Sam Woo in Irvine

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Sam Woo has been called the best Chinese in O.C.  One indication is that the clientele is about 95 percent Chinese.  Another is that the service can be rude.   Some people say if the service isn’t rude it’s not real Chinese.  There are several Sam Woo restaurants in So.Cal.  I think there’s one in San Francisco too.

There are three restaurants there.  One is take out only.  One is called Sam Woo Seafood Restaurant and looks a little expensive.  I’ve never been in there.   The 3rd is between the first 2 and that’s were I eat.  It’s usually cheap too.

Some things to try:

  • Walnut Glazed Shrimp.
  • BBQ Pork (their specialty)
  • Beef chow fun with black bean sauce
  • Duck, Chicken, Pork with Leek
  • 1/2 Crispy Chicken
  • Tri Shredded Fried Rice
  • Almond Jello (a dessert)
  • Spicy salty shrimp.  (note: this involves eating entire shrimp. head, tail, legs and all)
  • Beef chowmein with soft noodles.
  • Deep Fried Talapia (note: you’ll get a deep fried whole fish and you have to pull the meat off)

Avoid the evil Sam Woo at Metro Point.  They tried to open an upscale yuppie version of Sam Woo.  It doesn’t work.  Instead of getting real Chinese food you’ll be getting Califoniaized Chinese food.  If that’s what you wanted you should have gone to P.F. Chang’s.  Yuck!

Directions: From the 405 get off at Culver and turn left (north).  About 7 lights you’ll come to Irvine Center Drive.  Go past Irvine Center Drive and turn left into the shopping center.   Sam Woo is behind the Cathay Bank, next to the Ranch 99 Market (which you should check out after dinner)  Ranch 99 is a chain of large Chinese supermarkets.

  • JAM
    Great deal on a great meal

    I can only vouch for the lunch, but the staff is actually efficient and polite.  The food is very good and on par with any other good chinese restaurant found in Chinatown.  If you have a party of 4 or more and each person chooses an item from the lunch menu, then there is usually enough food for everyone and you can expect to walk out for about $7 per person, tip included!  It’s a great meal for a great deal!

  • anonymousinIrvine
    Try the intestines! Seriously

    An oriental friend of mine loves this place, he says it is authentic.  I went there and I love trying crazy new food.  They’re menu had over 200 items, with the standard chinese food to some crazy animals and parts of animals you would never considering edible, much less eating.  Well I got the beef intestines in black bean sauce, and they were awesome!  Sort of like a cross between mushrooms and octopus.  Great chewy texture, and quite and appearance.  I can’t wait to go back and try something else completely different!

  • Clarice
    Sam Woo “Exotic” Barbecue

    If Cow Uterus, Eels, Intestines and Dangling Dead Ducks are your favorite sources for nourishment or you are a candidate for a “Fear Factor” appearance,  Sam Woo Barbecue is the place for you..

  • OCpaleontologist

    the last time I was here, 5 years or so, I found SEVERAL coiled parasitic worms in the orange peel chicken.  Granted they had been deep fried and were dead, but not a very plesant thing to find in one’s meal.

  • MeyHo

    I wish “Sam Woo Restaurant” and “99 Ranch Market” will open

    the new-one at Inland Empire- Riverside, California

  • Matt
    Sam Woo ROCKS

    My goal is to eat at every Sam Woo I can find 🙂

    Also, I’m trying to figure out if Sam Woo and Sam Wo are the same or not.  Because I LOVE eating at Sam Wo in San Francisco’s Chinatown (Washington and Grant)

  • eweelew

    I really like their food, but occasionally I had some hair in my dish. But what can I say, the food tastes great. I’m hooked. I give 9.5 out of 10.

  • David
    Bad service at BBQ to go department

    On June 11, 05, my wife and I went to the BBQ to go department at Irvine Sam Woo (Culver dr). We were politely ordering a salty whole chicken, half BBQ duck and one pound of BBQ pork. We stood in line for our turn to pay and receive our order, but our order was not responded to when we got to the regiester. We repeated the order to the cashier. We waited another 5 minutes. The same situation happened again. We repeated the order to the order taker at the counter. We wait another 5 minutes. the order was not answer, once again. We repeated the order to the order taker at the counter again. She broadcast our order to someone who supposed to process the order, I guess. We waited for a few minutes. Again, there was no order for us. Needless to say we left without our order.

    We believe that a sort of discrimination was dealt to us. We are very disappointed for their service attitude. I hope this matter can bring the attention to the managment department. 

  • w

    u know how mcD means to american?

    that’s how sam woo means to chinese.

