Edward: Every neighborhood has that one cursed location, where seemingly every few months a new restaurant opens and briefly flowers, only to be found, weeks later, doors locked and emptied out, usually without warning and sometimes with a terse explanatory note taped to the door. A location that, because of some mysterious ill-starred confluence of deadly factors, becomes known to locals as the place where dreams of prosperity come to die.
Case in point: the building at 10131 Coors Boulevard, next door to the Teriyaki Chicken Bowl in the Alameda West shopping center (the one with the Jo-Ann’s, Marshall’s, Albertson’s), that has been a steadily revolving door for hopeful restaurateurs over the past few years. When I started working in the area, I dimly recall it being a mariscos restaurant, that very shortly went out of business.
After that came the late, lamented Hakata Asian Cuisine, a great idea (pan-Asian specializing in charcoal-grilled yakitori) torpedoed by a combination of iffy location, uneven execution, and prices that kept at least this lunchtime diner from frequenting the place. Hakata had some shortcomings, but it was one of very few quality Asian restaurants in that area, so when it abruptly vacated last spring, I wept bitterly, albeit only figuratively.
I’m not sure when it happened, but one afternoon a few weeks ago I was headed into Albertson’s when I espied a change in signage at the erstwhile Hakata buiding. Naturally, I suspended my grocery plans and hustled over to see what was up. “Chinese Gourmet Express,” eh? The building was empty, but I resolved to keep an eye out for developments.
So, today I drove past the place, and found it festooned with streamers and balloons. A good sign vis-à-vis openage! I decided to check it out.
I had no idea what to expect, but the sign did suggest that it would be more towards the Panda Express end of the Chinese food spectrum than the Budai. Inside: immaculate, well-lit. Hakata’s dark wooden bar and pub atmosphere was replaced by a steam table counter manned by a cheerful Chinese lady. I studied their to-go menu — apparently the only kind available — and saw that they offer made-to-order Chinese dishes in addition to the fast food counter.
Being in a hurry, I decided to try the fast food, figuring I’d get a sense of their baseline before sampling the regular menu (I would have just ordered the Mongolian Beef, natch). The one-item combo is $3.95 and comes with fried rice and chow mein. There’s also a two-item combo for $5.25, with additional items a dollar each. I got the two-item combo, with Orange Chicken and BBQ Pork, mixed fried rice and noodles. A side of egg rolls set me back a couple more dollars.
There’s a scene near the end of Boogie Nights, after the shot-on-film 70s flicks with artistic pretentions have been replaced by cheapo video, where the porn cinematographer played by Ricky Jay is editing a scene shot on VHS. Ricky looks up from the crappy footage on the video screen and mutters, with dead-eyed resignation, “It is what it is.”
What can I say. Chinese steam table fast food: it is what it is. Which isn’t in any way a knock on Golden Star in particular. For what it is, it actually is not bad. The entrees, which are your standard fare, including Sweet & Sour Chicken, Kung Pao, Pepper Beef, etc., all looked fresh, and are put out in small batches so it’s replenished more often.
As for the two entrees I chose, the Orange Chicken was a good rendition of fast food Orange Chicken — yes, the sauce was candy-sweet, but it still had a good crunch to it and wasn’t over- or under-cooked. The BBQ Pork was above average for what you normally get, surprisingly not all that sweet, with some nice char on the outside.
The egg rolls were OK, chewy and a little tough, but with a good filling and overall not bad. The pinkish sauce was your standard sweet & sour. The fried rice and noodles were not good, but no worse than what you usually get with a Chinese lunch combo. Definitely not your first-string rice and noodles, but not the worst examples of the form, by far.
I’m not going to lie, the lunch counter examples of the food here is not great Chinese food, which I think even the owners would admit. On the other hand, it’s not meant to be great Chinese food, merely decent fast food quality Chinese at a decent price. By that standard, I think Golden Star does well. It’s a chain, but a regional chain and perfectly acceptable if you’re not looking for gourmet quality (despite what it says on the sign). Can recommend (as qualified above), will return for the regular menu.
I wouldn’t want to bet on the survival probability of Golden Star in this difficult location, but I wish them luck (they’ll need it). Aside from Chin Shan, a fair ways down Coors from here, I don’t know of any other Chinese restaurant in this neighborhood that’s really worth the miles or the money. (Of the two nearby places I’m thinking of, one is way overpriced for what you get, and the other is sub-edible and should be closed down by the health department — permanently, I mean, and not just occasionally.) If you’re looking for a fast, inexpensive Chinese lunch that offers fresh, decent food, skip Panda Express and hit up Golden Star.
Oh, and here’s their to-go menu:
GOLDEN STAR CHINESE FAST FOOD
10131 Coors Blvd NW, Albuquerque, NM 87114
Sunday – Saturday 11:00am – 9:00pm