Tenure: Since opening in 1998, the family-owned Madam Lu restaurant has become synonymous with authentic tastes from Lu’s home country of Taiwan, with a menu that combines Taiwanese and Szechuan flavors.
Résumé: Arriving from Taipei in 1982, Lu waited tables for more than 12 years at Goleta’s Ming Dynasty, which was owned and operated by a childhood friend. Inspired by the flavors from home, Lu carries on the family tradition, working alongside her cousin, brother, and son.
“I learned everything growing up in the kitchen,” said Lu. “My friends are all chefs, my parents are great cooks, my kitchen continues those memories.”
Dish she digs: For the health-conscious, try the fish fillet with crispy bean sauce. Made with ground-up soybeans, pan-fried garlic, green onion, and ginger, the dish is popular with regulars (and doctors alike). Another top seller is their spicy beef, fish, or tofu hot pot, served with napa cabbage, chili oil, garlic, and ginger. Tired of tofu? For vegetarians, the restaurant offers a wide selection of meat alternatives, cooked with the same level of attention to flavor.
The scoop: Because all of her chefs come from mainland China and Taiwan, the food represents the truest flavors of Chinese cuisine, including her special non-translated Chinese menu, featuring home-country staples such as sliced pork belly sautéed with spicy chili, salted duck, pigs’ feet, and fresh steamed whole fish. Working more than 14 hours each day, seven days a week, Lu treats each guest as family, from homesick Chinese students to the countless regulars.
“My life is this restaurant,” she said. “I care about each item that comes out. I want everyone that comes in to be happy when they leave.”
3524 State Street, Santa Barbara, (805) 898-9289, madamlu.com