I spent a lot of time on the rare San Luis Obispo County buses. By the time they have finished meandering slowly, I am still hungry but invariably stuffed with a bit more information about this part of the central coast.
Golden Moon Chinese Restaurant rekindled my appetite and curiosity when I spotted it as my bus was driving through Arroyo Grande in late summer. Always on the hunt for good Chinese food in the county, I made elaborate plans with two hungry friends as soon as I got home. Finally, on October 20, we ducked into the restaurant’s cozy booth, ready to eat.
“Do you want to make your garlic chicken even spicier? We put Thai chilies in it,” restaurant manager Joanne Phung asked us.
Extra spicy, please.
We made the right choice. The caramelized garlic tempered the fire of the Thai chili beautifully. The chicken was crispy but in sauce. We were armed with tall glasses of cold Sapporo beer. Perfect balance.
Phung helps his parents, Albert and Kim, run Golden Moon. The family bought the restaurant from its former owners in 1998 when Phung was a toddler.
“My dad was a refugee from the Vietnam War, so he came to the United States when he was 18 and was in Santa Maria when he was 23. He’s been cooking for about 30 years,” a- she declared.
He met Kim during one of his trips to China; they returned together to Santa Maria and eventually moved to Arroyo Grande to take over Golden Moon. Since then, the white and red building has become a familiar favorite for hungry diners across the county, but the establishment’s origins are still a source of mystery.
“I’m not sure what it was like before a restaurant. Customers here and there will tell me about it,” Phung said. “I brought this lady in three or four years ago, she was 70 and she said it was her grandparents’ house.”
The restaurant is welcoming, tidy and warm. Furnished in dark wood and dotted with red lanterns that overlook a small back garden, it has a comforting aura that reminded me of visiting Chinese restaurants for dinner with my family.
“We’ve had clients who have watched me and my siblings grow. A lot of times I’ve had clients who have come in and said, ‘I remember when you were little and doing math homework. at this table,'” Phung said with a laugh. “Well, I’m still doing math homework at this table, but I just grew up.”
Phung is a math student at Cal Poly who balances college classes with preparing food for the restaurant. An average day for her looks like waking up at 8 a.m., attending classes on campus, visiting professors after hours, then heading to the restaurant in the afternoon to relax. prepare for service.
“My parents immigrated here and had no money. It was the American dream, and in a way, they achieved it,” she said. “The whole company represents an easier future.”
Twenty-four years after realizing this dream, the family continues to work hard. They alternate their food preparation responsibilities, with Phung’s father in charge. He chops vegetables, marinates and slices meat, creates batters for fried dishes like their sweet and sour chicken, and makes wonton toppings. Phung and her mother help her while storing ingredients and managing the restaurant’s storefront.
“Sometimes we really run out of something. There are times when we run out of [prepared] green beans, and I frantically peel them by hand. Or, we’re out of broccoli and everyone wants beef and broccoli,” Phung said. “But we always make sure everything is fine.”
Phung’s younger sister, Vanlisa, was also helping out at Golden Moon. She worked there the longest of the three siblings, but moved to Fresno for higher education, which prompted Phung to take on more responsibilities. The two sisters said new times that it is difficult to find quality Chinese restaurants on the central coast because the diversity of cuisine must be restricted.
“The problem with Chinese food is that there are so many different kinds. China has so many different regions, and each region has its own type of food. Here on the central coast, we have to meet to demographics,” Phung said. “If you go to the Bay or LA, you can buy pig intestines or pig ears at restaurants. You can’t serve stuff like that here.”
Phung said the family discussed serving more items that are unfamiliar to SLO County Palaces, but decided against it because it could be risky for their small business.
Golden Moon’s prices are comparatively lower than many Chinese restaurants in the county. We had the house chow mein and grilled pork fried rice for about $12 each, and walnut shrimp for $14.95, among other entrees. But the affordable option comes at a cost. Phung said they were able to keep the prices low because the whole business is run by the three family members and it’s hard to find more employees.
“We need to hire more people, but [we’re] each doing a job for three different people,” she said. “The reality is that if we hired that many people, with the location and the foot traffic we’re getting, we probably wouldn’t be as successful as we are, unfortunately. Nobody wants to do this kind of work because it’s so demanding.”
Still, Golden Moon’s food is worth a look in SLO County. We dreamed of grilled pork fried rice for days later. My friend loved the fried nut pieces in the nut prawns; the bok choy was silky smooth; the sweet and sour chicken was delicious enough to comfort someone like me who lacks the breadth of big city dining options. Phung herself swears by her father’s sweet and sour soup.
“I think my dad makes the best hot and sour soup. I refuse to eat it anywhere else!” she said laughing. Δ
Writer Bulbul Rajagopal has finally found his favorite Chinese restaurant in SLO County. Send cheers to [email protected].