It is a tradition for us—as it is for many others—to eat lunch on Christmas at a Chinese restaurant. When we’re in Minnesota on Christmas this always means lunch at Grand Szechuan. In Los Angeles, however, we have a wide range of excellent options to choose from. I’d originally thought to go to Sea Harbour for dim sum this Christmas—especially after being thwarted the previous weekend by various of the missus’ elderly aunts and uncles (we ended up at Oo-Kook instead); but then I recalled again the massive crowds we’d seen while driving past it to Chang’s Garden on Christmas a few years ago. And so we punted our Sea Harbour meal to a regular weekday and ended up instead at 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra. Thankfully, there was only a short wait. Continue reading
I’ve previously written up two meals at Chengdu Taste, the celebrated and absolutely essential Sichuan star of the San Gabriel Valley. Though I call it essential—and it is—it has somehow been two and a half years since our last visit. This is partly because it has been one and a half years since our last visit, and partly because on our last two trips we’ve docked instead at Szechuan Impression—essential in their own right. We were resolute, however, that we would return to Chengdu Taste on this trip. Annd we were there for lunch on Tuesday, less than a day after arrival. They are now a mini-empire—with three locations in the SGV and one in Las Vegas—but the original in Alhambra (which is where we always go) is no less busy for it. We got there just after noon and were given one of two empty tables. When we left at about 1.15 there were a lot of people waiting inside the door. On a Tuesday. For lunch. But the food tells you why: our third lunch was as good as our first (and that was just about a year after they’d opened). There’s been no resting on laurels here. Continue reading
We skipped dim sum on our trip to L.A. last winter—this because we were going to be in Hong Kong a month later and it didn’t seem particularly urgent to eat dim sum in L.A. Now, of course, after five months in Minnesota, the opportunity of eating dim sum that is better than just acceptable was hard to pass up. I have to admit, however, that I was a little bit nervous: years of eating dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley has made it hard for me to get excited about dim sum in Minnesota (the best of which would be about third-tier in the SGV); would eating excellent dim sum in Hong Kong do the same to the SGV? Our meal at Lei Garden had been an order of magnitude better than any we’d ever eaten at Sea Harbour or Elite—would either of these places still do it for us? It was to one of these that we wanted to go, of course: they’re still the consensus top picks in the SGV. The fact that we were going to be eating on July 4 all but ruled Sea Harbour out. The waits can be 1-2 hours on regular weekends. Elite can be as crowded but for whatever reason we’ve always had luck getting in there, and so that’s where we decided to take our chances. How did it turn out? Read on. Continue reading
We ate at Szechuan Impression on our trip to Los Angeles last winter and at the end of my review I noted that I expected we’d be back on our trip in the summer. Well, this came true almost immediately upon our arrival in Los Angeles. We got in on the evening of July 1; we ate lunch at Szechuan Impression on July 2. Joining us for lunch were Sku and his family, with whom we eat on every trip, and with whom we love eating (as they are one of very few families whose attitude to eating out is exactly like ours, that is to say, excessive). Since our last trip Szechuan Impression has opened a second branch but we made a return to the original in Alhambra. I am glad to say that expansion has not had any negative effects on the kitchen: our meal was as good as the previous, and that one was one of the best Sichuan meals we’d ever had (and better than the Michelin starred one we ate in Hong Kong a few weeks later). Continue reading
Szechuan Impression opened in 2014 and almost immediately became the major rival to Chengdu Taste in what could be called the second major wave of Sichuan restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. The first wave, by my reckoning, crested in the early 2000s with the debut of Chung King in Monterey Park (on Garfield). Chung King carried on for a decade and a half (about three lifetimes in the SGV), moving to new digs in San Gabriel in the process, but by the time they ignominiously folded up last year they had well and truly been eclipsed by the new standard bearer, Chengdu Taste. I will note, however, that the coverage of Chengdu Taste always seemed to me to forget how good Chung King had been in its prime. Still, Chengdu Taste’s newer dishes were a revelation and their greater attention to ambience was also a far cry from the utilitarian aesthetic of Chung King and Yunkun Garden and co. One way to describe Szechuan Impression is to say that it goes further along both of those axes. Continue reading
I know New Yorkers who get very exercised about the notion that the best Chinese food in the US can be found not in New York but in the San Gabriel Valley outside Los Angeles. Of course, the denial of this fact (which has been true for a long time now) is proclaimed most loudly by people who have never left New York; all New Yorker transplants to Los Angeles I’ve known who venture out to the San Gabriel Valley come to subscribe to it very quickly. Then again New Yorkers are a famously sensitive, vulnerable people and it is understandable that many of them have difficulty dealing with a shift in one of the beliefs that is a cornerstone of their identity.
It’s been more than a month since I got back from Los Angeles but I still have a number of meal reports to go. After a string of sushi reports here now is a brief account of our return to Chengdu Taste in late July. Our lunch there was one of the highlights of our trip last summer; despite noting in the write-up of that meal that we’d be back on each trip, we unaccountably failed to go in December. Well, there was going to be no such error on this trip. Once again we escaped the long lines by going for lunch on a weekday, not too long after they opened. We still had to wait but not for very long. And this time we had our table to ourselves. While the restaurant was full throughout, it does appear that the opening of the new branches in Rosemead and Rowland Heights have eased the pressure somewhat (our meal was again at the original Alhambra location). Though I’m sure weekend lunches still draw the lines.
