Sheng Hui Dim Sum, West Covina

Sheng Hui Dim Sum
2889 E. Valley Blvd Ste J
West Covina, CA 91752

West Covina is probably most known as the setting for the acclaimed (and hilarious) TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or ,to many San Gabriel Valley locals, as the town with the mall. While it is a fairly diverse city, one thing it isn’t known for is dim sum. Dim sum lovers in LA can rattle off a number of beloved dim sum seafood palaces in Monterey Park, Alhambra, Rosemead, Rowland Heights, San Gabriel, and even Temple City but West Covina, sandwiched in between the Chinese enclaves in the West San Gabriel Valley (i.e. Monterey Park) and the East San Gabriel Valley (i.e. Walnut), is conspicuously left out of the mix.

But now West Covina may have a legitimate dim sum contender amongst the fiercely competitive scene in the San Gabriel Valley. Sheng Hui Dim Sum opened in December and this West Covina dim sum joint already has garnered favorable reviews in foodie forums and by “celebrity diner” David Chan. Though to be fair, the part of West Covina it’s in is on a part of Valley Boulevard that’s practically Walnut or nearby Rowland Heights. In fact, the closest freeway exit is Nogales Road off state route 60, the same exit you would take to shop at the Rowland Heights 99 Ranch Market.

Nonetheless, I took my Chinese New Year trip down to SoCal as an opportunity to taste how Sheng Hui stacks up to the more famous places in the more established communities of the 626. I came around 1PM on Presidents’ Day and there was a small line. Sheng Hui is in a very small space and, thus, ordering can be a bit confusing. There is seating, but only about four 2-top and one 4-top tables and you’ll have to wait until they are clear. Otherwise you can order to go, as most people do. If you do wait for a seat you can either fill out the order tick sheet beforehand and wait or wait to sit down and then fill it out. I opted to do the former to save myself time once I sat. I ordered the following, though by the time I sat down around 1:30PM a couple items I wanted were sold out.

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings at Sheng Hui

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings at Sheng Hui

  • Steamed Shrimp Dumpling 鮮味蝦餃皇 – These were pretty good with wrappers that were dextrous and not too thick. The shrimp filling was decent as well with chunks of shrimp mixed with bamboo shoots for texture and a dash of salt and pepper. I’d say a solid 8 out of 10 for a shrimp dumpling.
Roe Shrimp Shui Mai at Sheng Hui

Roe Shrimp Shui Mai at Sheng Hui

  • Roe Shrimp Shui Mai 魚子蝦燒賣 – Honestly these were some of the best shui mai I have had outside of Hong Kong (and heck, better than some I’ve had in Hong Kong). The pork and shrimp were moist and tender with perfect amounts of seasoning. What’s most significant though is that they put fresh roe on top on the shui mai after they’ve steamed to perfection. Honestly that is what makes the difference. Most dim sum places cook it with the roe, practically destroying the flavor of the roe, but over here you can taste both the succulent meat filling and the delicate flavors of the fish roe on top, all for $3.18.
  • Sticky Rice Chicken Wrapped 荷香糯米雞– They were actually sold out of what I wanted, the steamed spareribs rice, but this was a solid consolation. There were two jumbo sized packets of chicken in sticky rice. I like how the flavor of the sticky rice wasn’t too overpowered from the juices of the meat and sauces. However the meat was only so so and the dish was decent but not anything wow-ing.
  • Choy Sum Fried with Garlic 蒜香炒菜心 – This was a hearty plate of choy sum that was well worth the $5.99 paid for it. The choy sum was fresh and the garlic gave the dish a simple, yet flavorful, aroma. I wish there was slightly less oil but that’s just quibbling.

Coconut Little White Rabbit at Sheng Hui

  • Coconut Little White Rabbit 椰絲小白兔 – Dessert was basically these cute little marshmallow shaped rabbits with dusting of coconut shavings. While they seem rather incongruous with dim sum, they tasted pretty good! If only there were some chocolate and graham crackers to go with it for some s’mores.

The verdict? Sheng Hui is pretty good with some of the best classic dim sum dishes in the San Gabriel Valley (and therefore the entire nation). I love that the dishes are steamed very fresh and there’s high turnover which means little to no items are oversteamed. I do like that they also have some creative items too in addition to the classics. But above all, I love that they do the classics right. I hope these small mom and pop business puts West Covina on the map as another San Gabriel Valley dim sum destination.

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Boba/Milk Tea Trends

(Lunar) New Year, new me, I suppose. On Friday, the first day of the lunar new year for Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other Asian communities, I decided to take my first sip of the trend that swept through China and landed on our American shores in the past year or two: salted cheese cream.

Yes, I know what you might think. Salted cheese foam/cream on tea, even bubble tea? What is going on? That just sounds downright nasty. And honestly, I get it. For about a year I was skeptical and to bring myself to combine cheese with milk tea or even regular green tea sounded as distant a possibility as Adam Rippon going back into the straight and narrow closet. However, for the sake of this blog and for my desire to try most Asian related food items, it was time to give it a go just once.

