First bites: Happy Family Vegetarian Cuisine

I had been wanting to try Happy Family Vegetarian Cuisine (2150 S. Waterman Ave.) in San Bernardino for a while now. Not that I’m a vegetarian, mind you. Not that I’m a total carnivore, either. I’m somewhere in-between.

But I’m seriously fascinated by faux-meat vegetarian dishes, like those found at Veggie Era in Upland, and also at Happy Family.

I finally went there last week and was impressed. It’s in the same small strip mall as Jackpot Thai & Chinese Food, and I was expecting a similar experience.

They’re as different as night and day.

Jackpot caters mostly to take-out orders and has a few tables in its sparse dining area. Happy Family is a beautifully decorated sit-down restaurant. I was a bit surprised to learn that when I walked in.

And the food?

I tried one of their lunch specials: wheat gluten Kung Pao chicken. Sounds appetizing, huh?

It was $7.50 with soup and either brown or white rice.

As Kung Paos go, it was fairly basic. Just the ersatz “chicken,” tons of peanuts and water chestnuts, a few bits of celery, and a dozen or so dried Thai peppers.

And despite the presence of the peppers, it was fairly mild. A dash of sweet chili oil took care of that.

In contrast to the Kung Pao, the hot and sour soup that began the meal was very hot, in both temperature and spice.

However, I couldn’t help thinking that by playing it safe, I didn’t get their best dish.

I will definitely be heading back there to be a little more adventurous. One thing on their menu that stood out to me is Crispy Little Fish with Sesame. That’s a vegetarian dish?

If you go, be forewarned that while they are open from 11 to 9 p.m. daily, on weekdays they close from 3 to 5 p.m.

If you’re a meat eater, you’d be surprised at the variety of meat substitutes on the menu: squab, shrimp, jellyfish, shredded pork and kidney are all reproduced in vegetarian form. Whether they succeed in fooling the palate I don’t know.

The “chicken” I had was pretty close, and probably close enough to escape the notice of the elderly lady who stopped in to give Happy Family a try.

I’m pretty sure she wasn’t quite aware she was in a vegetarian restaurant.