It's difficult choosing a restaurant on Yelp, and there is no sure-fire way of guaranteeing a perfect meal. Having lived in the South Bay for twelve years, I've had the privilege of being surrounded by Chinese restaurants of all varieties. I'm no stranger to the hesitation in choosing to visit a new place and the surprise or disappointment that follows. Over the years, I've developed some foresight on how to make safer bets on Chinese restaurants. Here's what you should know to optimize on your dining experiences.

 1. Know what kind of food you're looking for.

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Specifically, what region of Chinese food. A Shanghai restaurant might prepare some excellent soup dumplings and stir fried noodles, but not the most hearty, numbing Sichuan boiled fish. I would recommend doing some research on what you're craving before you seek it out, so that you can narrow your search by cuisine—whether it be Beijing, Uhyghur, Shaanxi, etc. Remember, there are some restaurants that serve many different dishes, but their regional specialties are bound to shine the brightest.

2. Quality checkpoints in the food pictures.

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When I'm browsing the Yelp app for Cantonese food, for example, I make a beeline for the photos of honey walnut shrimp. Traditionally, this dish is lightly battered, with a thorough coating of mayonnaise over each shrimp (but not so much mayonnaise that the shrimps are drowning). For a Beijing restaurant, I want to see evidence of some serious dough handiwork: if the noodles are too uniform, they're most likely from a package—which is delicious too, but more easily accomplished from home. The menu should also have a variety of dumpling fillings, with the classic lineup of shrimp and pork, beef and carrot, and pork with leek. The green onion pancake at Taiwanese restaurants should be visibly flaky, fresh looking, and almost transparent; if the exterior is too darkly fried, it could be a sign that the oil needs to be changed out, or that it was left in the pan for too long.

3. Don't be automatically repelled by a low star rating.

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Chinese restaurants in general are not particularly known for their ambiance— and to this I say, fair enough. There's no direct translation anyway, and the closest one is rè nao: lively and bustling. This being said, the good ones are loud and the waiters are impatient, but it's really all part of the experience. Only when the comparisons with European fine dining establishments cease will the beauty in the chaos reveal itself. Low reviews could also be in regards to their lackluster sweet and sour pork, chow mein, and orange chicken, but it's possible that these dishes are only offered to satiate the Americanized Chinese-food-craving. 

4. Check out the pictures of the inside.

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The first thing that you should notice is how packed the restaurant is inside. It's important to focus on pictures from before 2020, where dimsum houses and other Chinese restaurants would be packed to the brim on weekends. Then, examine the demographic of the people in the pictures. If the pictures include extended families and guests that are older, Asian, and look like they've been getting the same dishes at the same restaurants for decades, then it's a certification of quality. Extra points for having pictures of banquets hosted in the past.

As much as I love Yelp, I've noticed some inherent biases towards restaurants with "ambiance," and neglect for some gems that are seriously underrated and overlooked for their low ratings. I hope my advice comes in handy to you and that good food fortune will come your way!