In the quest for a Chinese restaurant that merits a Cheap Eats nod in the East Bay, you can easily eat a lot of forgettable food. China Gourmet in Riverside not only serves consistently excellent food, it does so with a menu broad enough to rival an urban Chinatown locale. Formally known as The Rickshaw Inn, a team of five restaurateurs from New York City bought the place in 2007 and brought it into the modern age. Now as the China Gourmet, you can expect cutting edge cooking from the Szechuan and Hunan Provinces along with Hong Kong style noodle dishes, and a number of Thai style selections. There is even a full-service sushi bar. But most importantly, the staff is friendly, articulate, and really know their business.
The menu starts with a choice of 10 varieties of soup, available as single serving or large sizes intended for two. All of the single sized servings can be had for under $2.75. The large orders are big enough to have as a full meal if you add a cup of white rice on the side. The Wonton Soup ($2.50/cup) is a favorite and features plump dumplings stuffed with ground pork, ginger and spices, strips of roasted pork, and crisp green vegetables. The Hot and Sour Soup ($2.50/cup) perfectly balances a touch of vinegar and a peppery bite with tofu and a variety of mushrooms and shoots. A unique offering, Wonton Egg Drop Soup ($2.50), combines two popular soups in one bowl.
Along with the standard offerings like Egg Rolls ($3.50), Krab Meat Rangoons ($5.95), and Chicken Fingers ($6.95), China Gourmet also serves some appetizers that you don’t normally find in a Chinese Restaurant in the burbs. Try the crispy Scallion Pancake ($4.50), Szechuan Dumplings ($5.95) – wonton dumplings in a spicy, sesame flavored sauce, or the Thailand Style Chicken Wings ($7.95) that are dry rubbed with chili peppers and quickly fried to a crispy crunch.
Standouts from the entre menu include Singapore Rice Noodles ($8.95) with a spicy curry, General Tso’s Chicken ($9.95), and spicy Kung Pao Beef with Peanuts ($10.95). For a slightly more exotic taste be sure to check out the Beef with Shitake Mushrooms and Snow Peas ($10.95) or Chicken With Walnuts ($13.95) served with a sweet, creamy sauce and honey roasted nuts. From the Sushi side of the menu, you can always count on a good variety of the freshest fish expertly sliced and artfully presented. Their specialty rolls are in fact, “special.” The Red Dragon Roll ($10.95) has broiled fresh water eel inside, wrapped in tuna and avocado. The Hamatek ($5.95) is an amazing deal, combining tuna, yellowtail, cucumber, avocado, and caviar.
China Gourmet is the kind of restaurant that you can write about all day and still not cover everything. The best part is that you can go there and enjoy all of your old favorites, while sampling new items that will take you on an exploration of Asia’s best cuisine. And unlike most places of its ilk, you can get anything on the menu (including sushi) delivered free to the local area ($20 minimum). Come in and you can also enjoy their full bar service, friendly atmosphere and big screen TV at the bar. China Gourmet is a “Cheap Eat” worthy of travelling to, and is located at 181 Willett Ave in Riverside. They’re open 7 days per week; Mon-Thurs: 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri and Sat: 11 a.m.- 110 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m.-10 p.m. 401-433-6888.