I've been to this restaurant half a dozen times for dinner over the years because my parents love the food and the service so we go when I'm in town. It certainly isn't the ambiance as it's no better or worse than your typical Cantonese restaurant: worn greasy carpeting, pathetic live seafood swimming in less than pristine water tanks, restrooms demanding buckets of disinfectant, streaked windows and streaked wall size mirrors, etc. You get the picture. Still I have to agree with them, the food has always been consistently good. Their known for their fried chicken wings and though nicely spicy with a snow fall of fresh green jalapeños, they don't threaten to topple San Tung's version. Still, the moderated garlic hit from them does hit the right notes and they are bigger and juicier with a pleasant crunch. My sister always insists on the fish salad, a version that has never been fishy, instead full of ginger, crunchy rice sticks and won ton skins to contrast the soft slices of very fresh fish. My brother in law will eat only fresh tuna because he can't stand that fishy smell and after only a little coaxing, ate a healthy serving and wanted more. No such luck with my other brother in law driving the lazy susan! The flavored rice stuffed chicken (a whole chicken skin minus all the meat and most of the main bones stuffed with sweet glutinous rice studded with all sorts of tasty goodies reshaped into a plump chicken, the whole thing fried in toto till crisp and golden) is always a show stopper but after recently digging into the same dish at Empress of China, it does suffer some by comparison. My other sister wanted to have roast duck. What? Roast duck is a Chinese deli staple where the art of roasting has reached it's apogee. Why would anyone of San Francisco/Chinese heritage even contemplate such a diversion from truth and righteousness? My sister moved to Los Angeles over 20 years ago and, as Mike, my brother in law from the other side of the family would say, "she's been gone too long." But wait, my sister's instincts may have been on hyperdrive because, though lacking the intense roast flavor and super crisp skin of a deli roast duck, this offering was quite good. Not nearly as salty or as greasy as the regular quacker but still very respectable on its own. This dinner was, as usual, for a special occasion and so naturally, my parents, even in their dotage, had the foresight to pre order the whole winter melon soup. It's a small (for a winter melon) 10 pound, whole melon with the top cut off, filled with broth, pieces of tender white meat chicken, shiitake mushrooms, Virginia ham, lotus seeds, and other tasty bits steamed for 3 hours to render a flavorful, delicious and stunning dish. The sides of the melon, now tender and translucent from the slow cooking is scrapped from the sides of this natural tureen and served with the soup, hot, steaming and screaming of warmth and comfort. It's always been my favorite. By chance, I recently had the self same dish at the aforementioned Empress of China and though probably less than half the price and perhaps not as fancily decorated with peas and carrots but is certainly as tasty as the Empress version. We had pea shoots as well which only in the past decade has been found on local Cantonese menus. Before that, they were thrown away. Now they fetch a high price which always makes me somewhat uneasy, my Chinese genes are probably mutating with every delicious chopstick full. My demanding Angeleno sister also wanted clams. I'm not a clam person, mussels yes, clams no. I remember opening up those stinky sucker, pulling them out of their shell, skewering them on fish hooks and plopping them into the water for nighttime fishing. They are not supposed to be eaten by humans unless cooked in chowder. Enough said. What should be said is the yummy battered pork chops with just a mild hit of jalapeño heat and surprisingly juicy and tender pork under that crisp exterior. I haven't gone to this restaurant in fewer than groups of 10 or so and I suspect the offerings would still be delicious. The staff can be Chinese Restaurant Rude if you aren't a regular but the service is nonetheless efficient and If you just focus on the food and not the surroundings, you'll certainly get a better meal than your normal run of the mill Cantonese restaurant.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.