by Terrance Mc Arthur
Our roving food critic Terrance Mc Arthur continues his search for great food in Sanger and the surrounding communities. Check out more Great Food Search here! Due to some computer issues, this column is a week later, but hey better late than never.
It looks like a pink Lego block stuck in the middle of a vacant lot, but it’s a special part of the city of Orange Cove: the China Garden Restaurant, 1000 Park Boulevard.
As part of my work for the library, I visit several of the communities on the east side of the Valley, so I look for places to eat, because eating is one of my hobbies (I do it frequently). One restaurant kept coming up on lists of places to try: OC’s China Garden. A Chinese restaurant in Orange Cove? It seemed ridiculous. Then…I tried it.
The First Time
My first visit, I nearly did not go in. It didn’t look very interesting: a repainted, quasi-pueblo box. Inside, there were the typical decorations you would expect: lots of red and gold. I tried the Mandarin Combo Dinner ($7.25)—soup, fried shrimp, BBQ spareribs, almond chicken chop suey, and pork fried rice.
I wasn’t expecting much.
The soup was pretty good for a basic egg-flower soup, the shrimp coating looked like a bagel, and the rice had some decent-sized chunks of meat. Not bad, but nothing unusual. The spareribs were cubes, like large dice from Las Vegas in red, burgundy, and white. That caught my attention…and the attention of my taste buds.
Then—the chop suey. Wow!
Hunks of onion, celery, and carrots over pan-fried noodles that hadn’t frozen into a Frisbee form, with a sauce that took charge of the dish, and demanded the keys to my stomach, saying, “I own you.” It was rich, hearty, and something to write reviews about.
Unfortunately there was a problem, an embarrassing problem. The China Garden does not take plastic…no credit cards…no debit cards…and I didn’t have cash. I had to run around the town, begging money from ATMs that all seemed to be out of service. At last, I returned with money in hand and paid my bill.
Now, I had a set of goals.
Return to China Garden, armed with cash, to redeem my reputation.
Get some more of that Almond Chicken Chow Mein, and share it with my family.
See if there were any other hidden treasures waiting for me in the pink cube on Park Boulevard.
The Second Time
Before my return visit, I talked to an Orange Cove resident, asking about good dishes to try. My informant was gluten-intolerant (Personally, I think we should accept and be tolerant of everyone, everyone, even if they are gluten), and began singing the praises of a dish I had never heard of before this: Pork Chow Fun.
I ordered—to go—Almond Chicken Chow Mein ($6.50), Pork Chow Fun ($7.25), Broccoli Beef ($ 7.25), and China Garden Fried Rice ($6.95). I was told that the long green beans were really good, but they weren’t in season, so I have an untried dish for future visits. It took a while to go from Orange Cove to downtown Fresno (to drop off my work car and retrieve my wife) and home to Sanger, so I needed to warm up everything for serving to my family (Note to self—Remember: the set of plastic dinner plates I recently bought are NOT microwave-safe).
Time to Eat
The chow mein had hefty chunks of chicken, nicely cooked, and the onion chunks were shadowy windows of translucence, with that wondrous sauce reigning over it all. The broccoli escaped with its crispness intact, flushed a healthy green, while the beef was…blessedly beefy. The China Garden Fried Rice had goodly gobs of beef, pork, egg, chicken, and a shrimp who had been taking dietary supplements. Wow!
Now, for the Pork Chow Fun. It was fun. Wide rice noodles, thin rice noodles, onions, green onions, pork, and another super sauce. OH, it was goooooooooooooood!
Yes, Orange Cove is out of the way, off the beaten path, and a long way to go for Chinese food, but people, I’m going back…..again.
China Garden’s phone number is 559-626-0308, the restaurant is closed on Tuesdays, and…remember…they don’t take plastic.
Check out more food articles and more of Terrance’s Great Food Search column in our Food Fun section.