One of my morning routines, when time allows, is riding my bike to Beacon’s to check the surf and just get the blood flowing.
That ride entails me riding by the 7-Eleven shopping center on the corner of Leucadia Boulevard and Vulcan and I’ve always chuckled to myself when I pass Chinatown — Chinese and Italian cuisine — and wonder who is ordering Italian food from a Chinese restaurant and how did this combination happen? Then I remember that I’m in funky Leucadia, and well, it’s just part of the funk still left. I also think that before I question the randomness of this scenario and pass judgment, I should really give it a try myself.
First, a bit of a background on my relationship with Chinatown or the Chinese portion of it anyway — I’ve always enjoyed the fact that it’s a great mix of regular folks populating the booths and bar at Chinatown.
Nothing against all the beautiful people that seem to dominate at coastal North County restaurants, but it’s just a nice change of pace.
I’ve eaten my way through most of the Chinese portion of the menu and have never been disappointed.
The portions are substantial and most entrees are usually good for leftovers. All of them come with your choice of steamed or fried rice and those are usually perfect for a meal on their own as well.
Large portions are nothing new for Chinese joints, but it’s cool to have that going on in a coastal environment. I should also note that I do not have extensive experience with Chinese food other than the typical Americanized menus that seem to exist in every town. We all have our go-to dishes, though, and Chinatown delivers on most of them.
Some of my favorites to start are the BBQ Spareribs, Chicken Pot Stickers and Spicy Steamed Chili Wontons. I should note that none of the appetizers are over $6.25. I’ve sampled a few of the soups as well and the Wonton is solid and again, all great values.
The entrée list is extensive. At last count there are more than 50 entrées to choose from with chicken, beef, pork and shrimp dishes all represented.
I always seem to go back to the Broccoli Beef as it’s full of veggies and meat, and if I’m feeling indulgent I’ll pair it with Pork Fried Rice.
Some new discoveries are the Teriyaki Beef Bowl and the Wide Chow Fun Egg Noodles and the Pan Fried Egg Noodles. Again, back to the value thing here as there is not an entrée over $10.50 and unless you have a crazy huge appetite, you will get at least two meals if not more.
On top of that, they have lunch and dinner combination specials that are an even bigger value. The lunch special from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. gives you a choice of 13 dishes served with steamed or fried rice or chow mein and egg roll for $6.25.
The dinner combo special comes with the same options plus fried shrimp for a whopping $7.25 from 3 p.m. to close. You really can’t beat that folks.
So the story on the Italian-side is that when Grissini Grill (the Italian restaurant located where Pandora Pizza is now), closed years ago, Chinatown incorporated their menu. That’s all I’ve got, as the people I talked to at Chinatown did not seem interested in sharing the story.
That’s cool though, it keeps some of the mystery alive. It is a full on, extensive Italian-American menu though, made for those occasions where half the family wants Chinese and half wants Italian, because those happen all the time, right?
I’ve tried several of the dishes and while my expectations were not high, I was not disappointed either. The Chicken Parmesan was a huge piece of breaded chicken smothered in mozzarella with a decent marinara sauce and pasta.
It was the largest portion of chicken parm I’ve ever had and it worked great for lunch the next day. The Penne Grissini was solid as well with penne pasta, chicken, red bell pepper, basil and a garlic cream sauce. I will be back to try the pasta with meatballs and a couple of other dishes that looked intriguing.
It was a long time coming but I feel a sense of closure now that I’ve tapped into the Italian side of the only Chinese-Italian restaurant I’ve come across. I did some research on this and could not find another like this.
If any readers have come across this combination I’d love to hear about it. Chinatown has been going strong for 20-plus years and that speaks volumes about its appeal. I really do love this place and consider it an essential part of the Leucadia dining scene.
They don’t have a website but you can find both menus at allmenus.com and they are located at 118 Leucadia Blvd., Encinitas or (760) 753-0565.