So on Friday I drove to the Gardena location of Happy Lemon, a Chinese milk tea chain that has rapidly expanded in North America and helped driven the popularity of salted cheese foam drinks in American communities with many Chinese residents. Locations of the chain can be found in Chinese American enclaves like Flushing, Monterey Park, Cupertino, and Berkeley. (Of course there are many other locations that serve salted cheese tea, including in places with less concentrations of Chinese folk)


Salted Cheese Tea Drinks at Happy Lemon

When I stepped to the counter I asked the friendly cashier what would be the best drink for my first time. She suggested the salted cheese green tea, which I ordered. I was also intrigued by the milk tea with tiramisu cream cheese so I ordered that as well. Within minutes I got my drinks and promptly did a little taste testing:

  • Salted Cheese Green Tea – This “classic” salted cheese drink (which is generally one of the simplest versions too) combines a moderate layer of salted cheese foam on top with sweetened ice green tea below. In general you should tilt the drink at an angle of at least 45 degrees to allow some of the tea and the cheese foam to mix and enter your mouth. The cheese foam was actually not bad. In it’s defense, it’s kind of a misnomer because it’s basically whipped/foamy cream cheese with a little salt in it. It blended reasonably well with the green tea, allowing the saltiness and the umami flavor of the foam to accent the sweetness of the tea. Not bad, but not really my favorite.
  • Milk Tea with Oreo and Tiramisu Salted Cheese – Next I tried a drink with tiramisu salted cheese. I liked the tiramisu salted cheese better mainly because I also like the tiramisu flavor with gives a bit of sweetness and slight coffee taste to the salted cheese foam. With the milk tea, it was nice if a tad sweet. The Oreo topping did add a nice amount of crunch but added to the sweetness overload. Though given that I was in a sweet dessert/Starbucks-like drink kind of mode, it was definitely perfect for the moment.

All in all, despite the English name, the salted cheese tea drinks really aren’t bad. Are they good and word trying I guess really depends if you like creamy, slightly salted foam to go with your drinks. They certainly pair well with certain drinks (I hear the pairing with black tea is actually pretty good), but it’s not something I would necessarily crave. I would definitely try it out and taste for yourself. If you don’t like it, you never have to taste it again and there are plenty of non-salted drinks at these places that you’ll have options even if your friends are obsessed with it.


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Kenny’s Noodle House, Portland

Kenny’s Noodle House
8305 SE Powell Street
Portland, OR 97266

Portland gets critical raves for its food, beer, and coffee, and rightfully so. From a plate of Hainanese chicken rice at Nong’s Khao Man Gai to sipping a nitro coffee at Stumptown, there’s a lot of food and drink to please the palate. However, while Portland wins rave reviews for its Thai food, including the aforementioned Nong’s and Pok Pok, its other Asian cuisine restaurants are a bit under the radar, including its Chinese cuisine.

One of those places flying under the radar of all the blogs and travel guides is Kenny’s Noodle House, a small restaurant in Portland’s Jade District centered on SE 82nd Avenue. The specialty at this quasi hole-in-the-wall restaurant is Cantonese style noodle soups and congee. While it has been open since 2008, it wasn’t until a year or two ago that it was featured in an article in Portland’s alternative weekly, the Willamette Weekly. And with a 4 star rating with 351 reviews on Yelp, I was compelled to finally try it out this past weekend in Portland (though I had attempted to eat there last summer while it was closed for vacation).

My friends and I arrived at 6:30PM on a Sunday night, finding ample parking and a table for 3. While it was nice not to be in painfully long lines as many of Portland’s more famous restaurants, I soon realized the downside of coming here for dinner. They were sold out of congee, a breakfast staple in Cantonese cuisine. I couldn’t begrudge them too much given that I clearly should have gone here earlier for breakfast or lunch, but it was a little disappointing. Nonetheless, there were noodle soups to be eaten and after careful consideration we ordered the following:

Wonton Noodle Soup at Kenny's Noodle House

Wonton Noodle Soup at Kenny’s Noodle House

  • Wonton Noodle Soup 鮮蝦雲吞麵 – The soup was pretty good with a lighter seafood aroma accented by pieces of yellow chives. The wontons were on point too, being almost entirely shrimp that was seasoned well with salt and pepper. Sadly the noodles were a little overcooked but not enough that I didn’t find this one of the best bowls of wonton noodle soup I’ve had in the US.
  • Beef Brisket Noodle Soup 柱侯牛腩麵 – The soup was a little milder than I’m used to but otherwise it was fairly good and the beef brisket was tender and well marinated. Like the wonton noodle soup, the noodles were a bit softer than I liked, but otherwise a solid version of this classic dish.
Sliced Beef with Ginger & Green Onion in Oyster Sauce

Sliced Beef with Ginger & Green Onion in Oyster Sauce at Kenny’s Noodle House

  • Sliced Beef with Ginger & Green Onion in Oyster Sauce 薑蔥牛肉撈麵 – In a different turn I ordered an authentic style lo mein (as opposed to the ones you find at an Americanized Chinese restaurant). The noodles were a bit better here and I liked the beef slices. However, there could have been slightly less oyster sauce as it was a little overpowering at times.

