--Compiled by Jane Greenstein

When you feel like picking up a pair of chopsticks, Chinatown is not your only option. Chinese food can be found all over the Southland, from Pasadena to Garden Grove. Here are a few recently reviewed restaurants that will gladly satisfy your craving for soy sauce without requiring a trip downtown. All prices exclude drinks. CHI DYNASTY (2112 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 667-3388). Chi Dynasty is one of those pretty places with great big red menus. The waiters do a lot of serving at the table, flaming this, carving that, portioning out the dishes using two big spoons. Despite the fact that the squid, which Chi Dynasty calls calamari, is the most exotic item on the menu, the food is quite interesting. There are the expected sizzling soups and lemon chicken and Mongolian lamb, but there are also unusual dishes like veal Mandarin and baby eggplants stuffed with water chestnuts, minced shrimp and chicken. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Major credit cards. Dinner for two: $24.

CHINESE EXPRESSION (706 S. Detroit St., Los Angeles, (213) 932-0518). The room is dressed up with smart-looking, French-designed black plastic chairs, subtle gray linens and illuminated Chinese opera masks. The menu, which emphasizes Hunan, Sichuan and Mandarin food, has many familiar dishes. Recommended: garlic shrimp, Chicken a la Viceroy and lemon chicken. And the best part of all is that Chinese Expression uses no MSG and is very sparing with the salt. Open for lunch Mon.-Sat., for dinner nightly. MC, V. Dinner for two: $20.

HONG KONG ROYALE (220 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, (213) 273-1060 or (213) 273-1062). This Cantonese seafood restaurant has a surprisingly good menu filled with both the usual fish and a few unusual offerings like conch, squid and abalone (canned) the year-round. There is lobster served in the shell mixed with fruit salad (you must order this ahead), and oysters that come pan-fried or deep-fried. The restaurant's decor, with its soft jade-green colors and modern Chinese furnishings, is pleasant. Open for dinner nightly, for lunch Mon.-Sat. Major credit cards. Dinner for two: $14-$25.

MANDARETTE (8386 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 655-6115). Small and slightly austere in its decor, Mandarette is an informal cafe that offers the small dishes owner Phillip Chiang enjoyed in Hong Kong. This is Chinese family food, simpler than that served in most restaurants. In addition to a number of wonderful noodles (spicy won tons for example), there are lighthearted dishes such as the Mandarette hot dog, an excellent pork sausage enclosed in bao . There are also more serious dishes, such as squid with Chinese broccoli. Open for lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat., for dinner only Sun. MC, V. Beer and wine only. Dinner for two: $13-$15.

SEAFOOD PARADISE I and II (8547 Westminster Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 895-7964, and 8602 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, (714) 893-6066). These sister restaurants, across the street from each other (but located in different cities) may be the great Orange County Chinese restaurants. For starters, they're fun. The color scheme is not the oppressive old Mandarin red and gold routine but a light, frivolous shade of pink with geometrical accents of pale, flashy fake gold. Almost everything is exceptionally pleasing here and special attention is paid to textures--in the Five Star Special platter, you get some good familiar items such as drunken chicken, salty duck and five-flavor beef. Along with them you get slightly hot, just-chewy shredded tripe and slightly sweet shredded jellyfish. The sea cucumber comes in rich, mild brown sauce, as soft and jelly-like as the jellyfish is crunchy. Both open for lunch and dinner daily. MC, V. Dinner for two: $10-$30.

SUN T. LOK (400 S. Arroyo Parkway, Pasadena, (818) 584-6719). This restaurant has three chefs working various routes: one tackles dim sum (the restaurant's specialty), another Cantonese and seafood, a third the Mandarin and Hunan delicacies. A variety of seafood (squid, fish, lobster) as well as more exotic items such as shark fins and duck feet are available. The restaurant's decor is dominated by pastel-colored walls and glass. There's also a banquet facility that serves 100 people. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Major credit cards. Dinner for two: $14-$28.

WONDER SEAFOOD (2505 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (818) 308-0259). Wonder is a gastronomic temple, a Chinese version of Paul Bocuse. The plain, dimly lit dining room is festooned with endless banners that inform the enlightened ones (those who can read Chinese) of their seasonal specials. One of the best dishes is a snake soup made from cobra, abalone and mushrooms. Another amazing dish is fat tiu cheong that serves 10 and contains abalone, conch, soft-shell turtle and other ingredients. Open for lunch and dinner daily. MC, V. Dinner for two: $20-$50.

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