Wednesday, January 16, 2019     Volume: 19, Issue: 45

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Santa Maria's North China continues to dominate the valley's restaurant landscape


I will admit I grossly underestimated the food at North China Restaurant.

Like all the dishes at North China Restaurant in Santa Maria, the beef lo mein remains an untouchable classic.

When I was first asked my thoughts on the Santa Maria staple, I scowled and realized that for some tragic reason, I had managed to overlook them in my quest to eat my way through every restaurant in the Central Coast. Now, I can say with full beaming confidence that I am a totally devoted disciple. (Wait—is “freakishly obsessed cult member” too strong?)

It’s been five long years since we’ve written much of anything about North China because let’s face it, everyone in town knows how good they are (they win Best Chinese Food in the Sun’s readers poll literally every year). So I thought I would check out some of the classics known as customer favorites and see how well they hold up to absolute scrutiny.

From the first bite of the cheese wontons, it’s immediately clear that the food here still holds up to the high expectations. The wontons are so light and crisp, they almost defy possibility. Most of the time, fried treats such as these wind up being greasy or too hard. The cooks show an incredible restraint in preparation to make sure the dish retains a perfect texture. And that tangy and hot mustard/sweet and sour sauce that comes with it—what sorcery is this?

The egg foo young at North China is a delicate delicacy made from scratch with hoisin sauce (the key to the dishes’ success) and fresh vegetables and thin pancakes.

If you’ve never been to North China (like me) I recommend the General Tso’s chicken, if you want to stick with something familiar. Theirs is flavorful, bursting with a hint of sweetness and a crispiness that never feels heavily battered or deep fried (the same can be said for the sweet and sour pork). This is where the restaurant continues to excel—their food never feels like someone piled a bunch of batter on a small piece of meat and deep fried it until it was unrecognizable. You always get exactly the right amount of each component you’re looking for. Sweet, sour, crispy, spicy, creamy, etc., everything is done with such impressive precision.

Another standout is the beef lo mein, made with sizzling thin strips of beef and fresh vegetables including cauliflower, water chestnuts, snow peas, and more. The dish is yet another example of their restraint in the kitchen. A dish like lo mein, when done incorrectly, can feel like a semi-truck just plowed into your stomach, heavy and immovable. But North China’s dishes feel light and unimposing; the beef lo mein sauce especially is refreshingly airy and translucent in a way that makes you think you could eat four bowls of it without blinking an eye.

One bite of the General Tso’s chicken at North China Restaurant in Santa Maria and it’s clear: Theirs is one of the best.

Lunch dishes such as beef chow mein and orange chicken still come with a big serving of rice, an egg roll, egg drop soup, and a wonton, with most of the options just under $10. The chicken cashew is especially good, again owing to a refined sauce and expert seasoning. But one of the best things about the dish is it has actual full-sized cashews (most places just give you broken pieces you have to hunt and peck for like Indiana Jones on an archaeological dig) and a hearty amount of them.

I will also freely admit that I worked hard to push back the deadline of this food article so I could exercise my “journalistic due diligence” and go back at least five or six times to ensure I had “thoroughly researched” all the food. I managed to push it to two more times before my editor got testy and reminded me I get paid to actually work here, not just sit in a booth at North China and cry about how good the sweet and sour pork is. Oh well. As they say, it’s a living.

The chicken cashew lunch special at North China Restaurant is served alongside fried rice, an egg roll, egg drop soup, and a fried wonton for $9.95.

Go north

North China Restaurant is located at 113 N. Broadway, Santa Maria. More info: (805) 925-3705.

Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose is sweet but sometimes sour. Contact her at


• Well hello there, delicious healthy salads from Urbane Cafe. It’s wonderful to have you here in town finally where we can enjoy specialties like your seasonal quinoa and corn salad (pictured). It’s a super filling and extremely delicious option on a rather impressive vegetarian-friendly menu. Visit their new Santa Maria location at 655 E. Betteravia Road.

• Something’s buzzing in Los Alamos. Bedford Winery is holding a Bee Happy honey tasting on April 14 from 3 to 7 p.m. in the tasting room. The event features more than 40 honeys—from around the world from a variety of flowers—available for tasting alone or with homemade breads, scones, and biscuits. Free for wine tasters. Get all your busy bees to 448 Bell St., Los Alamos.

Quinoa and corn salad from Urbane Cafe in Santa Maria.

• Chef Crystal “Pink” DeLongpre, formerly of Bacon and Brine, has taken over as the head chef at Root 246 in Solvang. As much as we miss Bacon and Brine, it’s great to see that we haven’t lost her from the region altogether. Check out what the chef is up to at 420 Alisal Road, Solvang.

• Don’t miss out on SY Kitchen’s new spring cocktails: fennel and raspberry sour made with fennel vodka, fresh raspberry, lemon, lime, simple syrup, and dill; a pineapple and basil mojito made with the Real McCoy three-year private barrel, pineapple, basil, lime, and sugar; and a La Gritona made with tequila, mescal, basil, jalapeño, cucumber, and salt. Enjoy them all at 1110 Faraday St, Santa Ynez.

Weekly Poll
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