Chubby Rice, plump bill

Hawthorne eatery can’t shake the $1 Chinese food vibe.

There were plenty of days in the 1990s and 2000s when I’d take off from college or work and get some $1 Chinese food.

Back then I’d get fried rice, an entree or two for about $5 (more if I got an egg roll) at what some people would now perceive as a mom-and-pop Panda Express knockoff.

Some of those places tasted great, others — well, you get what you pay for.

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The Mongolian beef plate comes with two sides. Chosen here are the excellent egg fried rice and a veggie egg roll, with barbecue dipping sauce.

Chubby Rice in Hawthorne brought back the memories of a few of those joints, but the memories got less pleasant when I realized the portions and taste hadn’t changed, but the prices have.

Yeah, I know I sound like an old man complaining about the price of bread or gasoline to what it was back in the 1950s, but consider this: five pot stickers, a scoop of very good fried rice, peppery Mongolian beef, veggie egg roll and a bottled lemonade: $22.

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No fountain drinks or free refills at Chubby Rice, but there is an extensive selection of bottled coffees, teas, juices and colas.

Spare the drink and pot stickers, I’d shave $9 or so off the bill. Still a bit high.

Maybe I should be thinking Pick Up Stix or Pei Wei in this comparison, as this isn’t a place where you pick out food that’s been in a tray for who knows how long — you order, they cook it.

But I can’t stop this comparison in my head: it was similar in taste to what I had in the late ’90s at a little hole-in-the-wall, $1 Chinese take out on Fountain Alley in downtown San Jose.

My 1990s self would go ballistic paying $22 for that food.

I can’t say it was awful. The place was smart to use rice in the name — savory, almost buttery. Not the overcooked plastic fried rice of a Panda Express.

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The chili flakes and onions aren’t overpowering in this savory Mongolian beef.

The peppery Mongolian beef was moist, and wasn’t drenched in some sauce that overpowers all other flavors (looking at you, Pick Up Stix).

And the pot stickers were meaty, but a bit too pink on the inside for my comfort.

But it was a bout of indigestion (I’m going to bet on the potstickers) while grocery shopping a few minutes later that reminded me why I stopped dining at the hole-in-the-wall in San Jose.

Would I give Chubby Rice a second chance? Maybe. Just for a fried rice dish — they have a special fried rice with a combination of pork, chicken, shrimp and egg for $11.50.

But I’d rather direct those wanting cheaper, $1-style Chinese food (and some pretty good red pork, aka char siu) to Hong Kong Express, which is just a few blocks east of Chubby Rice in the plaza outside the Hawthorne Mall. Or I would advise a lunch trip to Chinese Friends on Rosecrans Avenue, whose early afternoon specials are around a buck less, come in bigger portions and has a similar style of rice to go along with the entree and a cup of soup.

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Chubby Rice is located at 12836 Inglewood Ave. in Hawthorne. It is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and closed on Sundays. Phone: (424) 456-4341. Delivery is available via DoorDash, GrubHub and UberEATS; an online menu is here on Yelp.

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