The Guilty Pleasure: Combination plate, preferably with a Jade Red Chicken Quesadilla Where to Get It: Chino Bandido Takee-Outee Price: About $8 What It Really Costs: Calories at least in 4 digits. If you have to ask...
Since I've started to write about guilty pleasures, there has been one request, again and again: Chino Bandido Takee-Outee. They're nothing short of a local lowbrow legend. To say that Chino Bandido is no-frills is a bit of an understatement. You order at the counter by filling out a form almost as complex as your taxes. Tables are mostly the collapsible banquet kind. Your food comes to you in a foil to-go plate. But, it's near the top of my list to recommend to friends visiting from out of town. Why would I send everyone I know to this outright dive?
It's all about the food, my friends.
In all my eating here and afar, I have yet to find a restaurant with a menu as off-the-wall as Chino Bandido. Fusion restaurants are a dime a dozen, but usually the emphasis is on creating a seamless combination featuring the best of multiple regions. At Chino Bandido, the combinations are more of a stark juxtaposition. The menu features a mix of Americanized Chinese and gringo Mexican, with a dash of Caribbean tossed in for good measure. About the only thing all three cultures have in common is that rice is a common starchy side. So, it stands to figure that you can order any of the 14 entrée selections served over a bowl of rice.
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The real fun begins when you order a combination plate. You get any two entrées, plus your choice of rice and beans. This sounds pretty ordinary, except for two things: First, you can get any entrée wrapped into a burrito or folded into a quesadilla. Second, those entrées include the most popular selection, Jade Red Chicken. The Jade Red is a little tricky to pin down; I describe it as somewhere between Sweet & Sour and General Tso's. For some reason, the sweet/tangy/spicy Jade Red works its magic best as a quesadilla. Much like peanut butter and bacon, it's a pairing that makes you wonder if someone was out of their mind when they put it together... until you try it. Then, you wonder why nobody else does anything like this. Another dish of note is their chile relleno. It's a far cry from the light, fluffy egg batter found on a true relleno. At Chino's, they bread the sucker in crushed saltine crackers. Quite a few friends have told me that the relleno also rocks in a quesadilla, but I haven't been able to bring myself to order a cheese bomb like that.
Of course, no discussion about Chino's is complete without a mention of the pièce de résistance, the cookies. They always have snickerdoodles available, and they're some damned fine snickerdoodles. I'll put 'em up against any dedicated bakery any day. If you happen to be there on a weekend, you also have the option to sample a second cookie variety. Half the time, it's the Volcano cookie, a gooey chocolate cookie. The other weekends, the other cookie is up to fate. Snag those Volcano cookies if you can; they're often mentioned in hushed, reverent tones.
There's one thing that drives me bonkers about writing this column. Cravings for Chino Bandido are fierce, to say the least. I'm almost salivating thinking about it, and I just went there.