Frugal feasts - Page 5

Our resident budget gourmet picks the best of the Bay's thrifty dishes
Penny of Penny's Carribean Cafe
Photo by Charles Russo

We're eating at one of the scariest- and sorriest-looking Chinese dives in one of the bluest-collarest parts of a pretty dumb-ass town: China Light Restaurant, where warehouse workers and truck mechanics break for lunch.

I was pretty much zombied into this place, initially, against even my better judgment, by the irresistible allure of a dish called oil-dripped chicken. It was the most appetizing sounding of seven $4.35 lunch specials.

Five, six, seven visits later, and I still haven't tasted this sure-to-be-spectacular specialty. I was permanently derailed by a sheet of plain white paper under the glass on the table casually mentioning, among other things (but don't ask me what else), duck noodle soup ($6.15).

I looked up from those three simple promises with tears of hunger forming in the corners of my eyes and a drop of drool on my lip. I remember there was an old guy wearing rubber boots slowly sloshing from the kitchen, across the dining room, to the parking lot in a manner I would describe, retrospeculatively, as plumberesque.

Don't fret! Get back in the car! Get back in the car! I have saved the best for last, I promise.

Now, I know there is no shortage of duck noodle soup right here in the city. If anyone wanted me to, I would very, very (very, very, very) happily do another one of those detailed investigative reports on just duck soup. A lot of Thai restaurants and noodle houses have it, and it almost always floors me. In a good way.

In the best possible way.

I just love duck noodle soup, and right now my favorite favorite example of it is an hour away. It's Chinese, not Thai. It's like a whole half of a roasted duck, bones and skin and all, chopped up on a bed of thick noodles and bok choy in a dark, rich broth. But you can't even see any of this other stuff for the meat, and by the time you get to it, you are pretty much full and silly and slippery and just juiced.

China Light's duck noodle soup makes me crazy and makes me do crazy things — like right now, in my mind, in my hollow, insatiable head, I am driving a little tiny car full of every single one of my readers, even vegans, all the way to Santa fucking Rosa. For dinner. Tonight.

Right now.

Close your eyes.

80 College, Santa Rosa. (707) 527-0558

L.E. Leone is a Bay Area writer and musician and the author of The Meaning of Lunch and Eat This, San Francisco. Her next collection of stories, Big Bend, is forthcoming from Sparkle Street Books. She writes the weekly Cheap Eats column in the Guardian.

Also from this author

  • Three! Out!

    Baseball in Italy? Oh yes, it happened.

  • Three! Out!

    Grosetto, Parma, Scalera, and Hedgehog: In the Game goes to Italy

  • Fire fight

    Police versus fire department versus pig with mustache versus Pinkie (a basketball story)