Golden Chicken Inn
701 S. Oxnard Blvd.,
Let’s talk a bit about cravings. I’m not talking about a hankering for a piece of chocolate or a longing for a taste of something salty. I’m talking about a gut-level, drop-you-on-your-knees need for a certain food that won’t go away. A craving that only gets stronger until you throw your diet out the window and throw your hands up in the air, and simply give in.
I had such a craving this week. (Actually, I have them often, but that’s another story.) This week it was for Chinese food, and since I’m always in search of a new favorite, I wanted to try somewhere new, somewhere off the beaten path. So after a little poking and digging, I came across the Golden Chicken Inn in Oxnard. Anything but new, it has been around since 1929 — the kind of place with a solid local following and a long history of feeding hungry people like me.
As we entered the front door and climbed the steps to the restaurant (it sits on the second floor), it was clear: this restaurant was unlike any other that I’ve been to in Ventura County. With its wood paneling, shiny tiled floors and laminate tables, stepping into the Golden Chicken is like stepping into another era. Guests can choose to sit in the main dining room or in one of the private dining cubicles separated with wood-paneled walls. Despite its no-frills style, something about the atmosphere is ultracomforting, like stepping into the familiar banquet room of my grandmother’s church in small-town Virginia. But we weren’t here for a funeral or a pancake supper; we were here to eat Chinese food. And that we did.
We started our meal with the egg flower soup and an order of egg rolls. The soup is simple and light as air, a clear broth punctuated only by strands of egg and dots of green onion. Though the soup is mild and unassuming, I can already foresee a craving for the comforting broth in the near future. The egg rolls, which come two to an order, are larger than your standard egg roll and arrive sliced, ready to be eaten by hand. Filled with divine pieces of pork and cabbage, they are served with a raspberry-colored sweet and sour sauce for dipping.
For entrees, we chose the beef chow mein, the kung pao chicken and pork egg foo yung. The chow mein is straightforward and simple. With pan-fried noodles, plenty of bean sprouts, tender pieces of thinly sliced beef, and a subtle sauce with hints of soy, it, too, has an air of comfort to it. The kung pao chicken is filled with small chunks of chicken, crisp pieces of water chestnut, vibrant red chilies and salty peanuts, all tied together with a not-too-spicy sauce, making for a winning combination. This was the standout of our meal, so much so that I wished we had ordered more, just to ensure some leftovers the next day.
The pork egg foo yung consists of three savory pancakes made with diced pork, egg and the interesting addition of rice. The dense cakes are browned like your favorite diner pancake and topped with dark gravy, akin to the silky sauce you might find spilling over a pile of mashed potatoes in the South. This stick-to-your-ribs dish offers yet another opportunity to feel the love of comfort food.
Prices at the Golden Chicken Inn are beyond reasonable, with the soups starting at $1 and the entrees capping out at $10. We enjoyed a hefty dinner for four with plenty of leftovers for $38.
As for looks, the Golden Chicken Inn is not pretty, or shiny, or new. It’s not winning any accolades or getting loads of press. But what it is, is the kind of place that could easily become your neighborhood restaurant. It’s the kind of place where many of the servers have been there forever, where the ever memorable busboy (who’s actually a grown man) will banter with your children as he sweeps your leftovers into a box with true finesse. It’s the kind of place where you can be yourself — order a bowl of soup or a giant feast, stay as long as you like. It’s the kind of place that is doing something right and has been for more than 80 years.