China Room | Santa Rosa

How does a restaurant last two decades? And not just last, but thrive.  What keeps people coming back year after year, Friday night after Friday night, season after season?  What brings in families, couples and seniors in equal number?


It’s not flashy décor or advertising. It’s not a swanky location or hip cocktails. It’s not a celebrity chef or fancy ingredients. It’s so much more ridiculously simple than that.

It’s word-of-mouth.  According to a recent Nielsen  study, 78 percent of respondents said that one of their biggest influencers are other consumers – both positive and negative. In fact, negative comments seem to sway folks even more than positive ones. Don’t I know it.
So when BiteClub wanders into a spot like the 20-year-old China Room, all but hidden in the back of a Rincon Valley mini-mall, during some seriously tough economic times and the place is packed to the hilt, it makes me wonder exactly what they’re doing right.

It’s not the décor or the swanky location or a celebrity chef. It’s the regulars. It’s word of mouth.

Despite a ho-hum interior, the menu is extensive, with standard Chinese-American fare with Sweet & Sour everything, Moo shu, fried rice, walnut prawns, General Tso chicken, orange beef, hot pots as well as more intriguing daily specials featuring with seasonal veggies, curries and seafood.

What China Room gets spot-on are the flavors. Details like Rocky Chicken, seasonal veggies and a handle on the salt and oil make all the difference. Orange beef is studded with bits of orange peel, walnut prawns have crunchy walnuts, fried rice is gently seasoned and comes out more of a tan color than a lacquered brown. This is a good thing. Especially when you’ve got a craving for comfort Chinese.

There’s not mistaking that this ain’t haute Asian fusion cuisine. Clearly the dishes are aimed at American palates. Sweet is the operative word on many sauces.

The service can be a bit off, especially for a large group, when dishes come out one-at-a-time rather than all together.  Portions are generous and prices are reasonable. But it’s food that’s approachable, consistent and good.

Don’t take my word, though. Ask a regular.

China Room, 500 Mission Blvd, Santa Rosa, (707) 539-5570

Author: biteclub

Food Dining and Restaurants in Sonoma County and beyond, BiteClubEats.com is Wine Country dining with Drive-Thru Sensibility.

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23 Comments

  1. Hanh Ah off Steele Lane in the old A&W building. None comes close. Try it. I would never eat at the restaurnats in previous posts because of their different way of cleanliness. Hang Ah. Try it. They are a family from SF. China Room, Kirin, Gary Chu all very dirty kitchens……

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  2. China Room used to be great. Now the quality has gone down. I have been disapointed the last two times. Not the same.

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  3. Royal China on Piner and marlow is the best Chinese food in sonoma county. The flavors are clean and don’t leave that greasy feeling in your mouth or on your lips when your done eating. The service is top-notch and the decor is great with Picasso’s and Van Gogh’s on the walls. The Food is outstanding. Their orange chicken is the best I have ever had. It exceeds my expectations every time!

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  4. Grew up in S.F. where Chinese food is still great. Tried China Room on three separate occasions and was totally disappointed. Kirin was O.K. until they served us spoiled chicken wings (take-out)and refused to do anything about it.
    For us, it is Royal China every time–food is excellent,service great and everything sparkles.

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  5. Moved to Santa Rosa back in 1990 and visited China Room often. Food was better than what I had been enjoying on the East Coast. Then, was introduced to Gary Chu’s and spent years enjoying their food until one night we saw bags of rice left in the hallway to get wet by a flooding toilet in the ladies room. My husband went there a week later as part of a group from work, and he got violently ill. His test results were sent to the state by the lab because of what they found. I will end it there (and he has not been back). We discovered Kirin when we moved to Bennett Valley and have always enjoyed their food and service. They can get very busy on Friday and Saturday nights, so if you are unwilling to wait, have a Plan B. Alex and Thomas are fun and the food very flavorful. Still the best in the area.

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  6. I have been going to China Room for a few years and have always enjoyed every dish served. After reading some of the comments stating that Kirin is as good as or better than China Room. I went there yesterday with two friends. None of us will ever go back. I had the Spicy (?) Orange chicken – bright orange color and lots of peppers but not a hint of orange flavor and the water was spicier. One friend had the Ginger Pork in a word, BLAND! My other friend had the Cherry Pork, a strange and unpleasant taste. Some have mentioned Spring Lake Chinese so I’ll check them out. And by the way the waiter at Kirin’s was not in way shape or form pleasant.

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  7. I have lived in Rincon Valley my whole life and I know good chinese food. ritas sucks, china room was really good back in the day. they are ok now but KIRIN IS THE BEST IN THE AREA. I am one of these people who doesnt mind driving my house from Badger Rd to yulupa to eat this incredible food. all there soups are better, wontons ar way better, egg rolls are way better, no words can describe how good the crispy beef is. KIRIN lacks a bit in the pork department but the ingrediants are way fresher than china room, flavors are better, food hotter, less oil. SERVICE IS SOOOOOOO MUCH FASTER!!! KIRIN pretty much kicks the crap out of China Room in every way except in a few dishes but these dishes KIRIN doesnt even have so nevermind. Dont get me wrong china room has good food, I would never be opposed to going there, I like going there. But KIRIN is way better and cheaper. you would be stupid not pick it over china room. REMEMBER: im not a big fan of the pork at kirin, only had it once never really eat the stuff, need to try it again.