Bok Choy with Oyster Sauce at Kenny’s Noodle House

  • Bok Choy with Oyster Sauce 蠔油小白菜 – I really wanted to get the Ung Choy but sadly they were sold out. However, this was fairly tasty as the bok choy was blanched perfectly with just enough oyster sauce on the side to flavor but not overpower. Would certainly order again.

All in all, Kenny’s Noodle House is still somewhat of a “hidden” (to the non-Cantonese) gem that serves absolutely delicious noodle soups. I only wish I was able to try out the congee, but that just means I need to return to Portland again!

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Longo Seafood, Rosemead

Longo Seafood
7540 Garvey Ave, Suite A
Rosemead, CA 91770

As David Chan wrote in his latest Menuism article, Los Angeles (and mainly the San Gabriel Valley) is on the uptick on good, innovative dim sum again. After plateauing for a good decade where Sea Harbour, Elite, King Hua, and Lunasia dominated the top tier, the last year or so have seen an uptick again on innovative and solidly executed dim sum. And now, a few months after Xiang Yuan Gourmet hit the scene, we now have Longo Seafood in Rosemead trying to make its mark.

I went last Friday during my most recent trip to SoCal for the holidays hoping to see how Longo Seafood stacks up and to taste for myself on whether a new wave of innovation is, in fact, coming to the Cantonese seafood palaces of the San Gabriel Valley. Arriving around 11, I was seated quite quickly as a party of one. Like other top places in California, you order off a menu. The restaurant has a ton of interesting and innovative items so it took me a while to figure out what exactly I wanted to order. In the end I got the following:

Kaya (Coconut Jam) Pastry at Longo Seafood

Kaya (Coconut Jam) Pastry at Longo Seafood

  • Kaya (Coconut Jam) Pastry 傳統雞印包 – These little buns instantaneously look me to heaven. The outside is a superbly baked “pineapple” bun while the inside is filled with luscious kaya jam. Not quite as good as jam found in Singapore, but delicious all the same and I devoured every last one. This was a very unique and wonderfully delicious dish.

BBQ Supreme and Golden Red Rice Rolls at Longo Seafood

  • BBQ Supreme Rice Rolls 燒味手拉腸 – The bbq in these rice rolls were nice, succulent morsels of roast suckling pig. The rice rolls were lightly and freshly pulled, making for a nice balance between the fatty pork, the delicate, yet dextrous, rice rolls, and the slightly sweet soy sauce. A little expensive, but would definitely ordering again.
  • Golden Red Rice Rolls 金絲紅米腸 – The “golden” part of these golden rice rolls are lightly fried dried scallop. The slight savoriness of the dried scallop balances out the light sweetness of the red rice rolls for a nice, fairly simple dish. Unfortunately I had 2 rice noodle dishes so I couldn’t really finish these all.
  • Longo Shrimp Dumpling 鴻德蝦餃皇 – These shrimp dumplings had a nice, not too big, filling of diced shrimp with just enough salt and pepper to enhance the shrimp’s natural flavor. While the dumpling skins were decent, these were just a tad too thick so it was a little more difficult in tearing.

Mushroom Bun at Longo Seafood

  • Mushroom Bun 鮮奶油蘑菇包 – In another case of “I should have read the Chinese description first”, I found these to be disappointing. It wasn’t because the restaurant didn’t properly label in Chinese, but because I had hoped these mushroom buns were filled with, well, mushrooms instead of just looking like one. Unfortunately, instead of being a savory treat they were filled with cream. So as a cream bun in the shape of a mushroom, it was nice if a little less sweet than I’d like, but as a person who wanted a savory mushroom filling it wasn’t that great.

All in all I do think Longo Seafood is another spot raising the standard and innovation for dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley. Do I think it’s quite up to the level of Dragon Beaux in San Francisco in terms of execution yet? No. However given the sheer number of high quality, innovative items, it could be soon before Longo Seafood and other LA spots takes the crown again for best dim sum in the US.

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Hawking Bird, Oakland

Hawking Bird
4901 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

A lot of Oaklanders were disheartened when James Syhabout’s acclaimed Hawker Fare in Oakland’s uptown area closed earlier this year to make way for more luxury condos and apartments. While you could go to his 2 Michelin star restaurant, Commis, on Piedmont Ave or venture to San Francisco’s Mission District to the remaining outpost of Hawker Fare, East Bay residents yearning for Syhabout’s taste for Northern Thai were waiting for a huge hole to be filled. Fortunately, Syhabout decided to create a fast casual concept called Hawking Bird focusing on Thai style poached and fried chicken.

Hawking Bird opened on Thursday, when, coincidentally enough, I was doing some research to see where my friends should eat for lunch on Saturday. Given the rave reviews of the Khao Mun Gai (Thai version of Hainanese Chinese Rice) at Hawker Fare, I was excited to try it out and it happened to be a short-ish walk from my house.

