Recent weeks saw the introduction of WeCook, an authentic Chinese restaurant located a bit down Pardall Road, with the establishment taking the place of Isla Vista’s now-closed Wok on the Wild Side. WeCook, like Wok on the Wild Side, aims to bring a slew of Chinese dishes to UCSB students looking for something more than the UCen’s Panda Express. Does WeCook succeed in invigorating the taste buds of students outside of campus, scratching that Szechuan itch, or is it doomed to fail like its predecessor?
The first thing that is noticeable when you enter the restaurant is its presentation: unlike other I.V. food places, WeCook is mostly comprised of a small inner landing filled with clean white tables and funky, black plastic chairs all sitting on a modern, brushed wooden floor. The vibe is “sit down and eat” instead of “pick up and go,” a feeling that few other restaurants in Isla Vista can say they have.
On top of all this, one doesn’t have to order from the front; a waitress will seat you, give you your menu, take your order, and serve you. Further exemplified by the large television hanging off a wall, WeCook’s atmosphere is one that favors eating in the restaurant, an oddity not usually seen in I.V.
WeCook’s menu is like a daunting novel containing paragraphs of food names and their descriptions. Listed in the booklet are full sections for noodles and rice, chicken, beef, pork, seafood, vegetables, and appetizers/sides. The myriad of options bamboozled both my photographer and me, as we maneuvered our eyes through the traffic of food options in order to find the most appetizing meal to order.
Another noteworthy caveat of the menu is the price; the food options presented at WeCook vary from average price to slightly expensive, with prices varying from $8.99 for chicken fried rice to $17.99 for the specials. This would be a deal breaker for most college students if not for the hefty servings, which are guaranteed to fill you up.
The first thing we ordered was a staple of Chinese food in the U.S.: fried rice, in this case made with beef. When the waitress came up to our table with a plate of rice, diced vegetables, and meat, I could not stop salivating. The plate steamed with the smell of soy marinade, the rice beckoning my tongue. I obliged. Immediately upon taking a bite, my eyes widened.
My nostrils flared with life, as if they were doing the mating cry indigenous to the red-capped manakin, a fruit-eating, midnight black bird located in the deep reaches of Central America, with the rice accepting this mating call. I wanted to scream, to cry, to laugh, to howl all at the same time; the rice was great. As someone who is not a Chinese food connoisseur, the flavor of the rice was exquisite, the soft texture complemented by the chewy beef and the crunchy vegetables. It was totally worth the price of $9.99.
Next up was the orange chicken, something I purposefully ordered to compare to the UCen’s Panda Express. If WeCook could defeat the fast food chain Panda Express in both its fried rice and orange chicken, it would be a clear victor in my eyes. When the chicken was brought to our table, it did not look like how I expected; unlike the over-marinated orange chicken at Panda Express, WeCook’s rendition was lighter on the marinating. A slight citrusy aroma also seeped from the chicken, a welcome surprise.
High on the succulent nature of the fried rice, I immediately grabbed my chopsticks and heaved a piece of chicken into my mouth. Almost immediately, I internally wept tears, though not out of happiness.
My mouth chewed with uncertainty as I tasted the chicken, the meat and crusty exterior melting in my mouth. Contrasting with the earlier joy from the fried rice, I only felt one thing: sorrow. The orange chicken was simply too bland for it to be enjoyable. The lighter seasoning definitely was a net positive over Panda Express’s overbearing chicken, but eating it felt more like filling up a stomach than enjoying a delicious meal. The slight flavor of citrus did improve the quality of the chicken’s flavor but not enough to order it again.
Overall, WeCook is a nice establishment that serves a niche in I.V. The restaurant serves the most authentic Chinese food that a college student at UCSB could eat. The price, although not the cheapest, shouldn’t hinder people from ordering here considering the sizable portions and filling nature of the food. The only reason to eat at Panda Express is convenience; if you have the choice between the two, WeCook should definitely be preferred. At the end of the day, if you’re craving something exotic and feel like treating yourself, WeCook has you covered.