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The food is golden at Turlock's Golden China

Farmers in overalls having yee wor won-ton soup and kung pao prawns isn't uncommon on Geer Road in Turlock. For 24 years, Golden China has been a city mainstay for Chinese food, which is painfully apparent if you want a table on a Friday or Saturday night.

Silvia and Susanna, the ever-present tuxedo-clad waitresses, seem to know everyone. Along with Ying Tang in the kitchen, they've been at the golden-papered restaurant more than 20 years. The food varies in style, skipping across culinary China.

The sizzling rice soup is a personal favorite. Puffed rice is dumped into a steaming bowl -- the size of a steering wheel if you get the large -- to a crackle and pop. Chicken, beef, shrimp and a vegetable assortment mix with rice and broth.

"Everyone loves the pot stickers," said Cindy Chung, who opened the restaurant in 1983. When the staff travels out of town, it visits other Chinese restaurants looking for ideas, and time and again, no one can beat Golden China's pot stickers, she said. They're large, yet mouth-sized, dumplings, packed with meat and vegetables, seared brown and crispy. They're perfect for dipping in soy sauce.

For entrees, I always learn toward the roast duck. Glazed with a light barbecue sauce, the skin develops crispy sheen yet the meat stays juicy. The moo shu is extremely popular, too, Chung said. Little, flimsy, rice-based pancakes are served with either pork, chicken, beef or shrimp with vegetables to be filled, rolled and dipped to taste.

Chung moved stateside from Hong Kong in 1974 and after English school in the Bay Area opened restaurants in San Mateo and Burlingame.

In 1983, she opened a third restaurant in Turlock, Golden China. The San Mateo business has since closed. Until 1989, she worked between Turlock and Burlingame before deciding on Turlock full time.

Essentials

"I'm very happy with this town," she said. "It's a family town. I run a family place."

Restaurant: Golden China

Location: 2525 Geer Road, Turlock (next to Save Mart); 668-1660

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-

Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Fridays- Saturdays

Price ranges and house specialties: If more than two people are dining, five- to seven-course family dinners are popular at $8.75 to $15.50 a person. Pot stickers -- mouth-size dumplings seared brown and crispy -- are the most popular appetizer and are $4.95 for an order of six. Beef chow fun -- a beef dish over rice noodles at $6.95 -- half a roast duck at $9.95 and the moo shu, ranging from $7.50 to $8.95 depending on filling, are house favorites.

Bar: Red, white and Japanese wines; domestic and imported beers

Reservations: No

Accepted payments: Cash and major credit cards

For children: Kids menu offers two options -- a fried won ton, fried prawns and barbecued pork fried rice, or a fried chicken wing, barbecued pork fried rice and chicken chow mein -- for $4.25. French fries are $2.95 and child-size sodas are $1.

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