. I sort of avoid Cantonese in San Diego and go for the spicy szechuan and I'm getting a taste for Ba-Ren again. There are probably several mom and pop run stores that I"ve never heard about that serve good stuff but I don't know where they are. They would have to be recommended to me, I wouldn't choose to take a chance on Chinese food in SD.

                                                    1. If you're up here in Carlsbad my favorite (back east) chinese resto is Overseas next to the Carlsbad post office. Makes me feel like I'm back in Philly in Chinatown. Nice people too

                                                      1. Okay,here's the deal. i'm here from Philly ,been here 26 years. There is a lot of good Chinese food if you want to drive for it and pay for it. When I first moved here I lived on Felton by Adams and there were some ghetto ass chinese places that you're looking for. Fried egg rolls with lots of chicken,but occasionally you get gristle. Lo mein so salty and sweet you could eat a lb., Beef 'ris Brokri , heavily breaded orange chicken,but not swimming in orange crap. cashew chicken, at these places you get either rubbery beef or rubbery chicken,usually one but not both.. chinese noodles set out to dip in hot mustard, I getcha and feel your pain. Yeah, ain't happenin' here. There are some ghetto ass $1 chinese food places but the noodles are freakin' like spaghetti. Those places are ghetto but have great lo mein and great egg rolls, and as I said ,either good beef or chicken, the ultimate winner both would be good. I suggest Mandarin Szechuan on Mission Gorge. Similar taste but better quality,pretty cheap too. I frickin love Changs,it was the high point of San Diego when I arrived,there were no changs back east. I guess Panda is the closest to those kinds of places except lousy egg rolls..

                                                        1. San Diego has a variety of superb Chinese food options that span much of the gamut of regional and ethnic Chinese cuisine. There are Hakka/Old School options like Gen Lai Sen. (http://sdfoodtravel.com/san-diego-mu-...


                                                          There are superb dim sum options such as Jasmine, Emerald and Imperial Mandarin. (http://sdfoodtravel.com/jasmine/


                                                          There are Taiwanese options such as Liang's Kitchen. (http://kirbiecravings.com/2011/10/lia...).

                                                          And perhaps my personal favorite are the authentic Szechuan options such as Spicy City. (http://www.sdcitybeat.com/sandiego/ar...).

                                                          I'm not sure that is what you're looking for, but its NOT PF Changs and its NOT too much garlic.

                                                          Michael Gardiner

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: magardiner

                                                            The riginal post is more than seven years old, most likely most people who contributed to this discussion are already dead

                                                            1. re: honkman

                                                              LOL...not you and probably not the guy who replied last year. ;-)

                                                              Hopefully you'll try and enjoy some of those suggestions...

                                                              1. re: honkman

                                                                You mean dead or gave up on eating chinese in San Diego.

                                                              2. I lived in NYC for several years so I "think" I know what the OP is talking aout. In my mind the closest place to NYC style is Szechuan Mandarin on Mission Gorge Road. Dark d├ęcor (not my favorite) but absolutely wonderful huge fish tanks that my son used to love to look at while waiting for dinner. As for the food, well I would take Dumpling Inn, China Max or others any day, but....

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: wrldtrvl

                                                                  I have always been curious about Szechuan Mandarin! It seems reminiscent of the Szechuan restaurants in the 1970s in Phoenix that we'd frequent. Agreed that Dumpling Inn is chow-worthy.

                                                                  1. re: wrldtrvl

                                                                    Wow- there's a blast from the past. I created several images for them perhaps 12-13 years ago. I think it was on film, so it's been a long time. It's pretty unusual to photograph food that is actually edible, but for that one we went on location and shot the food as it was coming straight out of the kitchen. No food fluffer at all.

                                                                    Then we ate the food, and I thought it was very good. Couldn't tell you if it was authentic, and we all know I'm easily impressed, but I enjoyed it.

                                                                    Website is now peppered with crappy images, but a few of mine still live there.