4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Fill up on tamed-tiger kung pao at Imperial Express

“True kung pao should have only ‘facing heaven’ chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns.”

Kung pao chicken, with nuts and onions, rules the combo
Kung pao chicken, with nuts and onions, rules the combo

"Midnight, dude.”

This guy and I just happen to fall in step walking away from Father Joe’s, into the dusk of Imperial Avenue.

“Midnight?”

“Everybody’s waiting for midnight. Look around you,” he says. “There’s a vibration, man. You can feel it.”

Actually, yes, you can. This was Monday before last. Halloween. More important, the end of the month. You could see it in the quiet talk of the ladies sitting against the wall. The guys guarding their overloaded carts. It’s like everyone’s holding their breath, being good, because at the stroke of midnight, Santa Claus comes to town. Social Security dollars should be dropping into the accounts of everybody around here.

“Tomorrow, you watch,” says my buddy. “Travelodge down the road’s gonna be filled to the gills. Pah-tee!”

Actually, I was up here to maybe have a meal and see if anyone at Father Joe’s could talk about my Reader cohort John Brizzolara. He died here. One of the greatest writers to grace the Reader’s pages. How great a writer? Once he traveled with illegal field-workers through a storm drain under the border, then joined a lettuce-picking crew in the Imperial Valley. Just about killed himself. And his back. What a story.

But, tonight nobody’s around who knew him. And they don’t lay on dinners these days at Father Joe’s anyway. Only lunch. So, guess I need to find nosh elsewhere. At 12th and Imperial I hop on a #11 bus heading south. Get off at Chicano Park. Make my way through the shadowy park. The art on the legs looms large. Pass a bunch of lit candles and flowers near the kiosk. Oh, man. Where that car crashed down from the Coronado bridge on October 15. Nearby, a small shrine to Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez, one of the beloved greats in the Chicano movement. Died on the 28th.

Talk about Day of the Dead. Now I’m across Cesar E. Chavez Parkway, near the freeway, right next to that giant arrow angled into the ground. Only place I see open is across Logan. And it’s Chinese.

Imperial Express.

What the heck. I cross over and head in.

I recognize the lady. Name’s Anna? Oh, yes. Maybe 1995. She’s standing behind a counter that’s alive with 14 steaming chafing dishes.

Best of all, the sign on the back wall: “Two items, $5.56. Three items, $6.95. Fried rice and chow mein count as [one] ITEM.”

So, seven bucks buys you fried rice, chow mein, and two other dishes.

Anna is swift-moving and rapid-talking. In English, Spanish, and Chinese. When I ask what each dish is, her finger races her speech: “Broccoli beef, shrimp and mixed veggies, fried fish, Chinese teriyaki, spicy chicken, salt-and-pepper chicken wing, spring rolls, pan-fried chili chicken, honey chicken, chicken with black-bean sauce, kung pao chicken, Mongolian pork, chow mein and fried rice.”

Then she stands, scoop at the ready.

“Okay,” I say. “Fried rice and chow mein with kung pao and broccoli beef.”

Don’t totally like broccoli, but it adds bright green to the scene.

Bottle of Mexican non-alcoholic sangría to wash it down

Anna fills up a polystyrene box to the max. I grab soy sauce, Sriracha, and a bottle of that Sangría Señorial and end up paying $9 for it all, including tax. Deal.

And here’s the thing I try to remember: we’ve come to see Chinese take-out as “just” Chinese fast food in a box. But, you can bet it’s all full of history.

Kung pao chicken with nuts and onions. That's a lot of food for $6.95!

Take the tastiest and the spiciest dish in my box, the kung pao chicken. “‘Kung pao’ means ‘palace guardian,’” Carla says when I call her. “And true kung pao should have only ‘facing heaven’ chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns. And always peanuts.”

She’s a purist with a killer memory. “Sichuan’s the western province where kung pao comes from. Right up against the Himalayas. Gets mighty cold. That’s why they like it hot. Heat-wise and spicy-wise. Bring some of yours home, too, please.”

Actually, mine ain’t that spicy-hot. Carla says cooks in the West often do things to tame the tiger. Also maybe add ginger, garlic, OJ, whatever.

But at least the peanuts are here. They give it the flavor combination that tempers the rich chicken in an interesting way. I truly love this stuff.

