(more photos here)
Many of my favorite restaurants--like Yuan Fu and Il Pizzico, both located in average-looking strip malls in Rockville, Maryland--don't look too promising from the outside. So as we approached China Road in Mattydale (a suburb of Syracuse), its appearance and surroundings were a good omen: an unassuming building next to a laundromat and in front of a can-and-bottle return facility.
Inside, the restaurant's wood-paneled walls were hung with prints of Chinese watercolors and dry-erase boards with the chef's specials written in Chinese and English. Soon after we sat down, our waiter brought us a pot of tea, a bowl of crispy fried noodles with sauce for dipping, and a plate of cold, spicy snacks: soybeans, Chinese broccoli, hot peppers, and what may have been bamboo shoots. (When we had eaten most of each one, he brought us seconds.)
We were given two menus, one in English and the other in both English and Chinese. As a vegetarian, I was happy to see several non-meat options, but I wish I had known that China Road has an entire separate menu of vegetarian dishes, including some with mock meat. I ordered steamed vegetable dumplings and crispy tofu in garlic sauce, while Clem chose the crispy shrimp balls and tea-smoked duck.
We enjoyed everything (and Clem's duck dish could serve at least two). Our waiter was friendly and funny, laughing at me (in a good natured way) when I finished my dish by leaving behind just one piece of tofu--and then even putting it in a box for me to take home. He was amused that my dish's garlic sauce was too spicy for me, but helpfully suggested that I try the tofu with Clem's plum sauce instead. With the bill came juicy orange slices and fortune cookies.
China Road's website says that the restaurant's chef, Simon Teng "was head chef in many famous New York City restaurants such as Uncle Tai's, David K's, Pig Heaven, and Auntie Yuan's." I'm glad Chef Teng came to upstate New York, because China Road was definitely one of the best Chinese restaurants I've ever visited.
TIP: If you want an authentic dish, the menu that's in English and Chinese is listed on China Road's website as the "traditional Chinese menu," so I'd stick to that one.
NEARBY: Being completely unfamiliar with Mattydale, I'd just say Syracuse itself is nearby, and there are plenty of things to do there!