Hollister, California is one of my favorite small towns. With a population of just over 37,000, it maintains the character of a place you seem to know from 1950s TV shows, where you could imagine “Leave It to Beaver” taking place. But Hollister is very real, and this is a much more diverse place, with a number of ethnicities represented. It is in California, close to both Monterey and Carmel, and the Bay Area, after all.
I was in Hollister the other day, picking up a marriage license. (They are available in the same offices that serve the Hall of Records, Business Licenses, and the Registrar of Voters–one stop shopping!) My fiance and I stopped by the A&W Root Beer because …well, we hadn’t had one of their root beer floats in a very long time. And the A&W is a throwback to an earlier era. Car hops no longer serve the patrons, but you park in the angled slots under the roof, all the same. You just have to order at the window and take it back to your car, yourself. And the Papa Burgers and root beer floats are still terrific.
Two days and one marriage later (down the road in San Juan Bautista), we were back in town, and looking for lunch. After debating over a few of our other favorite restaurants, we glimpsed Cheung Sheng on a back street. Their large metal dragon sign intrigued us, and their promise of Szechwan and Hunan cuisine lured us even more.
We entered to find the owners busily making foil-wrapped chicken packets at one of the booths. Reviews proclaimed that Cheung Sheng had “the best Chinese food in San Benito County.” Admittedly, that’s not a huge market, but good Chinese food is still a great thing to find. And we were soon to find that they really delivered, even with the limited number of dishes we ordered. My fiance asked if they made their own pot stickers, and was assured that they did. Accordingly, we ordered the pot stickers, plus Orange Peel Beef (a personal favorite, on which I judge many Chinese restaurants), and the Shanghai Chow Mein (with shrimp, beef, chicken, and pork).
The pot stickers arrived in no time, and were hearty without being doughy, with a redolence of ginger. Many potstickers fall apart when you eat them, but these hung together remarkably, making them easy to dip into the small bowl of vinegar. The chow mein was perfect, heavy on meaty goodies, flavorful, and light on oil. I’ve had too many plates of greasy chow mein, and this was perfect. And as for the Orange Peel Beef, it was some of the best I’ve had, crispy under a thick sweet/spicy sauce that coated it perfectly. My major regret was we didn’t really have room for a big lunch, so we could try more items, so it left more to try next time.
Chatting with Ellen, the owner, I found out that Chueng Sheng has been around for 24 years, and was run by her parents. They retired and she took over about four years ago. They still have the same chefs, and the same delicious food that made their reputation, and promise they never use MSG. The restaurant itself is pleasant and airy, with old-school traditional decor of Chinese lanterns, a glass panel of fish buy the door, an aquarium, and traditional art. I could see coming back again and again. After all, I really need more dishes to make sure they qualify for their “rated four star” claim!
My only regret is that checking out all this great Chinese food could preempt some of the other fine restaurants I enjoy as well. I guess I’ll have to suffer!
So if you’re around the Monterey area, and want to go see the historic Mission in San Juan Bautista, travel up the road to smalltown America for some great Chinese food, keep Hollister in mind!
Szechwan & Hunan Gourmet
201 Sixth Street
Hollister, CA 95023
203 South St
Hollister, CA 95023