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Across the street from a Toyota dealership on a well-developed stretch of Mission Gorge Road, Szechuan Mandarin is a great example of a time-forgotten restaurant that hasn't changed much in the past 30 years. Inside, it's 1982 forever with vinyl booths and fish tanks, the coolness of which is a contrast to the somewhat dowdy facade and exhaust fumes of the Mission Valley streets outside.

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I opted to pass on the tiki-style cocktails because washing down lunch with a Scorpion Bowl is a seriously risky endeavor. Still, I can imagine that Mai Tais and Beachcombers would go great with the food. A pot of hot tea, on the other hand, was more in keeping with lunchtime procedures.

The food was exemplary of American Chinese cuisine. Hot and sour soup had an instantly familiar tang and velvety texture. A dish of Szechuan beef was mostly sweet and spicy flavors. Coated in the thick, red stir-fry sauce the heat of the dish was only moderate, despite the warning of the little chilli pepper on the menu. The "chef's shrimp" plate was broccoli and shrimp bound in a thick velouté; a kind of sauce made by thickening stock with starch.

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Neither dish was truly exceptional, although the quality of produce seemed a bit beyond the norm. Lunch plates all cost between eight and ten dollars, so the Szechuan Mandarin experience was definitely affordable and a nice change from other types of quick lunches. I would say the charm of the place is mostly in its atmosphere and decor. The food isn't dramatically different from what might be available in a food court somewhere, but the old-school appearance and fish tanks give Szechuan Mandarin a leg up on the competition.

5855 Mission Gorge Road
619-280-4600
M-Th 11-9:30
Fri 11-10
Sat 12-10
Sun 4-9:30

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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
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