China Red is a relatively recent addition to the top-end of the dim sum scene in the San Gabriel Valley—which is, of course, the best, from top to bottom, in the United States. It opened less than two years ago and gained a strong reputation very strongly. And, unlike another recent opening, Shi Hai, it has managed to hold on to that reputation. We didn’t eat there on our last few trips because a) I am always a little leery about new, hyped places; b) it’s in Arcadia, which is on the far end of the San Gabriel Valley from our home base in Koreatown; and c) relatedly, it’s hard to justify driving out that far when Sea Harbour, Elite, Lunasia and King Hua are all so much closer. It’s for this reason that we didn’t end up eating dim sum on this trip with Sku and his family as originally planned (we ended up at a different place with them, on which more later)—he was loth to drive the extra 10-15 minutes to Arcadia. We, however, were already going to be in the SGV in the middle of the week, last week, and so decided to cut across to Arcadia and finally check China Red out. Continue reading
One of my very first Los Angeles meal reports on the blog was of a dinner at Shanghai #1 Seafood Village, a then relatively recently opened and somewhat snazzy restaurant. I noted there that the strong reviews it had received particularly made me want to eat there as there are no Shanghai restaurants in Minnesota. This is still true (as far as I know); but, of course, it is not true that Shanghai #1 was in any way a Shanghai cuisine innovator in the San Gabriel Valley. My report today is of a meal at one of the mainstays of the Shanghai scene in the area, the very far from snazzy Mei Long Village. Continue reading
My very slow slow-motion survey of the major dim sum houses in the San Gabriel valley continues with this rather excessive meal at Lunasia—which was also eaten on our trip to Los Angeles in late December/early January.
Lunasia, depending on who you ask, is currently in the third or fourth position in the SGV’s dim sum hierarchy (Sea Harbour and Elite are uncontroversially above it and some would add King Hua as well). It is located in the same space in Alhambra that once housed Triumphal Palace, and like its predecessor (and the aforementioned contemporary luminaries) it offers dim sum not from carts but from an a la carte menu. When I first started eating dim sum in L.A (back in the mid-late 90s) the chaos of the carts was a large part of the attraction but the difference in quality between food that’s rolling around a large restaurant in carts and food coming straight from the kitchen to the table as it is ready is very hard to deny.
It has been exactly a month since we got back from Los Angeles but I still have a number of restaurant meal writeups coming from the trip. We ate in the San Gabriel Valley quite a bit less than we usually do—partly on account of a couple of plans that fell through, partly because the holiday season meant very tight opportunities to see some friends and family in other parts of greater LA, partly because we went down to San Diego for a few days. We did, however, go out for Chinese food on Christmas, as we usually try to do and, despite heading to the SGV, shockingly decided against dim sum, Sichuan and Hunan. We went instead to Chang’s Garden in Arcadia for the the milder food of Hangzhou and Shanghai.
This is the penultimate food report from our recent Los Angeles trip. This meal slot was to have been occupied by a return to one of our old favourites, Chung King, but after the havoc wreaked on our system earlier in the week by lunches at two Thai restaurants, Chengdu Taste and Hunan Mao (not to mention leftovers at night) we decided to go for something milder. And so we washed up at the San Gabriel outpost of Four Sea/Si Hai for Taiwanese breakfast (the original is in Hacienda Heights).
(By the way, I’d noted in my review of Chung King last year that they didn’t seem to have a lot of business at weekday lunch and had speculated that they must be doing much better at dinner and on weekends, given the high rate of turnover in the SGV for places that aren’t popular. For what it’s worth as we drove by Chung King on the way to Si Hai at noon on a Saturday there didn’t appear to be any more action there (no one outside, not many cars in the adjoining parking). Can anyone who’s been recently comment?)
When we got to Los Angeles last summer Hunan Mao was all the rage. On account of my aforementioned hype-phobia we skipped it and on Sku‘s recommendation got our Hunan fix at Hunan Style instead. And that was a very good meal. This year we decided to give Hunan Mao a go—after all how often do you get to eat at a restaurant named for a dictator whose policies killed tens of millions of people by starvation?
It’s a large, bright restaurant—and while it didn’t fill up (we were there for lunch on a Friday) they seemed to be doing steady business a year after all the hype. We were joined again by the same set of food forum friends who ate with us at Hunan Style, and had a good time eating and reminiscing about the days when food forum politics took up too much space in our lives, and getting some scuttlebutt from one member of the party who works in the food industry in LA. Continue reading
Chengdu Taste opened right before we got to Los Angeles last year and was immediately anointed the best Sichuan restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley (which is to say in the United States). We opted not to eat there last year on account of my general suspicion of hype. There were plenty of other places to eat excellent Sichuan at, we reasoned, and if it were still considered great a year later we’d eat there on our next trip. Well, the next trip is now and Chengdu Taste is still all the rage and so we decided to give it a go. Continue reading