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Golden Buddha Chinese Restaurant

7933 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX
(915) 760-6887

Golden Buddha at the Crossroads

Taking over the space that used to be occupied by Golden China, Golden Buddha has upgraded the furniture as well as the food to the benefit of the Upper Valley area.

Those who were familiar with the original Golden Buddha near UTEP will recognize the menu at the new location, with the restaurant specializing in spicy Szechuan and Hunan cuisine. The new Golden Buddha has a more upscale interior than the original restaurant (which closed in 2008), making it more like other Chinese restaurants on the west side, but without the high prices found at many of its competitors.

Golden Buddha's new interior
Golden Buddha's new interior

One upgrade I noticed immediately at the new Golden Buddha was the Jasmine Tea that was brewed with loose leaves, giving a much better flavor than the tea bags used at the other Golden Buddha. While it takes a small investment on the part of the restaurant to do it this way, the special pot required for this type of tea yields a much more enjoyable pot of tea that fits better with the upscale atmosphere of the restaurant.

The specialty at Golden Buddha is stir fried Hunan and Szechuan dishes. Most of these are spicy, but not to the extent I have experienced in Szechuan style restaurants on the west coast. The sauces at Golden Buddha can be quite good, but are not consistent because of different cooks. The vegetables can be quite good if you choose the right dishes (I tend to avoid the ones with broccoli and non-Chinese vegetables).

At first glance the lunch menu seems to contain the Americanized dishes that I mostly avoid, but it also offers more choices than are found at the majority of El Paso Chinese restaurants, and some of them are rather interesting. I like the fact that just about everything on the lunch menu is the same thing served on the dinner menu, only in smaller portions. The fact that there is such an extensive lunch menu, at pretty good prices, makes lunch at Golden Buddha a very desirable time to go (in addition, the cut-off time for the lunch specials is rather late in the afternoon).

I am not tremendously impressed with the soups (hot and sour or egg drop) or egg rolls here, but the low prices and reasonably sized portions make the lunch specials quite worthwhile. If you want a cheap, quick, and good lunch this is probably what Golden Buddha does best.

Szechuan beef with spinach tofu soup
Szechuan beef with spinach tofu soup

Szechuan Beef is probably the best meat dish I have tried at Golden Buddha, with the water chestnuts and bamboo shoots going well with the flavors of the sauce and the beef. The beef is similar to the style of meat served in good versions of Mongolian beef, with one down side being that the beef is somethimes rather tough. The main problem is that the sauce is not always the same, depending on the cook, with it sometimes being too salty.

The Szechuan Tofu may be even better, with the tofu not exhibiting the same inconsistent quality as the beef. The sauce can be either good or mediocre, depending on when I go.

Hunan Chicken is typical of the lunch specials served, with a light sauce, Chinese style vegetables, and a good amount of red chiles. This and the Hunan Tofu are among my favorite dishes, mainly because they are not dominated by soy sauce. I would say this dish has been improved from the version served at the UTEP location. However, it may just be that I have gone on days when they had a good cook, and the sauce is actually as variable as the Szechuan sauce has turned out to be.

The Mongolian Beef at Golden Buddha was not one of the better versions I have tried, and I thought was a letdown compared to the Szechuan beef. There have only been a few times I have eaten Mongolian beef throughout the United States that I really thought it was a special dish, and unfortunately this was not one of those times.

Pork with bean sprouts
Pork with bean sprouts

Golden Buddha does not offer a "secret" Chinese menu as is the case with some restaurants. The regular menu, though, includes several items that I would say appeal more to the Chinese taste and are not the standard "Americanized" food that is served at many places. One such dish is Pork with Bean Sprouts, recommended by the owner as one of his favorites. This is a simple dish with good meat. The sauce was one of the most impressive features of the food. I do not know if this sauce has the same kind of variable quality I have found with the other sauces, but it was very good when I tried it (and the owner cooked it).

The Egg Drop Soup was never very impressive at the original Golden Buddha, but is slightly better at this location.

Hot and Sour Soup is something I generally like, but I become more critical of it at restaurants that represent themselves as serving Szechuan style food. The owner of the new Golden Buddha seems to have made a subtle transition in the soup to a lighter, more authentic broth (I say it is more authentic based on my experiences in Pacific Northwest Sichuanese restaurants). Thus I would have to say the soup here is better than at the UTEP location. However, I personally do not care much for the generous amount of red chile that is included. Also I tend to eat only a small amount because of the fact that it includes MSG.

Instead, I prefer to order the soups from the dinner menu (and that come at an additional charge if you order one of the lunch specials). An example is the Spinach Tofu Soup with Egg with a light flavor that is unlike the egg drop soups which are more common in American restaurants. There are many variations of egg soup in Chinese cooking, and I think this is one that should be tried. The spinach provided an offset to the egg whites and the white tofu, but did not predominate the flavor.

Vegetable soup
Vegetable and tofu soup

Vegetable and Tofu Soup has a clear broth with vegetables, although I do not think it is vegetarian. It is very good, though, and is what I consider to be an authentic Chinese style soup. The small bowl can be ordered, at an extra charge, as a substitute for egg drop or hot and sour soup.

Golden Buddha also serves won ton soup, which I remember thinking was good at the old restaurant except for the fact that it contained MSG.

The main problem with Golden Buddha is inconsistency with the food. The restaurant has different cooks, and I think this results in very different taste results. MSG is used in the sauces, and if you ask for an order without MSG the flavor will be based on the skill of the cook preparing it. In my opinion unless the owner prepares the food it usually comes out salty and not what I consider "Chinese style."

Golden Buddha seems to be way ahead of the typical buffets that many restaurants pass off as Chinese food. The Hunan and Szechuan dishes can be among the best in El Paso if you like spicy food. Some of the non-spicy dishes, though, such as the vegetable soup and spinach soup, have been among the best things I have tried here.



Cuisine: Chinese
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Tea: Jasmine (loose leaves)
MSG: Yes
Smoking: No Smoking

Most Recent Visit
Feb. 14, 2008

Number of Visits: 10+

Best Items
Pork with Bean Sprouts, Spinach Tofu Soup, Vegtable Tofu Soup, Hunan Chicken, Hunan Tofu

Special Ratings
Szechuan Tofu:
Szechuan Beef:
Hunan Chicken:
Hunan Tofu:
Mongolian Beef:
Pork with Bean Sprouts:
Kung Pao Chicken:
Hot and Sour Soup:
Egg Drop Soup:
Spinach Tofu Soup:
Vegetable Tofu Soup: