Sweet and savory honey garlic shrimp.
10645 Tierrasanta Boulevard, San Diego
Pick your table, any table.
When I was invited to dinner at Choice of Mandarin in Tierrasanta, I turned to the all-knowing internet to gain some insight on this new-to-me restaurant. Turns out the owners have been serving Chinese cuisine since 1983, so I looked forward to giving this long-standing, family-run business a try.
The restaurant’s red and gold walls, organic art, and accents of dark wood made for a comfortable setting. It was difficult to choose from the traditional yet tempting menu items, but I didn’t feel rushed at any point throughout the meal. I took note of and valued the staff’s friendly, attentive, and patient presence.
Perfectly prepared eggplant with hot garlic sauce.
Complimentary wonton strips and hot tea were promptly delivered to our table, which was unexpected but appreciated. Dipping fried goodies into sweet and sour sauce and hot mustard is satisfying in a deep way. You can’t overlook simple pleasures, and Choice of Mandarin knows it.
The shrimp and sizzling rice soup ($8.25) was the first course, and easily fed a table of three. I got excited when the rice was delivered from the kitchen and finished frying at the table. The crispy rice was spooned into a bowl and topped with the broth, vegetables, and shrimp. The snow peas and carrots were cooked perfectly — meaning hardly at all — and the water chestnuts and bamboo shoots provided additional crunch. I added a splash of soy sauce for saltiness and found myself going back for seconds.
A soup that sizzles.
The honey walnut shrimp ($11.95) were fried in a light batter, sautéed in a creamy seafood sauce, and topped with candied walnuts. The shrimp was tender and flavorful, and the nuts added texture that complemented the seafood. The dish satisfied my sweet and savory craving, but was quite rich and therefore best suited for sharing.
My favorite dish was the eggplant with hot garlic sauce ($8.95). I realize eggplant isn’t the most exciting or popular vegetable around, but it’s absorptive and assumes the flavor of secondary ingredients. In this preparation, chilies, garlic, and onion are the focus; the eggplant and bamboo shoots simply add substance. The combination of the ingredients, though, is what makes this dish a standout.
If you live or work in the area, chances are you’ve enjoyed many meals here. I’ll definitely be returning, and only wish I’d learned of the reputation sooner.