“Are you here for pick-up?” asked the nice young lady as I approached the hostess stand.
“Nope. Lunch for one please,” I beamed as her eyebrows shot up involuntarily.
She slipped out from behind the counter, skirted the half dozen or so single people hovering waiting for their take-out orders as well as several Door-Dash delivery people, and led me into the dining area. I had been craving Chinese food for weeks. I had been craving good Chinese food for months — maybe years. Having grown up in New York I simply couldn’t find the right Chinese restaurant, just as I am still searching for the good New York-style pizza and real bagels.
Last August I went to New York to attend a Writers Conference and the first thing I did after checking into the Midtown Hilton was grab a knish from a corner cart. The next day I took the subway to Brooklyn to see Grandma’s old house and grab a bagel. I held my breath as I entered the bakery hoping they still had the bagels I savored as a child. As soon as the smell of freshly baked bagels hit my nostrils I breathed a sigh of relief. Yes! I hadn’t made it up. The guys behind the counter were laughing as I swooned and giggled like a maniac as I bit into the lightly toasted bagel with a schmear. If the bagels were still as I remembered — then the Chinese food must be too.
I didn’t make it to Chinatown on that trip. Surely there must be good Chinese near my home in California, what with San Francisco being nearby. I tried and tried. I went to dozens of places friends recommended. There was not a decent Chinese restaurant around. There had been one a few years ago which was my go-to until they got busted for gun-running and money laundering. New owners took over the spot, but it went downhill and I stopped going there. I lost hope.
While visiting a friend in Watsonville, a predominantly Mexican community, I saw a refrigerator magnet advertising the Golden China, whose menu touted lunch specials that sounded too good to be true considering the prices. I have always enjoyed the best tacos and enchiladas in Watsonville no matter if I went to a taco truck or fancy restaurant, but Chinese? Nope, never Chinese.
“What do you think of Golden China?” I asked my friend with the refrigerator magnet.
“Huh? What’s the Golden China?”
“The restaurant. The Chinese restaurant on your fridge…the magnet,” as I ticked my head in the direction of the magnet-covered door.
“Oh, that. No idea. It came in the mail and I needed the magnet to hold up Maria’s school picture. Never been there.”
I took note of it after reading the Yelp reviews and the idea surfaced about a week later when a friend canceled our lunch date at the last minute. I was dressed, hungry, and only fifteen minutes from Golden China. For a mere $10.95 I could have soup, spring rolls, fried wontons, Szechuan combo of shrimp, chicken, and beef, plus fried rice and tea. Watsonville, here I come!
As the hostess led me to the dining room she greeted several seated guests in Spanish. The place was almost full and it wasn’t even noon yet — a good sign. When she asked if I wanted a table or booth, I opted for the cushy-looking red booth with the perfect view of the kitchen. I was poised to inspect the dishes as they came out.
A smiling man carrying two glasses of ice water approached me. “Two?” he asked with an East Indian accent.
“No, just me — party of one,” I grinned.
He snatched up one of the glasses of water and backed away. I took a few moments to peruse the menu and then looked around the bustling restaurant wondering why I appeared to be such an oddity. There were tables full of Spanish speakers and a few tables of people speaking Chinese. I was the only single white woman in the place — blonde, no less. I placed my order and spread out some papers to work on while I waited. I barely got situated when a bowl of steaming soup appeared.
It looked and smelled wonderful. The hot and sour was loaded with perfectly cut vegetables and tofu. I devoured it and would have been satisfied to call it a meal when the smiling Indian man whisked away the empty bowl and placed a piping-hot plate laden with delicious-looking food before me. I stopped him before he could disappear. “May I have chopsticks and hot mustard, please?”
He looked surprised but nodded and scurried off to get the items. Eureka! I have found it. I finally found the good Chinese. After just a few bites with nose running and eyes watering I was so thrilled, I almost ordered a second lunch to take home for dinner but decided to box up my leftovers instead with a note-to-self to come back real soon.
I wonder if Watsonville has the good pizza or the real bagels…I might have to brush up on my Spanish and go on the hunt to find out.