On a budget but craving an enormous amount of Chinese food? Tsing Tao, a tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurant on San Pablo Avenue, is your solution. For little more than the average price of a cup of coffee, Tsing Tao will throw at you a homestyle egg drop soup, a spring roll, and a truly gargantuan plate of food. The price? $5.00.
It becomes clear upon walking in how they can pull off such a culinary feat for so cheap: the owners are cutting some corners in terms of cleanliness, and the restaurant is, frankly, a little dirty. There are usually some flies buzzing around above the tables, and the carpet could use a good vacuum. But the restaurant is good where it really counts. The dishes and tables were spotless, and the flavors of the food are on point.
The avalanche of Chinese food that is a meal at Tsing Tao starts from the moment you sit down. The waitress — often too busy to spend more than a few seconds at any table — quickly drops off a cup of their egg drop soup. Rather than just egg and broth, Tsing Tao’s soup is a little closer to a chicken noodle soup in flavor and substance. Small chunks of chicken are floating through the soup, and a slightly bitter lettuce gives it a good bite and saves the dish from being too savory.
The soup is delicious, but make sure to not get full on it. The main course is enough for at least two people, and you’re going to want to eat it. The Szechuan prawns was my choice from their expansive lunch menu. Paired with the egg fried rice and the spring roll, I thought that they must have given me the wrong dish — there was no way something this large could be for just one person.
But as I dove into the mound of prawns, hot peppers, and vegetables, I was glad to have it all for myself. The Szechuan sauce was sweet with hints of garlic, and the full peppers scattered throughout the dish ensured it was a hot one. The prawns were tender and well cooked with a crispy outside.
While not much is known about the chefs and owners who mastermind the food of Tsing Tao (requests for comments were met with suspicion and eventually a hung up phone call), the waitstaff is remarkably friendly for such a busy restaurant. During lunch hours the phone rang for half an hour straight with take out orders. All the while, my waitress was polite and extremely efficient. She quickly turned from giving my my meal, to getting another customer his check, to pulling out a baby’s high chair from the back.
This swiftness is at the center of Tsing Tao’s operations. Less than five minutes will typically pass from the time you put in your order to the moment a full plate of food is laid out before you. It’s clear that the food is freshly made — they’re just really quick about it. Tsing Tao is one of the fastest, least expensive, and most flavorful meals in Richmond. The best part? After a meal at Tsing Tao, you won’t find yourself hungry for more in half an hour.
12372 San Pablo Ave, Richmond
Tel. (510) 215-1283
Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday: 11 am to 9:30 pm
Friday and Saturday: 11 am to 10 pm
View their Yelp page here.