    It’s a fast food place with cheap chinese food~ 😛

  • You’re probably right but it’s still the Chinese version of Chinese fast food instead of the American version of Chinese fast food (ie, Panda Express :-Q)

  • whitegrrl
    gwai lo to go

    It is so funny when white people think the are discriminated against at Chinese restaurants. “Customer service” can be such a hangup for these people. When you go to Sam Woo’s be prepared to wait for your food if it is busy. Do not expect to be treated like a king or queen by the wait-staff, if you want servants go to P.F. Changs and get yourself some poor corporate slaves to deliver you some bland fake Chinese food. If you want “real” Chinese food then you should also understand that you will have to partake of the “real” Chinese restaurant experience which means abandoning your consumer capitalist structures of privilege and considering for a moment that just because you are buying food from people does not mean they need to be happy or even nice to you. Everyone is treated this way in “real” Chinese restaurants. If you want the best Chinese food in Orange County go to Sam Woo’s, if you have trouble getting your order across why not try going when the restaurant is not busy or learning Chinese, it worked for me.

  • Mark
    Sam Woo’s is the best in O.C. hands down!

    I’ve eaten in this restaurant at least a dozen times. I’ve never had any serious problem with service. The food is fantastic! As an example: the lemon chicken is not greasy little balls of dough with a bit of chicken “somewhere in there” but beautify lightly breaded and fried whole breasts with a delicious lemon sauce.

    The initial reviewer made a comment about it being expensive. Well, you can go with a group and order a bunch of different dishes and have a beer and absolutely pig out and spend about $20.00 per person. If that’s too expensive for you then perhaps you should stick with McDonalds.

  • seneschal
    Sam Woo

    To the people waiting in the BBQ line: No, you’re not being discriminated against, they do this too all people, even the yellow-skinned ones ordering in Cantonese, if they appear to bit just a bit meek. If you ever go to China you’ll know what I mean.

    Whem you are competing against a billion people for food, elbowing your way up to the counter is mandatory. Etiquette is for suckers. That’s why the Communist party has “civilization classes” to prepare Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. They’re introducing novel ideas such as lining up and waiting your turn, rather than the traditional Chinese free-for-all system.

  • Vincent
    Sam Woo

    Look, this self-hating American nonsense gets us nowhere. When you give assholes a pass just cuz theyre Chinese, you diminish all Chinese people. I’m HK Chinese, my friends and family are HK/Main/Taiwan Chinese, but those of us who have managed to think of ourselves as Americans first are much, much happier and more successful. As a naturalized citizen, I say that being part of this culture is a privilege. You should not be ashamed of what you are or what you have because of it.

    I tell you it’s perfectly OK to hate the attitude at these places and to complain about it when possible. Irvine is a part of America last time I checked. It’s all about dollars, and I promise you the Sam Woo people want yours. This attitude problem is indeed a cultural hangover from competing with 3 billion people – you are right about that. But you don’t have to suck it up. This is not some atmospheric thing for your tourist enjoyment. The people with the attitude are mostly recent immigrants who don’t get it yet, and/or they deal mostly with local Chinese who don’t even notice it. Great majority of Sam Woo customers in Irvine, is guess what Chinese, yeah?

    But there is hope. Many immigrants eventually realize that until they adopt the basic cultural norms of a place, they will be marginalized by the culture at large. That’s normal, and what you expect if you were parachuted into China tomorrow morning.

    Don’t give them a pass for shitty attitude. In America, we prize service – reward it with your dollars when you can. If you are treated rudely, speak up.

  • seneschal

    Not sure what your point is…

    In my experience you can complain all you want, I don’t think it will change the staff’s behavior. You’ll have to wait until the next generation, their children to behave with politeness.

    Given what’s happening in China, I don’t hold much hope out for the politeness campaign that the CCP is instigating. It will probably pass as soon as the Olympics are over. Remember SARS? They banned spitting in public. Now the spitters are back in force…

  • nuwanda
    wow….it is funny…

    wow!wow!this is why i love internet surfing!

    people gather and express their own opinion on one *whatever* kinda thing. and then the topic goes out of track…and ppl stick on another”whatever” kinda thing…so id be leaded to the theme that i never reached before….thank to the netizens!

    hmmmm…anyway..i also wanna leave my thoughts here…kkk

    i think their rude attitude is not originated from their being chinese…there are a lot of prejudices and stereo-types in the world..and even i sorta agree to those..i admit there is a tendency followed by nationality…

    but i dont want to be generalized by my nationality..

    personality or character only depends on each person…however they get influences from their own culture…

    cheers! cheers! i love chinese foooooooooood!!!!