We met up a little after 12:30PM. There were still a good number of seats and tables available so I sat down and reserved a table for us. When my friends came over, we took a look at the menu quickly and stood in line to order. A few minutes later, our buzzers rang and we picked up our food at the pick up counter near the kitchen. We ordered the following:


KMG at Hawking Bird

  • KMG – Hawking Bird’s version of khao mun gai is flavorful with chicken poached just to doneness (though a friend of mine who also ordered the dish feared it may have not been quite cooked through). The meat was tender and the subtle flavor helped the sauce shine through and meld perfectly. The rice itself had the flavor of the poached chicken broth that allowed it to be aromatic without being too rich and fatty. Overall, a pretty good rendition of the dish.

The Hawking Bird with Garlic Noodles

  • The Hawking Bird, Boxed – 2 of my friends got the hawking bird, one with the rice cooked with chicken fat and the other with the garlic noodles. The difference between the hawking bird and the KMG, as you can see in the pictures, is that the hawking bird itself is fried with a spicy jam-like sauce on top. The chicken was fried perfectly and the jam gave it a slightly sweet and perfectly spicy kick to it. It melded well with the rice but the garlic noodles were even better. The garlic noodles were made with perfectly cooked wheat noodles that had a nice kick of garlic and a very savory soy-based sauce. My one slight quibble with it was that when I ate part of my friend’s leftovers, the sauce of the garlic noodles and the jam of the hawking bird could meld into a concoction that’s a tad bit salty. But otherwise, you can’t go wrong with either dish.

Tum Style Spicy Picked Vegetables at Hawking Bird

  • Tum Style Spicy Vegetable Pickles – The vegetables included in the pickles were carrots, onions, and green beans. I liked the pickles in that it provided a nice slightly sour kick that helped cut the richness in the other bites of food I was eating. While there was a nice amount of fish sauce, unfortunately I didn’t feel it was very spicy so those who are excited about the “spicy” part of the name are warned before getting disappointed.
  • Fried Tater Tots – The tater tots were pretty good, though I think they could have been fried just a slight bit longer. The seasoning was nice and light and my friends and I surmised that the seasoning is a mixture of seaweed powder, salt, and pepper. It was definitely a hit amongst the table.

All in all I really loved the Hawking Bird and think it’s a good addition to Temescal, providing good food at reasonable prices in a fast casual style. They are still open for limited hours until they get a liquor license for the bar and everything else up and running. However, if you manage to be in the Temescal area for lunch, I definitely recommend taking a bite at Hawking Bird.

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Singapore Continued: Char Kway Teow and Kaya Toast

While my previous post may have suggested that all my meals in Singapore were just plates of chicken rice, that wasn’t quite the case. As iconic as chicken rice is, there is far more to Singaporean cuisine with its rich culinary history blending the cuisines of its predominantly Malay, Chinese, and Indian populations. So in addition to chicken rice, I definitely ate a few plates of 2 other celebrated dishes in Singapore: kaya toast and char kway teow.

Kaya Toast

Kaya toast is a fairly typical breakfast in Singapore, though in many places it’s available all day long, usually with a cup of kopi (coffee) or teh (milk tea). Kaya toast is made of bread that is slathered with kaya jam (made of coconut milk, pandan leaf, eggs, and sugar) and butter. It’s traditional to also dip the pieces of toast into a bowl of soft poached egg to provide a bite that is simultaneously sweet and crunchy but also savory and gooey. And while I was in Singapore, I had the privilege to taste a few different versions of kaya toast at the following places:

五十年代 (Chinatown Complex Stall 02-048) – Tucked in the labyrinth of the Chinatown Complex is this “1950’s” style stall serving kopi and kaya toast. Being a fan of milk tea, I decided to get the tea and kaya toast. The tea was very nice with a good balance of strong tea flavor and creaminess of the condensed milk. I still prefer the very similar Hong Kong style milk tea, but it is very similar. As for the kaya toast, it was simple but heavenly. The kaya jam was slathered evenly and the butter melted through to create a very rich, sweet taste the balanced nicely with the perfectly toasted bread.

Rasapura Masters (Marina Bay Sands) – Later that day after an afternoon at the Gardens by the Bay, my friend and I took advantage of the air conditioning at the Marina Bay Sands. We ventured to Rasapura Masters, a high end mall version of a “hawker center” (similar to a Food Republic). Seeing that I wasn’t that hungry, but wanted more caffeine, I went to the stall for kaya toast and ordered a set. As expected for a high end mall wannabe hawker center, it was not only the most expensive kaya toast, but also the least tasty. The kaya jam was less sweet and the bread was definitely soft and not toasted much, if at all. Worst of all, there was a thick slab of butter that was served too cold so it was just this thin solid slab of butter in the middle that made the flavor uneven.



Ya Kun Kaya Toast (Bugis Junction) – On my last day of Singapore, my friend and I took a final pit stop at the well regarded Ya Kun chain. While I knew that it’s a franchise, this was probably in the middle of the two other kaya toasts in terms of quality (which may be due to poorer standards at this particular location). The bread was toasted, but not quite as warm and crunchy. This meant that while the jam was tasty, the butter didn’t quite melt all the way through meaning a very uneven flavor. The tea was pretty good though.

All in all, of the few places I tried,五十年代 was certainly the best.

