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Fast Food

Fast Food Frightmare:
Mr. Chau's Chinese Fast Food, 3781 El Camino Real, Palo Alto

By Will Harper

BEFORE WE get to the gross stuff, let me get something out of the way first: What is up with those Mr. Chau commercials? When I moved to San Jose three years ago, I thought they were the most racist thing since Sambo's: a comical Asian cartoon character with the heavy accent and high voice saying, "Mee-sah Chau Chineee-ah Fass Foo."

But, guess what. Mr. Chau is a real person and he really talks like that. I talked to him on the phone and he sounds just like the Mr. Chau cartoon character on the ads. "It's not racist," says Chau, who goes by the name Patrick. "That's my real voice! I have an accent because I'm not born in the United States."

Now that that's out of the way, let's get down to business:

Mr. Chau's, which has 12 locations in the county, had to temporarily shut down two of its restaurants between Jan. 1, 1999, and May 30, 2000, after inspections by local health officials. By contrast, not one McDonald's, which has 63 locations throughout the county, had to close its doors during the same time period.

In fairness to Mr. Chau, in the first case he voluntarily closed down his restaurant at 2165 El Camino Real in Santa Clara for a few hours to unclog a floor drain under the sinks. The clogged drain caused water to overflow, forcing employees to walk through dirty puddles in the food prep area. Chau re-opened the restaurant the following morning after fixing the problem.

As for the second closure, that's a slightly different, story.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the environmental health department got a complaint from a customer who had eaten earlier at the Mr. Chau's on 3781 El Camino Real in Palo Alto. The customer claimed to have found rodent droppings in her steamed rice.

After checking out the facility, county health officials ordered the Palo Alto Mr. Chau's shut down to take care of a "heavy rat infestation in the kitchen area" and clogged vents.

Health officials allowed Chau to re-open the restaurant the next day after the place appeared to have exorcised its four-legged demons. Chau installed new ceiling panels in the kitchen (the old ones were covered with rat turds and rat urine) and patched all holes where rodents could gain entry. Chau tells Metro that his pest-control service hasn't found any new rodent activity.

But rodents aren't the only thing customers have complained about to health officials for this particular Mr. Chau's. In February 1999 a patron allegedly found bugs in his or her food. The health inspector saw no bugs when he went, but did note, "General sanitation in the kitchen is poor."

In another complaint made the same month, someone claimed to have gotten sick after eating kung pao and orange chicken with steamed rice. The health inspector scolded the restaurant for getting its frozen chicken delivered in a non-refrigerated truck.

Whatever. I'm still going to eat at Mr. Chau's. The food is cheap ($5 for a plate with fried or steamed rice and two entrees), fast and delicious. I am personally partial to things chicken at Mr. Chau's, such as the spicy five-flavor chicken, the dai chin chicken and garlic chicken.

In my view, McFood still McSucks. Mr. Chau's gets my fast-food vote any day.

RATING: 3 forks

Introduction: Bottom Feeders.

Making The List: The methodology and ratings.

Not on the Menu: Gruesome complaints and bizarre things allegedly found in food.

Wok on the Wild Side: Asian restaurants still get disproportionately high rate of poor inspection reports.

Chew Fly, Don't Bother Me: Tory's Restaurant in Cupertino.

A Fowl Feeling: Mai Garden Restaurant in San Jose.

Overly Greasy Spoon: Bob's Surf 'N Turf in San Jose.

Not Cool Enough: Gordon Biersch in Palo Alto.

Pastor Its Prime: El Mexicano Taqueria in San Jose.

How Fresh? Fresh N Healthy Vegetarian in San Jose.

Chill Is Gone: Nola in Palo Alto.

How Now Stale Bao? Thanh Mai in San Jose.

Coffee To Go, Please: My My Coffee and Sandwiches in San Jose.

Vermin in the Vermicelli: Florentine Restaurant in Mountain View.

Off-Screen Horror Show: Century Capitol 16 Theaters in San Jose.

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From the June 8-14, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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