The ML Strip Mall Chinese Food Challenge Begins at Patty’s Express

I have a confession to make.  I love steam table “Chinese” food.  You know the places I’m talking about, right?  You walk in, point to two or three things plus rice and/or noodles, pay around $5, and walk out with a delicious meal that leaves you with nothing but regrets a few hours later.  I can’t help it.  I love dim sum.  I love Sichuan peppercorns.  I wish I lived in the San Gabriel Valley.  But I also love Panda Express, and will defend their orange chicken and lo mein as benchmarks of their genre until the day I die (possibly from eating General Tso’s chicke too much…  it did send me to the hospital in college.)

That being said, Panda Express isn’t really a Midtown Lunch.  Sure, if one opened in Midtown Manhattan it would be huge news… but here, they’re on every corner.  In every outdoor mall. In every food court.  And this site is about finding the off the beaten path places.  The lunch spots that your boring non Midtown Lunch’er co-workers would turn their noses up at (as they order another turkey $5 footlong.)  So when a friend of mine and I walked by the never been reviewed on Yelp (we’re talking off the off the beaten path here!) Patty’s Chinese Express Downtown the other day, after discovering that Uncle John’s Ham & Eggs had closed, and he said “why don’t we try this place out?”, I couldn’t resist taking it as a personal challenge.

Patty’s is pretty typical for its genre.  2 items plus rice *and* noodles (a nice bonus) for under $5.  Some things looked ok, some looked terrible.  But not terrible enough to discourage us…

You can tell a lot about a Chinese food steam table just from looking at it, but occasionally there are surprises that are not comprehensible to the naked eye.  Like the noodles at Patty’s.  Yup, those orange things mixed with the cabbage aren’t carrots.  Those are noodles, and surprisingly they were better than average (but by no means good.) The rice was flavorless, as it tends to be at these places. The “general tso’s chicken” was mostly breading (not necessarily a terrible thing if the breading is crispy) and some bites were better than others- but it was largely forgettable.  The better of the two by far was the fried chicken… because quite frankly, how can screw up MSG laden fried chicken.

Was it good?  Of course not.  Would I go back?  Probably not.  But it does not deter me in my quest to find a Midtown Lunch’ish alternative to Panda Express.  There are cheap burger places that are better than McDonald’s.  There are cheap burrito places better than Baja Fresh.  So by that rationale, there must be a decent Chinese steam table between Downtown and Santa Monica.  Lord knows there are enough of them.

So here’s the deal.  Is there one of these cheap Chinese food places near your work that you’ve always wanted to try but never had the guts? I will take the bullet for you.  No challenge will be turned down, provided that they have a steam table and it’s under $10. Even if you know it’s probably terrible, and just want to see me suffer, I will do it. You know… for the sake of science. Of course if you have tried it place, and already know it’s good, I will gladly take that challenge as well (naturally!) but I’ll take the scary ones too.  In other words, I’m volunteering to try every single solitary cheap Chinese food steam table between Downtown and Santa Monica… or at least die trying. Email me at or post them in the comments.

Patty’s Chinese Express, 800 s. Main St., (213) 622-8016


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