Char Kway Teow

Aside from kaya toast, I also ate a couple examples of another classic Singaporean / Malay of Chinese descent dish: char kway teow. Char kway teow, for those unfamiliar, is a dish of flat rice noodles, chives, eggs, onions, garlic, dark soy sauce, and seafood (in the case of Singapore: cockles). While the rich seafood taste makes the taste fundamentally different, the dish’s basic aspects are similar to the Cantonese stir fried beef rice noodles. I’ve had the dish a couple of times in the United States, but was curious to see how a truly authentic version of this dish tasted. Even in my limited time, I was fortunate enough to try two versions of the dish:


A post shared by Jon Wong (@thewongmann) on

Tiong Bahru Fried Kway Teow (Tiong Bahru Food Centre Stall #02-11) – They literally serve only 1 dish at this stall and your choices is essentially whether you want the $3 SGD “small” plate or the $4 SGD larger plate. I opted for a small plate as it was my second bite of food that lunch after a plate of chicken rice. I waited about 10-15 minutes in line and got the nice plate you can see above. After sitting down, I basically inhaled the dish because it was just that good. The noodles and other ingredients had a nice “wok hey” being slightly crisp and not too oily. The cockles, while not being my favorite seafood, provided a nice chewy texture to balance the soft bites. The slivers of bean sprouts countered with a nice crunch and all of it together was heavenly.

Food Opera (Ion Orchard) – While Tiong Bahru’s char kway teow is simple and utilitarian, the one at Food Opera was a bit fancier. First, it’s lay atop a dried pandan leaf as if the days when pandan leaves were the dishware of choice was glamorous. Then it’s got a potpurri of various seafood items that make it seem more luxurious. In terms of flavor it’s got a little too much egg and doesn’t quite get that slightly charred wok hey as Tiong Bahru, but it’s still pretty solid.

And that’s a wrap for Singapore, by far the best city in the world in terms of value ratio of flavor to money spent.

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Chowing on Chicken Rice in Singapore

Hainanese Chicken Rice is considered the national dish of Singapore for good reason. You can find the dish anywhere, it’s cheap, and even the worst renditions you might find are still pretty tasty. And, of course, there is history behind the dish. While the dish is practically synonymous with Singapore, it does have roots in a style of chicken preparation from Hainan that was spread and then adapted when a substantial diaspora of Hainanese people immigrated to Singapore.

Given its vaunted status and my fondness for the dish, be it in Cantonese, Thai, or Malaysian form at restaurants in the US, I had to eat some chicken rice when I went on my recent vacation to Singapore. Thus, in just 3.25 ish total days in the Lion City I ate my way through 5 different chicken rice dishes. This is obviously just a small sampling of the amount of chicken rice available in the city-state, but enough that I can give a decent review on this blog and determine the best I have eaten (so far). 

So without further ado, here are the 5 different chicken rices I had in Singapore and my thoughts on them:

Chicken Rice at Lao Wang Chicken Rice

Chicken Rice at Lao Wang Chicken Rice

  • Lao Wang Chicken Rice (Chinatown Complex; stall 02-113) – First up was Lao Wang in the massive Chinatown Complex hawker centre. To be completely honest, I went to Chinatown Complex to try to get a taste of Liao Fan’s Michelin-starred soy sauce chicken. However, they were closed and thus I got to try my first plate of Hainanese chicken rice at Lao Wang. The rice was fragrant and full of the poached chicken stock while the chicken was tender and flavorful. However, the one thing that was off for me was the gelatinized fat underneath the skin that gave a slightly off taste and texture. While I understand it is procedure to bathe the chicken in ice after poaching (to presumably stop it from overcooking and separate the skin from the meat), the chicken was, perhaps, a little too chilled.
Chicken Rice at Tiong Bahru Boneless Chicken Rice

Chicken Rice at Hainanese Tiong Bahru Boneless Chicken Rice

  • Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice (Tiong Bahru Plaza; stall 02-82) – Next was Tiong Bahru’s hawker centre (Tiong Bahru turned out to be my favorite neighborhood on the trip). I went to the Michelin Bib Gourmand recommended stall near the plaza entrance. The chicken was subtler in flavor and a little chewy, but I did like how it was light and not greasy. This, however, did lead to a less flavorful rice which was disappointing. All in all, it was pretty good and I could definitely see why Michelin recommended it, especially for $3.50 a plate. However, I hadn’t had the perfect chicken rice just yet…

Chicken Rice at Tian Tian Chicken Rice

  • Tian Tian Chicken Rice (Maxwell Food Centre, stall 01-10/11) – After returning from a brief day trip in Hong Kong my friend and I went to the Maxwell Food Centre, homed to the famed Tian Tian Chicken Rice stall, listed as the best chicken rice in many, many chicken rice articles and recommendations. So I sauntered to the long line and waited 20 minutes until I got to the front of the stall and pay $5.50 SGD for my plate of chicken rice (by far my most expensive chicken rice, but I suppose they have to pay rent for two stalls). A couple minutes after paying, I received my tray of chicken rice and scurried to my table to eat it. I must admit, that first bite of rice was heavenly. The rice was so fragrant with the rice aroma of the chicken stock and a hint of garlic that I felt like my brain hit instant euphoria. However, I’ll also admit that the chicken itself was just okay. It was juicy and flavorful, but also a little bit chewy which perhaps meant being slightly overcooked. Though, in fairness, I’ll also add that their chilli dipping sauce was the best.