  • cheatedcustomer
    Sam Woo staff cheat

    I went with one of my friend and order baked porked but was served with baked duck. This happened twice! The one who did this was the thin guy speaking cantonese at the front desk.

  • anon
    skip to go stuff

    i went to the to-go section yesterday and the food was HORRIBLE. the noodles were almost spoiled! and i went around 6:30pm, just around dinner time.

    skip the pre-made stuff. you are better off ordering something from the restaurant menu.

  • chopchop
    Go there all the time

    I’m a white woman living in Irvine who eats at or gets take out from Sam Woo at least once a week. I’ve never had any problems with the food and experienced just a mistake once or twice with a take out order.

    The Culver location has three restaurants that are supplied by the same kitchen. The one on the left is the higher priced one with a bar and a larger menu of dishes, some with pricy ingredients. It’s a great place to entertain guests or your boss. There’s a lobster tank and they have lots of fresh seafood.

    The second one is entered through the next door. If they’re busy, they’ll give you a number and call you when a table is ready. They have sit down dining and the menu items are cheaper. The food is very good though.

    Enter through the same door and get into line along the food serving line and you can get a very cheap meal of pre-made dishes. I think it is still $2.99 for two items plus rice or fried noodles. Look at the menu on the wall to order other items by weight, such as the barbecued pork.

    For take out, go to the right side of the counter, staying out of the express line. There is rarely a line. Take a menu and order there. It will be ready in minutes. or take a menu home and call in your order.

    By the way, a smile and a “thank you” goes a long way in getting good service in any language or culture. I am sensitive to discrimination, yet have never experienced this at any Sam Woo – and neither has my Japanese husband. Eating a cheap bowl of noodles in soup with shrimp and vegetables at the “center” restaurant gets us the same level of service as a group ordering a large dinner.

    When you become a regular, you might be surprised by your waiter or waitress giving you a free dessert every time you come. For a while, we politely tried to eat the special complimentary appetizer one waitress gave us at the Sam Woo at Walnut and Jeffery until we finally asked another waiter just what it was. To our dismay it was sliced pig ear. Now we get the ginger tofu dessert instead.

    The staff works 6 days a week, at least 10 hours a day (I asked). Unlike some Chinese restaurants, according to the Cantonese-speaking staff, the restaurant pays them fairly, instead of what happens at other restaurants where they are paid for less hours than worked. That’s why you see the same staff at the locations for years.

    I’ve lived in Asia for many years, and I can certainly say this is one restaurant where I am comfortable entertaining Chinese visitors. The food is good, authentic Hong Kong style.

  • Engineer

    A restaurant which has employess eating behind the counter while serving people is an abomination…and NOW with a “C” grade, these people ain’t getting anymore of my money.

  • luna

    just adding my two cents to these very amusing comments! 😀

    i’m an asian female and have grown up around this type of restaurant food and service all my life. i introduced my white boyfriend to this place and he absolutely loves it! he loves it so much that he’s gotten me sick and tired of eating here..but we eventually come back after much begging on his part…

    we usually go into the bbq express and sit down to eat. we’ve termed the fancy seafood restaurant part of sam woo the chinese food for white people because it seems most of the time uninformed white people go in there for the atmosphere and more expensive food…

    anyway, the bbq express food is delicious..not to mention quick! i actually like the service in this restaurant because they’re not always in your face, asking you every 5 minutes how everything tastes. the waiters are quick and efficient and i respect the managers who work alongside their subordinates to help with the service. they do a great job leading by example. shame more of corporate america doesn’t do the same…okay..time to turn off my rant 😀 i definitely recommend this place!

  • Everyman
    Discrimination, Hair, Worms, Health Rating of “C”?

    OK, first I think that “David” who complained of discrimination or “Bad service at BBQ to go” was not white . . . or at least not American.  His English was stilted and sentences like “We believe that a sort of discrimination was dealt to us” is just not typical of a native English speaker.

    With that said, the mention of fried worms and hair in the food and a recent “C” by the Health Department should be of a lot more concern than the discrimination. I’ve eaten at the more expensive part of this Sam Woo as a business guest on several occassions, but I think I will pass up any future opportunties. More power to you people if you like worms and hair, but I think I’ll pass next time.


  • AdifferentDavid
    A different David

    The wife and I have been going to the Deli side for the last 10 years. Food is consistently good and service is a lot like the sausage vendor in Panchiao, Taiwan. Great food, get in line, pay and leave! But really, the old grey haired skinny gent by the roast pork counter has always treated this white boy ok. I am a little concerned the health rating. It is listed here