Golden Gate Chinese Restaurant (Mesa, AZ)

We’ve talked more than a little about “Pizza Cognition Theory” here at Offbeat Eats: the theory that the first pizza you are exposed to sets your expectations and preferences for pizza, and it’s something I definitely believe in. But it also applies to other cuisines, in particular, Americanized Chinese food. As I discussed a fair bit in some other reviews, like Rhode Island’s House of Wu, Chinese food’s more than a century-long experience in America morphed it into it’s own sort of cuisine; it’s definitely not “authentic” Chinese anymore, but it’s got it’s own particular culinary multicultural heritage, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it in its own right. And when it comes to Chinese-American cuisine, Cognitition Theory comes into play here as well, since the general flavor and textural profiles I expect if I’m going out for generic “Chinese” food is mostly sculpted by the spot where I got most of my Chinese food as a child, Golden Gate Chinese Restaurant in Mesa, AZ.

I’m not really sure when Golden Gate Chinese Restaurant opened, but the neighborhood it sits in, Mesa’s four-square mile Dobson Ranch subdivision, dates from the late 1970s, so I strongly suspect that Golden Gate opened at the time, and walking in the door, the ambiance in Golden Gate remains “1970s Chinese Restaurant”: several rows of cozy booths with white tablecloths, woodwork shaped in a faux bamboo appearance, hanging plants, seats with red silk-like nylon cushions, and lots of red Chinese tassels. And a few larger dining tables with centralized lazy Susan spinners for sharing larger meals. Aside from a few equipment upgrades like flat-screen TV’s, and that the surrounding strip mall is a little more barren (many nearby buildings razed when Price Road was widened to become the 101 Freeway in the 90s), the interior of Golden Gate is almost exactly the same as my youth.

Indeed, as far as I can tell, the menu remains completely unchanged aside from prices. Indeed, when I was a kid, much of our ordering at Golden Gate was fairly formulaic: orders of wonton soup and egg rolls for everyone, a family order of Moo Shoo Pork (assembled tableside by the staff), and almost always the Golden Gate Special Beef and Orange Chicken. My tastes as I age distinctly have me craving less sweet dishes, so I actually eschewed the Orange Chicken, but I couldn’t resist revisiting the Golden Gate Special Beef, while Carol opted for a dish I’d had a few times but not in recent decades, the Yu Shang Pork.

The Golden Gate Special Beef is, admittedly, solidly in the Chinese-American tradition of “deep fry it and serve it with a sweet sauce: twice-fried battered beef in a spicy sauce with walnuts. It’s actually quite good: the beef itself is both tender and lightly crisped inside, with the second frying with batter adding a nice, crispy outer breading that soaks up the sauce nicely. The sauce is a fairly robust one that’s actually a bit more salty and peppery than sweet; overall, this reminds me a lot of some of my other favorite Chinese-American dishes like Shuang Cheng’sBeef with Dried Orange Peel. But the real star here is the whole walnuts, which add both a nice bitterness and a nice texture. This is definitely still the enjoyable dish that I remember.

Carol’s dish was the Yu Shang Pork: hot and spicy pork with carrots, bamboo, broccoli, mushrooms, and onions. This is vaguely an Americanized version of a Sichuan classic (“Yu Shang” is more usually transliterated as Yuxiang, and while meaning “fish fragrance”, it’s a traditional Sichuan sauce of soy, fermented beans, and peppers), and while this version lacks the pungent peppery punch, it was still quite flavorful and enjoyable: a nicely tender and slightly crisped pork with a medley of nicely al-dente mixed vegetables in a lighter sauce.

Have my tastes changed? Oh, definitely, and I have a much greater appreciation for spice, Asian flavors, and the various unique cuisines of China, ones that I think modern, more-adventurous American palates are much more likely to accept, and I wish we saw more of them. But is Golden Gate still delicious? Yes, it’s still enjoyable, and still serving up some tasty Chinese-American cuisine with a menu and restaurant virtually unchanged from my childhood.

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