I'm gleeful to report that excellent Cantonese-style Chinese food can be found in Santa Cruz...yes, Santa Cruz! Those who live here understand the magnitude of this statement, and I do not offer it here lightly. I wouldn't tease you like that.
In three dinner visits within the past month and a half, I have concluded that Shun Feng (located in the Gateway Plaza on River St. near Cost Plus) is the best Chinese restaurant in the area. Ok, I've not eaten at every Chinese establishment in the area, but it is superior than King Chwan, O'mei, Panda Inn, Mei Garden, and others that have been expunged from memory. Given that Shun Feng specializes in Cantonese cuisine, other places such as King Chwan may offer better Sichuan fare. I'm not sure since I haven't tried anything Sichuan-influenced from Shun Feng, and I don't recall seeing too many Sichuan type dishes on their menu but my Chinese cuisine knowledge is relatively weak. I do know what tastes good though.
Dinner Summary from three visits with husband...
First visit: eggplant in XO sauce, duck and taro in claypot, sweet & sour pork spare ribs
Second visit: chicken & corn soup, beef chow fun (dry style), gai lan w/ garlic
Third visit: blue crab w/ ginger & scallions, HK-style chow mein, pea sprouts w/ fish balls
My absolute favorite dishes were the eggplant in XO, beef chow fun, HK chow mein, and pea sprouts w/ fish balls. Everything else except for the duck and taro claypot were still very good. The chef-owner has finesse w/ his light yet flavorful and balanced sauces and appears to know his way around a knife and wok. Everything is sliced expertly and cooked to perfection.
This is probably the least oily and heavy Chinese food I've encountered at any Chinese restaurant, and the freshness of ingredients leaps out. The pleasantly fluffy fish balls are made in-house and the live blue crab and many other ingredients are sourced from over the hill. The vegetables were all supremely fresh. Everything about the food from sourcing to presentation demonstrates high standards and pride.
I could eat here a few times a week, and w/ their convenient location and reasonable prices (our bill before tip has been around $25-28) this will be my go-to place for a satisfying, no-fuss dinner after a long day at work. The ambiance is unremarkable but comfy and clean. The service is a little bumbling but well-intentioned. The food has always come out hot and relatively quickly, but we've only been for a late dinner when there's been a max of two others dining.
Shun Feng is open late for this area (until 9 or 10pm) and also offers lunch service. Take-out is available, but I highly recommend eating in since this kind of food begs to be eaten right out of the kitchen. There are many vegetarian options and Chinese standards. The friendly and hospitable wife who works the front of the house when she's around said that lunch business is good while dinner traffic is slower. The couple owns another place in Felton (Shun Feng Mountain City) that has done good business but according to the article linked below, they are offering more traditional Chinese dishes in Santa Cruz. The wife told us that her husband mainly cooks in Santa Cruz but makes all the sauces and important elements for both places.
I'm really invested in this restaurant thriving, so I hope that hounds will go soon and then spread the word if you feel the same. I've already sent a few people who all returned w/ a big thumbs up. I'm interested in what you think, so please report back to this thread. I hope to add some photos from future visits.
SC Sentinel article:
Shun Feng Restaurant
420 River St Ste A, Santa Cruz, CA 95060