Little Chef knows a lot about buttering its own bread. The tiny, workaday Chinese eatery hasn't raised its prices one nickel since Bill Clinton's second term, which, after eight years of George Bush, feels more like a generation or two. And the ginormous portions from its 52-item menu aren't exactly bad for business, either. The mound of fried rice I had the other day was the size of Mt. Vesuvius, and it took me 'til next Tuesday to eat it all.
But the really remarkable thing about this place is all that camaraderie. For one thing, it's in Ocean Beach, which is a pretty damn friendly community by itself. Add the flourishes of the supremely affable staff, and you've got the place next door, where common courtesy keeps the steady stream of regulars coming back for more. You'd probably rather eat your superb orange beef (a steal at $6.75) and your delicious vegetarian egg rolls ($2) in peace, and the servers create that tranquil climate accordingly. Feathers remain unruffled no matter how busy things get, even in the kitchen—the patrons pick up on the persistent eagerness to please, and everybody parts the best of pals. At one point, I was looking in vain for the soy sauce (an addiction of mine); the counter lady physically left her station and handed me a bottle when she could just as easily have pointed it out. In one fell swoop, she'd inducted me into the restaurant's vast circle of friends, never to rescind my membership.
Little Chef has places to sit, but it's more designed for takeout, as it doesn't have a public restroom. That's OK, though, because you're not eating the décor (or at least most of you aren't). You're eating some of the best Chinese in the city, and you're doing it at 4910 Newport Ave. Sundays from noon to 8 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. The phone number is 619-222-6627. Call or drop by, and that long-awaited trip to Mt. Vesuvius is but moments beyond.