Broccoli and beef compete for space

The broccoli beef? Okay, fills you up. But, meh in comparison to the kung pao.

The fried rice and chow-mein noodles come with peas, onions, and celery, and I give them zing with lots of splots of soy and Sriracha. But the main thing I get is how heavy, how loaded this “plate” is. It’s giant. Jam-packed. And if you did a blind taste comparison with some expensive Chinese joint, I don’t think I’d know which was which.

A big cherry-cheeked chef comes out. He’s Meño-Lei. Anna’s husband. He and his two brothers back there, Alex Lei and Sam Lei, are all chefs. All from Canton, China. Anna, too. “My parents found him, arranged the marriage,” says Anna. “They wanted to be sure I got a suitable husband.”

Reason I called Carla was to see what she wanted me to bring home. Her choice? Honey-chicken and spring rolls. Snob she ain’t. I like them, too. So I get those (about $6). Then I head back out into the barrio. I cross the road. Notice the Día de los Muertos candles still flickering in the dark.

Place

Imperial Express

1879 Logan Avenue #B, San Diego

Hours: 10:00 a.m.–8:30 p.m., daily (from 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sunday)

The deals to go for. More bang for the buck than single-ordered items.

Prices: Combinations are the best deal. Two items cost $5.56, three items, $6.95. Fried rice and chow mein count as one item. Choices include broccoli beef, shrimp and mixed veggies, fried fish, Chinese teriyaki, spicy chicken, salt-and-pepper chicken wing, spring rolls, pan-fried chili chicken, honey chicken, chicken with black bean sauce, kung pao chicken, Mongolian pork, chow mein, fried rice; side order egg rolls, $1.75; vegetable soup, $2.32 ($6.25 large); house soup, $7.75

Buses: 11, 901

Nearest bus stops: #11, Logan Avenue at Cesar E. Chavez Parkway; #901 (northbound), National at Cesar Chavez; #901 (southbound) Cesar Chavez near Logan

Trolley: Blue Line

Nearest Trolley Stop: Barrio Logan, National, and Cesar Chavez

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Symphony silent on reasons for renovation

Next Article

Laird Hamilton’s revolutionary idea: stand-up paddling surfboards

“The thing is, most of the time, San Diego waves are gutless. With paddle boards? That’s no problem.”
Kung pao chicken, with nuts and onions, rules the combo
Kung pao chicken, with nuts and onions, rules the combo

"Midnight, dude.”

This guy and I just happen to fall in step walking away from Father Joe’s, into the dusk of Imperial Avenue.

“Midnight?”

“Everybody’s waiting for midnight. Look around you,” he says. “There’s a vibration, man. You can feel it.”

Actually, yes, you can. This was Monday before last. Halloween. More important, the end of the month. You could see it in the quiet talk of the ladies sitting against the wall. The guys guarding their overloaded carts. It’s like everyone’s holding their breath, being good, because at the stroke of midnight, Santa Claus comes to town. Social Security dollars should be dropping into the accounts of everybody around here.

“Tomorrow, you watch,” says my buddy. “Travelodge down the road’s gonna be filled to the gills. Pah-tee!”

Actually, I was up here to maybe have a meal and see if anyone at Father Joe’s could talk about my Reader cohort John Brizzolara. He died here. One of the greatest writers to grace the Reader’s pages. How great a writer? Once he traveled with illegal field-workers through a storm drain under the border, then joined a lettuce-picking crew in the Imperial Valley. Just about killed himself. And his back. What a story.

But, tonight nobody’s around who knew him. And they don’t lay on dinners these days at Father Joe’s anyway. Only lunch. So, guess I need to find nosh elsewhere. At 12th and Imperial I hop on a #11 bus heading south. Get off at Chicano Park. Make my way through the shadowy park. The art on the legs looms large. Pass a bunch of lit candles and flowers near the kiosk. Oh, man. Where that car crashed down from the Coronado bridge on October 15. Nearby, a small shrine to Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez, one of the beloved greats in the Chicano movement. Died on the 28th.

Talk about Day of the Dead. Now I’m across Cesar E. Chavez Parkway, near the freeway, right next to that giant arrow angled into the ground. Only place I see open is across Logan. And it’s Chinese.

Imperial Express.

What the heck. I cross over and head in.

I recognize the lady. Name’s Anna? Oh, yes. Maybe 1995. She’s standing behind a counter that’s alive with 14 steaming chafing dishes.