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  8. I’m a regular at China Room and I think it’s great. The service I’ve received is fast. It’s my favorite place for dinner before or after a movie at the Rialto. Yes, there are sweet sauces, but try instead the jade green dumplings filled with shrimp and ginger, they’re perfect in the salty dipping sauce. Ditto for the pine nuts and chicken in a lettuce leaf or the kabocha squash curry. There’s a lot to love about China Room. Where else can two people split a Chinese chicken salad (lots of chicken and pickled ginger) on a hot day and walk out the door filled for about $10?

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  9. Sorry but Kirin “PWNS”…aka it’s the best in the area…Chu’s comes a close second but I’ve NEVER had a bad meal at Kirin

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  10. I, too, have an MSG sensitivity. I, therefore, never believe any chinese rerestaurant that says they don’t use MSG. I only trust my own reaction. Stopped going to China room when they changed hands some time ago. We, also, discovered Spring Lake recently. This place is tops!!

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  11. I have an MSG sensitivity… and I liked the food at China Room just fine until my head started to pound. Maybe it was an off night, but I got an excessive amount of MSG in my dishes.

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  12. I live down from China Room and we have ate there lot’s of time, good food but we now go to Petalum for C.Food, great little place behind Buger King across from Applebee. Small place and great food, cost less to eat then China Room.
    forgot the name of it, next to Subway

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  13. Me and my dad have been having the Kirin/China Room debate for 10+ years now. My parents live right between the two of them, so it was always a fight as to which we’d go to. I love that people recognize good Chinese food and are giving both places some much deserved praise, since the food at both places is great (in my families opinion).

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  14. I agree, Spring Lake Chinese is much better than China Room. I ate there once about two years ago and never went back until about a month ago. Man what a difference. Food is great!!! The service is good and the ownwers are the nicest people you could ask for. They have ownwed it for about a year I think she said, she explained that they cook to original Chinese tastes and it makes a huge difference. If you havent tried it recently give it a shot, you wont be disappointed. Oh and the prices are reasonable and portions generous. I think it is literally a mom and pop business as I have not seen anyone working excetp the owners.

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  15. There is a WAAAY better place just around the corner and down the street… SPRING LAKE CHINESE! Its by les schwab and by the turn for howarth park. It has THE best chinese I have ever had. GO THERE!! And the owners are super super nice.

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  16. Okay this is a gross experience but here goes, loved China Room for 10 years until 6 months ago. Went in with family for our usual “special” dinner. Paid a visit before dinner to the ladies room. Feces all over the faucet(gag x 10). Ok not China Rooms’ fault? I complained to the managers that someone got a little lazy with their azzy and there was poop all over the ladies faucet. Here is the real horror of it all: the manager went into the kitchen to retrieve a dish towel and then proceeded to clean the faucet with same dish towel, then without washings his hands went back into the kitchen with same dish towel and got back behind the take-out counter!!!!!!!! What a gross revelation!!!! I quickly told hubby and kids what had happened. We left faster than you could say “the shit hit the faucet”. I will never go back!!!

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  17. China Room continues to be one of the best, most consistent, affordable restaurants in Sonoma County. Try their Wor Won Ton Soup (hold the pork) and chances are you’ll be hooked too. Or, the Chinese Chicken Salad; Szechuan Won Tons, Pine Nut, Prawns & Chicken Lettuce Roll, Walnut Pineapple Prawns. I could go on-and-on and the dozens of folks I’ve brought there would agree.
    China Room does prawns FABULOUSLY.
    I always request Candy to serve us and she’s GREAT!

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  18. I have been to the China Room. It was not too bad, but Gary Chu’s and Kirin both offer tastier and fresher food at the same prices. The service is better also.

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  19. I used to eat at the China Room, but in the past few years have passed them up in favor of Kirin. China Room’s sweet and sour chicken does not taste like sweet and sour, and I swear they use the same sauce for sweet and sour AND orange chicken…not for me!
    I would much rather drive an extra 20 minutes out of my way to get the deliciousness that is Kirin. If you’ve never been there, try the egg rolls and hot and sour soup – they are my favorite dishes! The staff is always attentive and it’s family-owned, so it’s an added bonus to be able to support a local business.

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  20. I used to eat at the China Room, but in the past few years have passed them up in favor of Kirin. China Room’s sweet and sour chicken does not taste like sweet and sour, and I swear they use the same sauce for sweet and sour AND orange chicken…not for me!
    I would much rather drive an extra 20 minutes out of my way to get the deliciousness that is Kirin. If you’ve never been there, try the egg rolls and hot and sour soup they are my favorite dishes! The staff is always attentive and it’s family-owned, so it’s an added bonus to be able to support a local business.

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  21. Also their hot-sour soup was good too….at least both of these used to be….have lived out of the area for about 4 years, and hope they are still as good as they used to be.

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  22. Try the spicy beef with leeks….it’s wonderful!

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  23. Meh…. it’s okay… I live close by and was a regular for a while but more often than not I found myself driving to Bennett Valley to get Kirin’s Chinese. I think they use better ingredients, and service is better. I’ll drive farther for better. China Room is just okay.

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