Chicken Rice at Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice

  • Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice (Maxwell Food Centre, stall 01-07) – Not having enough chicken rice for lunch, I decided to make a beeline to Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice, which was started by a former Tian Tian chef that was sacked a few years ago. While they did not have the precise chicken rice plate I wanted, I got the chicken rice set which seemed close enough. For $5 SGD you get a plate of rice on the side with chicken and veggies on a plate together than the chicken on top of the rice. And after eating a bite of the chicken, I knew I had found my chicken winner. It was tender and succulent, with the tanginess of the chicken fat gravy on top punching this extra level of umami that was just amazing. The rice wasn’t as flavorful as Tian Tian but it had just enough chicken flavor and fat that it was a pretty close second. The chilli sauce here was a little thicker and spicier than Tian Tian, so while it wasn’t as well balanced, it did give a nice heat to help enhance and cut a little of the saltiness.

Chicken Rice on JAL

  • Japan Airlines Economy Class (SIN-HND on JL 36) – On my flight back home via Tokyo I got a surprise extra meal of chicken rice as part of Japan Airlines’ celebration of 40 years of service to Singapore. While the chicken was pretty tender and juicy, suffice to say that it paled in comparison to most of the chicken rice I had in Singapore. The rice definitely wasn’t as flavorful and you didn’t quite get that tender skin and fat that you would get on the ground. Nonetheless, it was fairly excellent for airplane food so I’ll still give Japan Airlines A+ for effort and execution.

All in all my favorite chicken rice goes to Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice. Honestly the most ideal is to get the rice and chilli sauce at Tian Tian and walk over to Ah Tai for their chicken and broth. That said, it’s a bit of a hassle to do that given the possible waits at both stalls. So when push comes to shove I would chose Ah Tai. While the rice itself might be the most important factor of the dish, Ah Tai’s overall marks with its tender chicken and decent rice barely nudge it on top of Tian Tian.

That said, I have not nearly tried enough chicken rice in Singapore so I look forward to more meals of the renown dish the next time in back. Perhaps after the next trip I’ll be just as opinionated about chicken rice in Singapore as I am of dim sum in Hong Kong.

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Fung Fung Yuen, San Diego

Fung Fung Yuen
10660 Camino Ruiz
San Diego, CA 92126

When I saw that the old Home Town Buffet my family used to go to (a bit) was turning to giant Chinese restaurant complete with dim sum, I was naturally curious. After all, if I could spend 10-15 minutes driving to dim sum from my parent’s house instead of 15-20 to one of the places in Kearny Mesa, I was all for it. However, I was also skeptical of such a large Chinese restaurant succeeding in Mira Mesa given that Silver Ark in a nearby (albeit less trafficked) strip mall closed after operating for just a few years, despite a reasonably large Chinese and Chinese of Vietnamese descent community within a short-ish driving distance.

Nonetheless, I had to go and took the opportunity to this Saturday on my quick trip to Southern California before my trip to Singapore. One of my really close friends happily agreed to go visit the restaurant too and off we went.

We arrived a little after 7PM and it was fairly easy to get a table. In fact, the restaurant was probably about 60% full. I was surprised they served dim sum at night as well, but it was a perfect way to sample dim sum items as well as a cooked to order entree dish. The dim sum came on carts (much to my disappointment) and, interestingly enough, they gave you a red and green painted cylindrical wooden block like you would get at a Brazilian steakhouse in the US. Green side up and the carts kept coming, red side up and it was a signal you were done (at least temporarily). So as our block continued to be green, we ate the following:

Beef Short Ribs and Sticky Rice at Fung Fung Yuen

Beef Short Ribs and Sticky Rice at Fung Fung Yuen

  • Beef Short Ribs w/ Black Bean Sauce (黑椒特級牛仔骨) – Our first item was probably the worst item we got. The beef short ribs (as you can kind of tell) looks sad. While the temperature was okay, the beef was overcooked, the sauce too oily, and the tendon a bit gristly. It’s probably one of the worst versions of this dish I have had
  • Sticky Rice Wrap (金沙瑤柱珍珠雞) – Luckily the next item, the sticky rice with chicken, was fairly good. The rice was sticky and moist and the filling had tender chicken, mushrooms, and pork sausage.
  • Soy Sauce Chow Mein – The chow mein was okay. The noodles were stir fried decently, if slightly a little oily. My main issue was the slight unevenness of the stir frying as some parts got a very nice mix of green onions, soy sauce, and noodles and other parts were practically sauceless.

Beef Ball and Chow Mein at Fung Fung Yuen

  • Beef Ball (陳皮沖菜蒸牛肉丸) – The beef balls were fairly good, filled with some peas and water chestnuts. They were pretty moist and decent tasting. I was a little sad they didn’t drizzle wocestershire sauce on it like other places, but it was fine.
  • Chicken Spring Rolls (脆皮春卷) – While lukewarm (as it had been sitting on the cart), these were fairly good with a crunchy shell and a meaty filling that was decently seasoned with ground chicken and shredded mushrooms.

