Chester’s Asia
Chinese Restaurant
2216 Pickwick Drive
$7.50 – $27.95

I Yelp. Do you Yelp? Or maybe you’re more of a Google or Urban Spoon kind of person. Whatever your fancy, there is a wealth of info out there in cyberspace dedicated to helping us choose where to eat and what to eat. Thanks to the Internet, BlackBerries and iPads, gone are the days of choosing a restaurant at random.

I recently turned to Yelp when I got a hankering for Chinese food. Do I go to the place that has four-star ratings but only a few reviews, or the place with a three-star rating but countless positive reviews and accolades from the local newspaper? I decided to take a bit of a gamble and go for the latter.

So that’s how we ended up at Chester’s Asia in Camarillo. I was drawn to Chester’s not just because of the reviews, but also for its history (it has been there since 1963), and because it sounded like one of those intriguing restaurants hidden behind a grubby strip mall facade.

To call the facade humble would be an understatement. From the outside, you might think Chester’s a takeout place, with a few sterile tables and few customers lingering inside. Instead, what you’ll find once you step inside is an elegant, ornately decorated dining room that screams more Europe than Asia. Gold-framed artwork, columns and the occasional ceiling frieze of a chubby winged cherub may surprise you. But it’s all part of the Chester’s experience.

Upon being seated, we were greeted with hot tea and crispy chow mein noodles to temper our hunger while we studied the menu. And what a menu it is — full of Mandarin, Cantonese and Szechuan options. We were intrigued by the barbecue pork fried rice, an interesting selection of casseroles (like chicken basil leaf casserole) and the Explorer Dinner (which includes wine, appetizers, a selection of entrees and a special dessert, all for $21).

We started our meal with the hot and sour soup, which fills a large porcelain bowl and is plenty for four people to share. The soup is jammed with ingredients — large pieces of chicken, soft strips of bean curd and slivers of crispy bamboo shoots in a thick brown broth. While hot and sour soup can sometimes be spicy, this version was not, making it ideal for those who shy away from heat.

With an inability to pass up good chicken wings, we had to give Chester’s wings a try. They arrived at the table glistening in a dark-brown garlic sauce. Crispy, sticky and tangy — they were a joy to eat, and once again, not too spicy.

Wanting to experience the best of what Chester’s had to offer, we selected our three entrees from the list of Chef’s specials: the Asia crispy beef, shrimp with walnuts and the Asia chicken with black pepper sauce. The crispy beef consists of pieces of deep-fried beef — both large and small — tossed in a sweet, red-hued sauce. Though we did enjoy the beef paired with the white rice, it left me wanting more oomph — either more crunch or more spice, or a bit of both.

In contrast, the shrimp with walnuts was full of personality. Simply put, it tasted like dessert. Lightly battered and fried, the shrimp come tossed with a creamy sauce that hints of pineapple and accompanied by honey-roasted walnuts. While I found the shrimp to be overly sweet, the rest of my group had to resist the urge to gobble them all up.

The other dish we sampled was the Asia chicken with black pepper sauce — one of the items mentioned in many of the Yelp reviews. Little pieces of thinly sliced chicken are cooked until golden brown, flecked with black pepper, and surrounded by a ring of vibrant, green broccoli florets. The chicken was savory and tender and, by far, our favorite dish of the evening.

To quench our thirst, we enjoyed glasses of red wine and a few Tsing tao beers. Chester’s also offers a selection of cocktails and domestic beers.

While the service at Chester’s isn’t fast, it has all the bells and whistles worthy of an excellent tip. Our server was friendly and jovial, helping us with our order, up-selling us on a second round of drinks, and attentive, making eye contact with every interaction. Chester himself wanders the restaurant, checking in on customers with a warm hello — another key component of the Chester’s experience. The service alone is enough to draw me back again, which I’ll be sure to mention when I take out my BlackBerry to Yelp about my experience.

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