Santa Barbara is home to a wide variety of ethnic cuisines, from Mexican to Italian to Vietnamese, we have the opportunity to experience foods from all around the world. Across America one of the most popular types of foreign cuisine is Chinese food, and there are over fifteen Chinese restaurants in the Santa Barbara-Goleta area. With so many options for Chinese food, the decision of where to get it can sometimes be difficult. To make your lunch or dinner choice easier, I went to four of the most well-known Chinese restaurants in the Santa Barbara and Goleta: Mandarin Palace, China Pavillion, Madam Lu Chinese Restaurant, and China King. These reviews are obviously based on my own opinion of the food that I happened to get and its price, so your experience at these restaurants may be different and depend on your order.
Mandarin Palace: 2.5 Stars
Mandarin offers average prices and a good selection of Chinese food, but most of the menu is mediocre, and while some dishes may be especially good, nothing I tried there really stood out as superior when compared to Mandarin’s competitors. My fried rice and mu shu chicken with plum sauce were both good, while the spring roll and fried wonton that came with them were nothing special. However, the orange chicken was unappetizing. It was much colder than the other food and the coating was mushy instead of the ideal crispy, while the chicken on the inside left a lot to be desired. Overall, Mandarin is an okay choice for its price and convenient location in 5-points, and some of their food is pretty tasty, but for Orange Chicken you’d be better off at Panda Express.
China King: 3 Stars
Located next to Zodo’s Bowling in Goleta, China King is owned by the former owners of Mandarin Palace, and serves a very wide selection of both traditional and contemporary Chinese dishes available at the restaurant or through delivery to within Goleta. Although its food is on the more expensive side, China King offers several coupon deals to its customers, such as four free spring rolls for orders of $25 or more. I started my meal with some wor wonton soup, which was exceptionally tasty, although a lot of the wontons were unfortunately broken. The kung pao chicken was crispy, spicy, and delicious, but the beef with ginger was another story. I typically love this dish but China King was heavy-handed on the ginger, overwhelming the beef with a harsh ginger flavor. Overall, China King is a good choice for Chinese if you are in Goleta, especially if you want delivery, but be careful not to break the bank by ordering too much off its very expansive menu.
China Pavilion: 4 Stars
China Pavilion is a fantastic choice for a large selection of Chinese cuisine and is conveniently found in downtown Santa Barbara on Chapala and Anapamu. Although China Pavilion is one of the priciest options, it offers a unique fine dining experience for family eating and authentic chinese cuisine, as well as dim sum on the weekends. Because China Pavilion serves family style it is great for going with a group. Following the Christmas Parade my friends and I went to China Pavilion for a fantastic dinner with wonton soup, seafood and vegetable fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, and beef chow fun. Almost everything was amazing, especially the fried rice and beef chow fun, although the sweet and sour chicken was a little bland. All together, China Pavilion offers some of the finest quality Chinese in Santa Barbara and is a lunch or dinner option for groups spending their time downtown. Although if you are trying to be frugal, you may need to look elsewhere.
Madam Lu Chinese Restaurant: 4.5 Stars
Madam Lu, situated on Upper State by Loreto Plaza, offers a unique assortment of “country style” Chinese cuisine in a family-run restaurant known for its fantastic service, dinner delivery, and lunchtime buffet. My dinner started with some great wonton soup and absolutely delicious fried curry wontons. The mu shu chicken with plum sauce was delectable, and my main entree, beef chow fun, was a very large portion of amazing beef, vegetables, and soft noodles. I had a great experience at Madame Lu, I did not have anything to complain about, and their menu offers many unique items at easily some of the most affordable prices in Santa Barbara. If you are looking for large portions, good prices, friendly service, and some refreshingly simple Chinese food, I strongly recommend you try Madame Lu.