Salt and Pepper pork chops at Fung Fung Yuen

  • Salt & Pepper Pork Chop (椒鹽肉排) – There non-dim sum menu is a bit spartan, but that may be to their blessing as this was probably one of the best versions of this pork chop dish I’ve had. The batter was thick enough but not too overpowering and fried just right to be crunchy without being too oily. The pork itself was fairly moist and the peppers they used to fry it with were perfectly cooked. This was by far the best dish of the night for me.

While some of the reviews (both on Yelp and other blogs) have complained about cold to lukewarm food, I didn’t have much of an issue with that. Also, it looks like they have fixed the kinks with amount of carts. They now have about 5 carts that do seem to circulate relatively frequently and do keep the food warm. That said, much of the dim sum does suffer because the items are kept in the steamers for quite a while, leaving many items to be overcooked.

All in all, I was a little disappointed that Fung Fung Yuen didn’t seem to be the new game changer needed to help elevate the ho hum quality of dim sum in San Diego. That said, there is promise in the cook to order dishes from the kitchen and it is nice to finally have dim sum a bit closer to home. It’s a decent option for dim sum desiring folks that live in North County close to Mira Mesa, but it’s definitely not a place worth going out of the way for yet, though it looks like they are improving.

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Ten Places to Taste Hong Kong in North America

It was 5 years ago this weekend that my mom passed away. While there were a number of delicious foods and restaurants she introduced my siblings and me to, the one that stood out the most in our memories were the cha chaan tengs (茶餐廳), also known as a Hong Kong style cafes. In fact, to this day my brother wistfully remembers the times and food we had at a now-closed cha chaan teng near the college he attended. So while I love all the dim sum, Korean BBQ, and pho we had, our meals at cha chaan tengs are what I miss the most.

And arguably, I think it’s the best type of restaurant to experience the culture and food of Hong Kong. Sure, dim sum is delicious, seafood palaces are sumptuous, and Cantonese BBQ purveyors deliver morsels of lip-smacking goodness, but nothing represents the East meets West, fast paced lifestyle that is quintessentially Hong Kong like a cha chaan teng.

After all, cha chaan tengs are essentially Hong Kong’s version of a diner, and honestly what is a more quintessential American restaurant than a diner? Like a diner, cha chaan tengs may not have the best food, but the food is reliable and comfortable. And of course, they are ubiquitous in Hong Kong. A block could have a few cha chaan tengs, all doing brisk business with lines waiting for a seat.

Thus, here’s a guide to ten decent cha chaan tengs where you can sip a good cup of Hong Kong style milk tea, eat a steak with black pepper sauce and rice, and take a bite of a pineapple bun across North America (restaurants sorted by metro area by state/province. There are other metros with decent cha chaan tengs, this is just a selection):

Vancouver/Richmond, BC

Cafe Gloucester (3338 Cambie St, Vancouver) – Not the most glamorous cha chaan teng (though most are rarely glamorous), but they serve reasonably good takes on classic Hong Kong diner dishes with larger portions and reasonable prices. I loved their Hong Kong style Russian borscht in particular.

Silver Tower Cafe Restaurant (100-8500 Alexandra Road, Richmond) – There are a few cha chaan tengs in this couple block stretch of Alexandra Road in Richmond alone, but I find Silver Tower Cafe to be one of the better ones. Whether you want steak on top of a bed of french fries and peas or a bowl of beef brisket noodle soup, they have it all and almost everything I’ve had there in the couple times I’ve been have been very satisfying. Best of all for a traveler, it’s just relatively short walk from the Landsdowne Canada Line station.

Los Angeles, CA (inc. the San Gabriel Valley and Orange County)

JJ Cafe (447 Garvey Ave, Monterey Park) – One of the first popular cha chaan tengs in the San Gabriel Valley, JJ Cafe has been dishing out solid, if not spectacular food for a couple decades. The baked pork chop dishes and milk tea here are fairly representative of the east-west fusion you would find back in Hong Kong.

Tasty Garden 2

Tasty Garden (288 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra; also in Irvine, Monterey Park, and Westminster) – This mini chain in SoCal executes almost all its dishes well. I prefer the Alhambra location for excellent execution of the Cantonese comfort dishes on the menu in addition to excellent Hong Kong milk tea and egg waffles done right (unlike at some other branches).

San Francisco Bay Area, CA

Cooking Papa 1

Dumpling and wonton noodle soup at Cooking Papa

Cooking Papa (949A Edgewater Blvd, Foster City; also in Mountain View and Santa Clara) – Not a true cha chaan teng as they do not have the ubiquitous Hong Kong style western food that’s endemic and definitive of a cha chaan teng, but they do a solid serving of classic Cantonese food with pretty decent milk tea. Foster City used to be the standard to beat, but I’ve had better food at their Santa Clara location more recently.

