The neighborhood Chinese restaurant. We’ve all got one. You know the names: Dynasty, Mayflower, the Magic Gourd, Mr. Chan’s, the list goes on forever. The food at each is always vaguely similar. They fall somewhere on the Below Average/Average/Above Average scale. It’s a go-to when you want Chinese food, but you don’t necessarily want to make the trek to get the good stuff. Sometimes, though, your- neighborhood spot is the good stuff.
I discovered this recently at South China in Del Ray, a neighborhood of Alexandria, conveniently located within walking distance from my new office. I was given the thumbs up from a local and took the plunge for lunch. And I’ll say this about South China: whoa. This totally unassuming spot serves up some serious grub. I went for the Chicken with Cashew Nuts my first time and was shocked to discover that this normally standard, sort of bland dish was phenomenal. The dish was covered in a deliciously sweet-but-not-too-sweet sauce and featured zucchini instead of the traditional carrots and celery that usually plague Chicken with Cashew Nuts. The chicken was tender and not mysterious, the cashews weren’t over cooked, and the accompanying fried rice (standard with the lunch special) was well prepared and not overly greasy. All of this ran me less than $6. Some of my dining companions complained that it wasn’t quite enough food, but for lunchand for the price, for me it was perfect. I didn’t fall into a deep food coma, which is often a lunch special problem.
My next meal I ordered Kung Pao Chicken, hoping that South China wouldn’t just be a one-dish wonder. I was right to hope because this was also fantastic. The chicken was finely cut, and the dish had a hint of sweetness but also the appropriate chili pepper heat for a proper Kung Pao preparation.
Beyond the excellent good, I was pleased to see that the staff at South China is veryfriendly. I witnessed a number of guests who were clearly regulars and on a first name basis. I’m a big believer in supporting local restaurants and getting to know the proprietors and staff. It’s nice to know a little bit about who’s making your food and have them get to know you as well. It makes for an enjoyable interaction as opposed to a purely customer/staff relationship. After eating some delicious meals here and seeing thewelcoming atmosphere, it is my hope to one day get to that level at South China.
South China redefines your local Chinese spot. It transcends the ordinary with its excellent renditions of traditional American-Chinese dishes. Take a break from the Chinese restaurant around the corner and go out of your way to check this place out. I promise you won’t regret it.