A CHINESE PRIMER
Basically really wide noodles, pan-fried. The texture is slippery, greasy goodness.
Dan Dan Noodles
Classic Sichuan dish with chile oil, sesame paste, pickled veggies, and mouth-numbing Sichuan peppers.
Chinese egg noodles, parboiled and then stir-fried with other ingredients to finish.
Beef cooked in a spicy peanut sauce (usually five-spice).
Xiao long bao
Means “small basket dumplings.” Soft, steamed, glutinous dough containing minced meat and soup. Take a bite, gush.
Poor Chinese. America’s first taste of their cuisine was forgery (General Tso’s chicken, egg rolls, fortune cookies—all invented stateside). San Francisco is the West Coast heart of Chinese food, followed by L.A. It’s just not a force in SD. That said, there are a few spots with killer dan dan noodles, red-hot cumin lamb concoctions, and the legendary xiao long bao dumplings:
See that clipboard hanging on the outside of the door? Sign it, sit down, and wait your turn. The staff here is all business. Yet after all these years, those steamed soup dumplings (xiao long bao) are still pleasure grenades. Remember the summer you were stung by a jellyfish? Get revenge with the intensely chewy jellyfish salad. The pan-fried noodles (with pork, chicken, and shrimp) are a crispy-chewy gem in thick garlic-sesame sauce. Like many Convoy restaurants, it’s BYOB, but there’s a market next door.
4619 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa
Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot
Sadly, I feel the most consistently good hot pot in town is made by the Taco Bell people. Yep. Along with the Little Sheep chain, parent company Yum Brands owns Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut. I’m okay with it. Hot pot is basically fondue—the broth and raw materials are brought to the table, cooked by the diner. Try the yin yang pot—mild beef-chicken stock and spicy chile stock—with your choice of meat and veggies. My favorite proteins are the lamb, pork belly, and frozen tofu. You have to ask for the sauces (get the peanut). Bring a party with you.
4718 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Clairemont
Dede’s Teajuice City
With polyester roses at your table and extraordinarily friendly service, DeDe’s is a charmer. The cumin lamb is phenomenal, with a heavy cumin oil over onions and cilantro. Once past the cumin, the savoriness of the lamb is intense, pure game. Also addictive are the dan dan noodles—just pure garlic fire, with a spaghetti-like texture. Be sure to check out the station of cold apps near the cash register.
4647 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa
People say: “There’s no good dim sum in San Diego.” Well, y’know what? They’re right. I’ve tried a few, and always came away with L.A. envy. Jasmine isn’t perfect, but it’s got ambiance—a large, ornate banquet hall and servers in blackjack dealer vests. Give the roast duck a try, with some steamed shrimp dumplings and fried tofu. The buns are a little dry, but wash ’em down with boba-filled green milk tea and finish with the sweet lotus leaf rice and a very messy egg custard. Chase the carts or ask the headwaiter for anything you can’t find. It’s an experience, even if the real one is 100 miles north.
4609 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa
This pan-Asian cubbyhole (Chinese-Viet) is the star of its mini-mall. Inside, it’s tidy and the owner is extremely friendly. The crispy egg noodle soups are outstanding, with onions galore (try the satay beef or the wonton versions), and the beef chow fun (wide noodles stir-fried with veggies in a salty-sweet, oniony sauce) will make you forget someone’s probably fender-bending your ride out in the parking lot.
4644 El Cajon Boulevard, Talmadge