Hong Kong Chef (46356 Warm Springs Blvd in Fremont) – I came here on a whim during the first day of service at the Warm Springs/South Fremont station and it didn’t disappoint. I really liked their preserved meat claypot rice dish as well as their various stir-fried vegetables including Chinese broccoli and tong choy.

Kowloon Tong Dessert Cafe (393 7th Ave, San Francisco) – Some of the best milk tea and egg waffles I’ve had in the Bay Area have been at this tucked in restaurant on 7th Ave in the Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco. While their entree plates are fairly mediocre (which you can tell by their name), their snacks and desserts are pretty good, including their curry fishballs that definitely tasted like home.

Hong Kong Style Milk Tea at Shooting Star Cafe

Hong Kong Style Milk Tea at Shooting Star Cafe

Shooting Star Cafe (1022 Webster St, Oakland) – Glitzy decor and modern-ish furnishings set this cha chaan teng apart from most others. But this restaurant isn’t just about the looks. I find it has the best milk tea I have tasted in the Bay Area and they shine very bright in their desserts, including their egg waffles. Their savory food leaves a little more to be desired but there are some gems there too, including their Hainanese Chicken Rice, Wonton Noodle Soup, and Black Pepper Short Ribs.

New York, NY

Cha Chan Tang (45 Mott St, New York) – Their menu sides more with the instant ramen, sandwiches, and macaroni soups that are popular in Hong Kong and they do them fairly well. Those are not my favorite cha chaan teng dishes, but it definitely gives you another side of Hong Kong cuisine where they make “western” foods uniquely their own.

Toronto, ON

Phoenix Restaurant (7155 Woodbine Ave., Markham; also on McCowan in Markham, Scarborough, and Thorhill) – This place excels the most at baked rice dishes, Hainanese Chicken Rice, and their Hong Kong style twist on Southeast Asian food, but other dishes seem to be solid as well. 

Of course, most of these cha chaan tengs also have “authentically” Hong Kong style service, where turning tables is of the upmost importance. So sit down, look at the menu quickly (yes, even with all the options!), order, and eat. If you need something, just wave your hands. Yes, this perfunctory service is part of the ambience. It’s not necessarily rude, just ruthlessly efficient and an integral part of Hong Kong’s go-go-go culture.

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Xiang Yuan Gourmet, Temple City

Xiang Yuan Gourmet
9556 Las Tunas Dr.
Temple City, CA 91780

A month ago when I was in Southern California I wanted to try a new dim sum place. Fortunately, Chinese food writer and “celebrity diner” David Chan wrote this story on LA Weekly just before my trip so of course I had to try Xiang Yuan Gourmet.

So after doing some work and watching the solar eclipse, I drove from my hotel in Pasadena to Temple City. It was about 1:30PM on a Monday and it was fairly easy to get a table for one. Perhaps only one quarter of the tables were taken. After sitting down I looked at the menu and decided that the following items would give me a good feel of the quality of the menu:

  • Crystal Shrimp Har Gow (蝦餃皇) – The shrimp dumpling filling was fairly tasty with a little salt and pepper and slight crunch from a little water chestnuts. However the dumpling skin was a little gummy, perhaps because of too much water. In general, it was fairly good if perhaps not as fantastic as a place like Sea Harbour.

Mushroom Bun at Xiang Yuan Gourmet

  • Mushroom Bun (野生磨茹包) – These, however, were fantastic. Not only did they look pretty, but the tasty of these mushroom buns were heavenly. The bun was slightly chewy without being too dry or dense and the mushroom filling was very tasty that was full of chopped shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and carrots. I couldn’t eat these fast enough!

Beef Rice Paper Roll at Xiang Yuan Gourmet

  • Beef Rice Paper Roll (冬菜牛肉腸) – The rice noodle rolls were solid and I loved the separated sweet soy sauce to drizzle only as much as you like and not having the rice noodles too soggy when you eat them. The rice noodles themselves were pretty good, not being too sticky and the filling was tender with some preserved vegetables meshing well with the tender beef. There were some yu choy on the side as well for taste and garnish.

Crispy Bamboo Shoot Roll at Xiang Yuan Gourmet

  • Crispy Bamboo Shoot Paste Roll (甘笱流沙包) – Then these came out and I was very awed by dim sum formed to look like a carrot. There aren’t any carrots at all on this dish but instead it’s bamboo shoot paste formed into a carrot like shell and deep fried. Inside was a filling of salty runny egg custard. The melding was intriguing and tasty, though the salty egg yolk was not expected. In retrospect, that could have been easily rectified if I had read the Chinese name. All those hundreds spent on Chinese school apparently went to waste…
  • Salted Egg Yolk Bun (流沙包) – Which meant that I double ordered salty egg yolk items. These were solid but after tasting the ones in the bamboo shoot paste roll ones, they were incomparable. I also ordered these trying to see if they would be the ones shaped like hedgehogs, but unfortunately they were not. Apparently, those are the taro buns.

All in all, fairly good new dim sum restaurant with creative items that are becoming more common in Hong Kong but still very rare in the US. I would definitely go again to try out more items with this promising start. If you’re in the San Gabriel alley soon and want to try a new dim sum place, check this out. Some of these items just might become the new standards at other restaurants.

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