The menu’s familiar at Delray’s Hunan Gardens

Hunan Gardens is tucked in the corner of a strip center


Mao Zedong, the most famous person from China’s Hunan Province, probably would not have recognized the dishes at this busy Chinese eatery in Delray Beach



“It will blow you away.”

“The best Chinese food around.”

These are just a few of the comments recently found on a search of social media about Hunan Gardens in Delray  Beach. Are they right?

Judging by the line of diners that were literally out the door on a recent Saturday night at this restaurant buried deep inside a sprawling strip shopping center at Linton Boulevard and Military Trail, those comments seem believable. A wait for a table could last 30 minutes in a vestibule that’s crowded with folks waiting for their names to be shouted out for a table or for a takeout order.

So is it the best Chinese food in Delray Beach? That’s a matter of perspective. For a diner knowledgeable about authentic Chinese cuisine, there isn’t a single Chinese eatery in and around Delray that is even passable, including Hunan Gardens. Saying that Hunan Gardens is the best Chinese restaurant in Delay Beach is not saying a lot.

One way to gauge how good a Chinese restaurant might be is by counting the number of Asian diners. At Hunan Garden, there were none. Of course, there are few Asians in this area of South Florida. 

The clientele at Hunan Gardens, as might be expected, is an older crowd, typical of west Delray Beach. And these folks don’t seem to mind being crowded against one another in the dining room, even when someone attempts to get through with a walker. 

I joined these diners recently, only because after a long day on the road, I wanted to dine local and my wife, who’s is less particular than me, suggested we give Hunan Gardens another try. Reluctantly, I agreed.

It’s crowded inside on Saturday evening

So after waiting to hear my name — turns out someone else with the same first name got there ahead of me — we ultimately were seated in a booth near the vestibule. Thin, crispy fried noodles were quickly delivered (an offer to refill the bowl a bit into our dinner was declined, but a nice gesture). There’s a bottle of duck sauce on the table. as well as salt and pepper and sugar, things you probably would not find in restaurant that calls itself Hunan. The menu is a long, plastic-laminated affair with early bird specials, complete dinners and combination plates. 

Servers attired in white shirts, black vests and black bow ties, bustle among the tables. Man of them are women, older ones.

Other than the name, there is little on offer to suggest that Hunan Gardens specializes in the food of China’s Hunan Province, the home of the late Chairman Mao Zedong.  Fuchsia Dunlop, an English writer who’s an authority on Chinese cuisine, says that the characteristic traits of the Hunanese is a love for smoked foods, a wealth of steamed dishes and hotpots, a preference for hot-salty and hot-sour flavors, and a distaste for sweetness in most savory dishes.  Yes, there were a few dishes on the menu here that were called Hunan, but the connection was tenuous at best. Cantonese and Chinese-American dishes abound, including chow mein and Hawaiian chicken.

I can’t recall what I ate here some five years ago on my first visit, but at my most recent dining experience I started with hot and sour soup, which I use to gauge Chinese restaurants. The soup, packed with bits of tofu, egg white, mushrooms, ground pork, scallions and jalapeño slices, was anything but sour.  Meanwhile, wonton soup was a mild broth with specks of black pepper packed with sliced pork.

Hot and sour soup

Hunan eggplant

I ordered one of the rare dishes listed as Hunan, eggplant. I ordered it extra spicy. Our server presented me with a tiny bowl of Chinese chili sauce alongside my entree, which arrived in a somewhat sweet, gloppy sauce and, I believe, a heavy dose of MSG, based on my runny nose. When our server saw me reaching to add the spicy sauce, she chided me, suggesting I try the dish first.  I had, and boy did it need the fix. The eggplant and the meats, however, were tender and the mushrooms firm. 

Hawaiian duck

Fried rice

My spouse, who’s got a sweet tooth, opted to my chagrin, but no surprise, for the Hawaiian duck, a number that featured a heavily breaded, deep-fried duck breast and a bright orange sweet and sour sauce.

Fried rice, which accompanied my entree at no extra charge, was surprisingly grease free.

And dessert was included with my entree, chocolate ice cream.  Like the rest of the menu, it was familiar to someone raised on Chinese-American food in New York. Was it good? Like the restaurant itself, not really!

Hunan Gardens

4900 Linton Blvd., Delray Beach, FL 33445

(561) 498-1898

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  1. Qwai Lo Chutzpah says:

    I expected this sadly. Garbage people will enjoy garbage food. And yes—they’re all my relatives. But there’s a reason they ruin each neighborhood they move into—not with crime—but with expectations of homogeneity, and subservience to their lousy tastebuds or lack thereof.

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