But it is not just the best Chinese cuisine in Santa Barbara, but it was voted one of the 100 best Chinese restaurants in the entire US by the Chinese Restaurant News (CRN). It is certainly worth going a few steps out of your way to give yourself a treat.
If a US Chinese restaurant can be judged by its Chinese patronage, then this one wins hands down. You can see 3 generations of Chinese eating here and feeling right at home - and we were lucky enough to eat with one of them from the new baby who at 6 months was already scooping rice into her mouth as young Mom was helping and Grandma and Granddad watched from across the table as they were themselves digging into the heaping platters of food and baby's dad was explaining to us the various dishes.
It won its 2008 award for its outstanding healthy food, not just the great taste. Then in 2009, it won for the best decor. A delight to the palate but also to the eye. Born and raised in Canton, mainland China, the owners Mr. Xie and his wife Sumei Luo brought with them their expertise in authentic Chinese cooking from various regions of China. Their charming daughter (pictured above), Carolyn Xie who speaks fluent colloquial American, helps with just about everything including translating.
They pick ingredients carefully and use only the freshest and natural ones to prepare every dish, and have been trying to cook them in a healthier way to provide the most nutritious food in addition to the tastiest. But they also place a lot of importance on the ambience in which their food is eaten. So they have worked hard to ensure have a cozy and inviting atmosphere to enjoy not only the great meal but also be able to eat it in an authentic surrounding. The dining areas are broken up into more intimate spaces clustered around the main dining area so small parties can be sure of their own space while at the same time enjoying the full effect of the whole restaurant.
This is not a new restaurant, it was founded in 2000 and has had a decade to refine its food, its service and develop its menu and its ambience. Everything runs like clockwork. The dishes are designed not just for their taste and their healthy eating but also to be a delight to the eye as you prepare to plunge in. They have populated the menu with many dishes that are favorites for the American palate, but they also have a full range of dishes that are very authentic to the different areas of China from whence they came.
We strted with Walnut Shrimp (see photos in the web album) that was light and delicious. We moved onto the Scallops and Shrimp with Mixed Vegetables, the crispy Cream Cheese stuffed Wontons that made a delightful contrast with one bite from crisp to butter smooth. The "General's Chicken" was a wonder hot and spicy dish of chicken with sweet and hot peppers tempered with green onions and guaranteed to clear the sinuses. We made sure that the side dish of dried but sauteed string beans was served and their version brought "ah's" to the table. A simple but fabulous dish when done well. The "Three Flavored Kung Pao" was a service of chicken cooked in three different ways in different sauces. The brilliant Lemon Chicken was a marvel of sweet sauce offset by the tartness of fresh lemon juice and lemon slices. Not photographed, the "Chicken with Curry Sauce" was served with spagetti napped in the same sauce.
And, yes, if you live within a 3-10 miles radius, they will deliver to those lucky folks for free! (With a minimum order of $25). If you don't live that close, there is always take out.
So if you hanker for Chinese, and are in Santa Barbara almost anywhere, try the Empress Palace. You won't regret it.