Best of all, the sign on the back wall: “Two items, $5.56. Three items, $6.95. Fried rice and chow mein count as [one] ITEM.”

So, seven bucks buys you fried rice, chow mein, and two other dishes.

Anna is swift-moving and rapid-talking. In English, Spanish, and Chinese. When I ask what each dish is, her finger races her speech: “Broccoli beef, shrimp and mixed veggies, fried fish, Chinese teriyaki, spicy chicken, salt-and-pepper chicken wing, spring rolls, pan-fried chili chicken, honey chicken, chicken with black-bean sauce, kung pao chicken, Mongolian pork, chow mein and fried rice.”

Then she stands, scoop at the ready.

“Okay,” I say. “Fried rice and chow mein with kung pao and broccoli beef.”

Don’t totally like broccoli, but it adds bright green to the scene.

Bottle of Mexican non-alcoholic sangría to wash it down

Anna fills up a polystyrene box to the max. I grab soy sauce, Sriracha, and a bottle of that Sangría Señorial and end up paying $9 for it all, including tax. Deal.

And here’s the thing I try to remember: we’ve come to see Chinese take-out as “just” Chinese fast food in a box. But, you can bet it’s all full of history.

Kung pao chicken with nuts and onions. That's a lot of food for $6.95!

Take the tastiest and the spiciest dish in my box, the kung pao chicken. “‘Kung pao’ means ‘palace guardian,’” Carla says when I call her. “And true kung pao should have only ‘facing heaven’ chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns. And always peanuts.”

She’s a purist with a killer memory. “Sichuan’s the western province where kung pao comes from. Right up against the Himalayas. Gets mighty cold. That’s why they like it hot. Heat-wise and spicy-wise. Bring some of yours home, too, please.”

Actually, mine ain’t that spicy-hot. Carla says cooks in the West often do things to tame the tiger. Also maybe add ginger, garlic, OJ, whatever.

But at least the peanuts are here. They give it the flavor combination that tempers the rich chicken in an interesting way. I truly love this stuff.

Broccoli and beef compete for space

The broccoli beef? Okay, fills you up. But, meh in comparison to the kung pao.

The fried rice and chow-mein noodles come with peas, onions, and celery, and I give them zing with lots of splots of soy and Sriracha. But the main thing I get is how heavy, how loaded this “plate” is. It’s giant. Jam-packed. And if you did a blind taste comparison with some expensive Chinese joint, I don’t think I’d know which was which.

A big cherry-cheeked chef comes out. He’s Meño-Lei. Anna’s husband. He and his two brothers back there, Alex Lei and Sam Lei, are all chefs. All from Canton, China. Anna, too. “My parents found him, arranged the marriage,” says Anna. “They wanted to be sure I got a suitable husband.”

Reason I called Carla was to see what she wanted me to bring home. Her choice? Honey-chicken and spring rolls. Snob she ain’t. I like them, too. So I get those (about $6). Then I head back out into the barrio. I cross the road. Notice the Día de los Muertos candles still flickering in the dark.

Place

Imperial Express

1879 Logan Avenue #B, San Diego

Hours: 10:00 a.m.–8:30 p.m., daily (from 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sunday)

The deals to go for. More bang for the buck than single-ordered items.

Prices: Combinations are the best deal. Two items cost $5.56, three items, $6.95. Fried rice and chow mein count as one item. Choices include broccoli beef, shrimp and mixed veggies, fried fish, Chinese teriyaki, spicy chicken, salt-and-pepper chicken wing, spring rolls, pan-fried chili chicken, honey chicken, chicken with black bean sauce, kung pao chicken, Mongolian pork, chow mein, fried rice; side order egg rolls, $1.75; vegetable soup, $2.32 ($6.25 large); house soup, $7.75

Buses: 11, 901

Nearest bus stops: #11, Logan Avenue at Cesar E. Chavez Parkway; #901 (northbound), National at Cesar Chavez; #901 (southbound) Cesar Chavez near Logan

Trolley: Blue Line

Nearest Trolley Stop: Barrio Logan, National, and Cesar Chavez

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

The return of the day of the Locust

Breaking out the bug suits one more time
Next Article

Cecily Fox Smith: with a nautical theme

An English poet best known for her maritime folk poems
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close