Golden Dragon414 University Ave.Hillcrest619-296-4119
Taste of Szechuan670 University Ave.Hillcrest619-298-1638
I had this idea to write about my favorite Chinese restaurant. Unfortunately, that required choosing a favorite. Right now, my fridge is stacked with takeout containers, ready for side-by-side taste-testings. Of course, even if I could remember which containers came from where, I would never be able to remember what was inside. So I've arbitrarily narrowed the field down to my yin and yang-Taste of Szechuan and Golden Dragon, both located a mere stone's throw from my apartment in Hillcrest-and pitted them head-to-head, on the issues that really matter:
Egg rollsTofS uses a thinner, crisper, more modern egg roll, with a slightly creamy vegetable filling. The old-school GD egg rolls have a chewy crust and stewed meat and cabbage innards. Some things weren't better in the good old days. Advantage: TofS
Celebrity endorsementThe inside cover of the TofS menu has a glowing review from Steven Leitner of "Dine in San Diego" and names Taste of Szechuan the 1994 Critic's Choice for "Best Chinese." The foyer in the GD displays two pictures of the owner posing with two unidentified actors (possibly Abe Vigoda and one of the Coreys). Advantage: GD
Hot & sour soupThe soup at GD has a hint of astringency, but flavored more fully with scallions and whatnot. Advantage: GD
Typos as Zen poetryMaybe because of the amazing length of the GD menu, there is little room for descriptions, and therefore no room for amusing typographical errors. Aspiring poets and other Beavises at the GD have to make due with dish names like "Ma Poo To-Fu" and "Best with Black Pepper." The TofS menu is not nearly as stingy with its broken English, describing the fish filet in black bean sauce thusly: "It cook with vegetable in special brown sauce." Advantage: TofS
Neon mascotA red-neon-highlighted picture of Marilyn Monroe dominates the TofS dining room. GD is right in the heart of Hillcrest, underneath the way-cool neon Dragon, which was saved from the wrecking ball by a historical landmark designation. Inside, a second dragon coils across the ceiling. Advantage: GD
Fried dumplingsTofS dumplings come out dripping hot oil, with only the smallest pencil eraser of spiced meat inside. There's more meat inside the GD dumplings, but the tough little things seem to have been fried well in advance. Then again, maybe this is a good time to mention that the hot mustard at the GD is hotter, the duck sauce smoother. Draw
BathroomsNo contest. The GD water closets inspire many unsanitary and claustrophobic nightmares. Advantage: TofS
Pupu platterNearly identical. Both lose points for using the politically correct "po-po" spelling. Tiebreaker: TofS offers cream cheese wontons, causing horrific flashbacks of my years in Minnesota. Advantage: GD
ServiceOne time, I requested extra fortune cookies at TofS, and since then, my server has showed up with a handful of fortunes. One time, I stopped by GD on the way home, and asked for some fortune cookies. The little bespectacled woman looked at me like I was an idiot. No service points for being right. Advantage: TofS
DécorThe interior of GD looks like the before photo of a cleaning-product infomercial. You expect a rag to pass before your eyes, leaving a sparkling path across the dingy booths and walls and floor. The Plexiglas tabletops are so abused you can barely read those age-old Chinese horoscopes. (Monkeys: "Avoid tigers. Seek a Dragon or a Rat.") Cloudy mirrors and dim lamps give the impression of limited visibility. Cool. Advantage: GD
Fortune CookiesThe TofS cookies are thinner and crisper, but GD's fortunes have a double-edged quality to them: "You will live an interesting life." Advantage: draw
So where does that leave us? I believe it leaves me with a lot of egg foo young dripping onto the bottom of my refrigerator. It's left over from the other night, when another late-night bar rat and I stopped at the GD for take-out.
"We have to eat here," she announced. "They're the only restaurant that makes good, authentic egg foo young. Everybody else makes it like an omelet."
By "good," she meant an egg pancake covered with thick gravy. And that is how egg foo young has been made by Chinese restaurants for years. But it's not how egg foo young is made in China. Authentic egg foo young, I explained, is more like an omelet.
"I don't give a rat's ass about authentic," she grunted through a sloppy mouthful of gravy.
Some species have been known to eat their egg foo young at cityeat@SDcitybeat.com.