Chinese American classics from another era

China Coast offerings (clockwise from top left) hot and sour soup, chicken pan fried noodles, honey walnut shrimp, and paper wrapped chicken. Photos by Richard Foss

by Richard Foss

The Chinese takeout container with its stylized pagoda on the side has been a symbol of fast food since shortly after that term was invented in the 1950’s. Some people have an almost Pavlovian reaction to seeing them thanks to so many childhood meals that began by opening those paper boxes to reveal steaming stir fry. Chinese food has been the most popular takeout meal in America since the 1980s, eclipsing hamburgers, tacos, and even pizza.

Most items in those takeout boxes are nothing like Chinese traditional food. Sweet and sour pork is an example – the American version contains tomatoes, pineapple, and bell pepper, none of which are native to China. Like most American Chinese food, these were inventions by Gold Rush era immigrants. They used the products they found in California with the techniques they learned at home, and a cuisine was born.


China Coast has changed little over the past two decades.


Genuine Chinese food has caught on in the last few decades, and we’re eating soup dumplings, onion pancakes, and simmering hot pots. But the Americanized version is as popular as ever. One of the South Bay’s enduring favorites is China Coast in Redondo, which has been serving the classics for over 25 years. There are racks to hold food for delivery services and the plexiglass in front of the cash register, but otherwise there’s little to suggest what decade you might be inhabiting.

They have embraced online ordering, of course, but with a weird omission – some items aren’t on their website, so you first see them on the menu taped to the counter when you pick up your order. This includes two cornerstones of Chinese-American food, egg foo yung and chop suey. I would have ordered both had I known they were available. Both are unfashionable but still just as enjoyable as they were in the 1800s.

Our meal took about 20 minutes, and it took willpower not to break the speed limit home. We started with the item that is still called paper wrapped chicken, even though virtually every restaurant now uses aluminum foil instead of parchment. There are several variations on this dish, some of which use a chicken meatball with chopped mushrooms and other vegetables, but the version at China Coast is just chicken marinated in oyster sauce and spices that is sealed in foil and then deep fried. We found the version here to be moist and tangy but salty, and I’d probably order something else next time.

We got two soups, the hot and sour that is usually my favorite, and the chicken corn egg soup that is my wife’s favorite. We both preferred the corn soup, an item with an unusual history. Imported American canned corn was a fad ingredient in Hong Kong in the 1920s, and someone there got the idea of mixing it into the traditional egg drop soup made with an unusually rich broth. That broth is so rich and thick that some people refer to this item as a corn chowder, but no milk products are actually used. The version at China Coast is very good, the broth silky, the flavor of the corn fresh. The hot and sour soup didn’t match up because the spicing was timid. The sourness of vinegar was there, but the chili heat to balance it wasn’t, and neither were the chopped green onions that add fresh flavor. A dash of chili oil improved it, and I could have harvested green onions from my garden and added them, but moved on to other items instead.

Our mains were chicken pan fried noodles, string beans with ground pork and onion, Szechuan beef, and honey walnut shrimp, with fried rice on the side. The chicken pan fried noodle was one of the better items of the meal, with plenty of chicken and the broccoli, bamboo shoots, pea pods, and carrots lightly cooked just as they should be. The sauce had a delicate hint of ginger, and all in all it was a success. The green beans did not fare as well./ They were nicely seasoned but overcooked, and limp. The Szechuan beef was better, but had no char and caramelization that would be typical of meat that has spent time in a hot wok. I had asked for this to be made full strength and there was some chili heat, but not as much as I expected.

The winner among the entrees was the honey walnut shrimp, a dish I ordered because it’s a favorite of one of our dinner guests. This is often overly sweet, but China Coast nailed the blend of citrus and sweetness that make this an enjoyable dish. It would have been better if it hadn’t steamed in the box on the way home so that the crust on the shrimp became moist, but that’s one of the give and takes of ordering Chinese food to go.

We ordered basic fried rice and later discovered that they include white rice with any substantial order, so boy, did we have a lot of rice. The basic fried rice was fine, rice, egg, peas, and a little soy, while the regular rice was the blank canvas for our other items. 

Dinner for five ran $115 and produced substantial leftovers – moderate for the South Bay. Was it memorably good or bad? Nope. It was standard old school American Chinese takeout that I might have enjoyed as a kid, complete with the paper boxes, and there are days when that’s just fine.


China Coast is at 1501 S. PCH in Redondo. Open daily at 11 a.m, close 9 p.m. except Sun at 8:30 p.m. Small parking lot adjacent. Take out only, no alcohol. (310) 543-1836. ER  


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