China Express is the stereotypical neighborhood Chinese restaurant — except that the food is better than what you might be used to elsewhere. With only about 10 or so tables and a bustling takeout business, the phone rings constantly as those rectangular bags with the stapled tops go flyin' outta there. China Express is located in Bethany Beach in the Seaside Village strip center on the west side of Rt. 1 just south of Sea Colony (they share the center with the Verizon store, Subway and the Dollar General).
“Z” is the value-added at this tiny installation. He is part of the family that owns the place. He mans the front counter and pitches-in bussing and running orders. He's very friendly and actually quite funny. Add that to the cute tchotchkes he's got strategically displayed on the counter (there's always at least one little airplane or flying pig circling overhead), and China Express changes from “just a carryout” to an enjoyable Bethany Beach experience.
The menu is predictable (that's not a bad thing for an eatery where you carry your food home in a bag). The eggrolls have always been fresh and crispy (they don't sit on a steam table or under one of those infrared “Denny's” lights). I also really like the Fried Wontons. They are the best I've ever had. (I get them without the — cheese…yup, you heard me. Cheese! Really, “Z,” what were you thinking?) Don't miss the crackley fried dumplings with the savory pork filling, either. The usual lineup of soups is there, including Egg Drop, Wonton and Hot & Sour. I've had them all and they're delectible.
The Seafood Combination entree is their best-kept secret. For a paltry $14 or so, you get a surprising amount of lobster, shrimp and scallops combined with the standard Chinese veggy mix and a silky sauce. My favorite dining companion loves the Happy Family (pork, chicken, beef, shrimp and scallops all together with crispy veggies). That same companion also can't get past the General Tso's Chicken (indeed, bubula, who can?). It's spicy and freshly sauteed, moist and delicious. I've been witness to the happy consumption of the various Sweet and Sour dishes and the Szechuan preparations with just about any protein you can find in there. The eggy Pork Fried Rice makes for a nice little nosh “for the table.”
One of my favorites is the Kung Pao Chicken. Again…you see a little Chinese place in a strip center and you expect that the food's been on a steam table for 9 hours. No, not so at China Express. “Z” gives you your choice of veggies and type of chicken. In other words, it all gets thrown in the wok the minute you order it. Regular readers know that there is a similar restaurant in Rehoboth Beach that does the same thing. But it's a sit-down place with alcohol and all the bells and whistles. And it's in Rehoboth. And “Z's” in Bethany.
I evaluate restaurants within the context of price and what they do best. Is this $25-a-plate fine dining? Of course not. But I have to tell you that the food is up there with some of the best I've had when it comes to neighborhood Chinese fare. So if you're motoring anywhere north of Ocean City, MD, but south of Rehoboth Beach, and you're in the mood for a down-home Chinese dinner with freshly cooked food (either eat-in or carryout), then this is the place.
China Express' menu link courtesy BethanyRestaurants.com. When the site opens, just click the menu images to see them.
China Express has different hours on- and off-season, so call first (302) 537-9956. (L., D.). Price range: Inexpensive -.