Between the two of us, Anne and I have eaten at hundreds of Chinese restaurants in dozens of states and at least two continents. The best meal we ever had was in a small place in New York’s Chinatown that our friends Artie and Sue Roth took us to forty years ago. I remember that it was a small, dark place located in a basement with seating for about a dozen people. The menu was in Chinese, and the waiter didn’t speak English. It was the kind of place where you didn’t order, you just ate what they put in front of you. The food was delicious.
The second best meal was a dim sum place in San Francisco’s Chinatown that Anne’s great aunt Jean took us. Some of the dishes we had there I’ve never seen on any menu since. The third best place was also in San Francisco. We were the only non-Asians in the restaurant. We had salt cooked crab, an amazing dish in which a huge Dungeness Crab is totally encased in sea salt and baked. The salt crust is cracked open table side, and the sweetest crab meat you’ve ever tasted emerges.
The fourth best was at the Peking Duck on Rt.1, south of Alexandria, Va. This is the sister restaurant of the famous Duck Chang’s in Annandale, the first restaurant in the US to offer Peking Duck without 24 hours notice.
Which brings us to the China Garden in Christiansburg. Now, I’ve read the online reviews, and I’m pretty sure that at least one, and maybe all three are talking about another place, because we’ve had take-out from there twice, and ate in last week. The food is fabulous. It is a tiny place, in the Food Lion strip mall on Franklin Street. It is the kind of place you go for the food and not the atmosphere. There are only six booths and no wait service. You check your order off on a paper take out menu, and the chef brings it to you in the order they are finished by one of the seven family members working the line, not necessarily in the order you expect. The dishes tend toward the spicy, with Hunan and Szechuan styles predominating. Try the Mei Fun dishes. Mei Fun includes a variety of meats and vegetables cooked together with rice noodles. Yummilicious!
The next time you’re Jonesing for some General Tso’s, this is THE place. Bon appetit.