Review: Red Lotus

By Ashley Robinson

Billy Ngo, owner of Red Lotus (Source: Sac Bee)

I love Chinese food. But it’s no different than a night of binge drinking. 

It makes you feel really good even when you know you are ingesting a load of emptiness. You love diving into a box of Chow mein with a pair of chopsticks – it feels so good and modern and cool – like an Ashley Judd movie, but you know it’s not going to end well. It’s not good for you, but you just don’t care. You just need that one last dumpling/cocktail/dumpling, damnit.

It doesn’t matter if you make yourself order brown rice and steamed vegetables – or General Tso’s chicken on fried rice. There will still be a layer of unidentified goo on the inside of the box. You may order a white wine, but it’s no different than a vodka tonic. And you know it.

And let’s not even get into the inevitable hangover. The stomach cramps, the bloating, the feel of grease on your palate. It ain’t good. You declare, “I’m never eating Chinese food ever again!” from your darkened bathroom.

But no more! Grab your chopsticks and get moving to Red Lotus at 2718 J Street. Sacramento has a new Chinese restaurant that won’t leave you with a food hangover.

Billy Ngo, the owner of my favorite sushi joint in town, Kru, has opened up a dim sum-style eatery down the street in the former GV Hurley’s space. (As a former patron of the once well trafficked GVH, walking into the space is a little spooky – nothing has really changed but the color of the light bulbs … how I miss that back patio bar!) 

Ngo, who is neither Japanese nor Chinese – but has brought both cuisines to higher ground, has incorporated the lighter side of Asian fare to his tapa-like small plates. The prices are reasonable, the portions are adequate – not ridiculously humongous like most Chinese joints – and the service is great, a rare feat for a new restaurant. The wait staff are mostly veterans I have had the pleasure of serving/talking with me at other Sactown food outlets. (Hi Leon!)

But what I like most is that the food is so damn light.

Dive into the silk tofu salad topped with avocado and shrimp and crispy wonton with a side sauce of something amazing (I don’t know what the sauce is, but I could eat it by the spoonful … not really, but it’s that good). Enjoy the veggie Chow mein, which is light (what is another word for light? Tell me so I don’t overuse it, please) and NOT GREASY.

You could sit there for hours just ordering plate after plate. I was there for my second try Friday night and my little party almost ordered everything on the menu – which is not hard as the small evolving menu is still in its testing phase. Oxtail, long beans in XO sauce, other yummy dishes I can’t remember because we ate so many … all so good and NO CHINESE FOOD HANGOVER. 

The food is also, unbelievably, flavorful. Chinese food has a tendency of being pretty darn redundant. Even at higher scaled Chinese places (I’m talking to you, Mah Jong’s), the food is insanely boring. “Hmmm, what should I order? The veggie stir fry tastes like the other veggie thing with mushrooms that tastes like chicken but has a few pieces of leathery pink pork added in special effect.” … YUM …

I have only two complaints, and not really because of anything Red Lotus is at fault for … Sitting out front: fun but noisy, noisy, noisy. And oh yes, homeless people constantly walking past asking for money (no different than 58 Degrees). And the other, I would like heaters on at night. I was cold and there did not appear to be any heaters for outside guests.

But, I will make allowances as Red Lotus is still in its soft opening phase. (And come on, I won’t stop going there because they didn’t turn a heater on for Princess Ashley.) The menu is constantly changing, the liquor list is still growing (if ya want a hangover, do it with booze, not food) and the ambiance is enhancing.

I give this place FIVE STARS for providing tasty nutritious (seeming) food, a cool location in an old local favorite, and finally giving Sacramento a damn good Chinese food restaurant.

As my friend Tracy would say, “Wei dao hao ji le!”  Loosely translated to “Mmm, that smells delicious.”

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  1. Ana says

    OH no no no … As an Asian cuisine connoisseur, Mah Jongs is nowhere near what is considered a “high scaled” chinese restaurant. More studying needed please!

  2. Ashley Robinson says

    Ana, I totally agree. But what other Chinese restaurant in town would you consider anything remotely close to “high scale”? And please don’t say PF Chang’s.

  3. Laura Braden says

    Ashley, Simon’s – of course!! 🙂

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