PICTURED: Chicken pot stickers from Sesame Garden. Photo by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Sesame Garden Chinese Cuisine
1775 E. Daily Drive, Unit G, Camarillo
805-383-8018
camarillosesamegarden.com
$3-$17

Good Chinese food can be hard to come by. Too many places aim for efficiency over quality, with quickly prepared, overcooked cuisine that manages — despite ample grease and excessive amounts of sauce — to lack something in the flavor department.

When I found myself in Camarillo Plaza on a weekday afternoon looking for a bite, Sesame Garden was, admittedly, not my first choice. But it was close to 3 p.m., a time when many restaurants enjoy a post-lunch/pre-dinner siesta — and this humble-looking Chinese food joint was open. After a peek at Yelp (and its four-star rating), I decided it was worth a shot.

Hot and sour soup, with fried wontons in the background, from Sesame Garden. Photo by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

The digs are nothing to write home about. Sesame Garden is clean, but basic, with tables and booths in 50 shades of beige. The service is very efficient — not rude, mind you, but there’s no wasting time on pleasantries here. My skepticism started to abate when a plate of fresh, hot, perfectly crispy fried wonton wrapper strips were set before me, with a bowl of sweet and sour sauce for dipping. Quite tasty they were, and it was nice to have a little something to nibble while looking over the menu.

Which is enormous. The laminated fold-out had six different panels filled top to bottom with everything from soft and crispy noodles to meat dishes, seafood, vegetables and house specialties . . . plus an entire side devoted just to lunch specials. It’s pretty comprehensive, so if you have dietary concerns or crave a particular dish, you’re probably going to find something — or many somethings — to eat here.

I had just enough time to take advantage of the lunch offerings (which ended at 3 p.m.), so I perused as quickly as I could, settling on the orange chicken. I also ordered a serving of pot stickers . . . simply because they sounded good.

Lunch specials include soup and rice, and the hot and sour soup came up first. It was lovely, filled with tofu, tender-crisp carrots, bamboo shoots and other vegetables. This version was quite tasty, with a nice sour tang . . . although I think a little more spice would have been an improvement.

Sesame Garden’s lunch special with orange chicken, fried rice and salad garnish; pot stickers in the background. Photo by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

The pot stickers were served shortly thereafter, and were definitely a highlight of the meal. The eight perfectly formed pillows were a beautiful golden brown on exactly one side, ivory everywhere else. . . very, very tempting. They tasted as good as they looked: tender and moist but not even a little greasy, with their ground chicken centers delicately perfumed with ginger and onion. I knew I couldn’t eat everything, but I didn’t regret ordering them. (Neither did my 13-year-old son, who practically inhaled them the moment I came home with the to-go container.)

Lunch specials run $8-$10, and you definitely get your money’s worth. In addition to the soup, I was served a large platter with a generous helping of succulent orange chicken, delicate fried rice and a shredded carrot/cabbage salad lightly dressed in rice vinegar. The crisp salad was a great complement to the battered, fried chicken hunks, which came liberally glazed in a rich orange sauce. The chicken was wonderfully crispy and piping hot — straight from the wok, probably — and its sweet, tangy sauce was flavorful but oily. Delicious, yes, but heavy — and again, I craved more spice.

When all was said and done, I had a very satisfying meal that, for the most part, met my standards for Chinese cuisine. Everything was fresh and hot, with a homemade touch. I definitely intend to return for some noodles, and perhaps a few lighter vegetable-based dishes. The restaurant does a lot of take-out and delivery business (no wonder everyone is so efficient!) so perhaps that opportunity will arrive soon.

Sesame Garden was not what I expected when I wandered in, but it did remind me that some surprises can be delightful indeed.