It’s been a year since I started writing on this blog, so I wanted to do something a little different to mark this anniversary of sorts. I initially wanted to write about my favorite 5 or 10 Chinese restaurants in San Diego, then felt that not only would the audience be a little limited, but also that my absence from San Diego means I need to review and eat at a little more places before being more definitive.
Instead, I figured I would do a reflection of sorts – my favorite 5 places that I have written about in the last year and the 5 places that I really want to go eat at write about in the next year. While most of the picks will be based on the food, some will be based on the experience at the moment and the impact it had on me. The list is in order by state name, then city name, then restaurant name, so there’s really no ranking and the list really should not be perceived as such (I can write about why I try not to “rank” or place “stars” on my reviews at a latter date). So without further ado, my favorite five:
Sea Harbour (Rosemead, CA)
Reason(s): Sea Harbour has absolutely divine dim sum. My sister and I both loved the items at the restaurant regardless of whether they are “old standbys” or “new items/twists on new classics”. As it stands right now, it is still my favorite restaurant for Dim Sum.
Pro(s): Not only is the food good, the service is great as well. Items one should absolutely order here include the daikon cakes and the small plate of stir fried string beans. The decor is more upscale than even fairly nice Cantonese seafood restaurants, without being tacky.
Cons(s): The soup dumplings were very disappointing. In fact, I suggest never ordering soup dumplings from a Cantonese style dim sum place. Stick with soup dumpling specialists at Shanghainese and Taiwanese places, like Din Tai Fung.
Manna (San Diego, CA)
Reason(s): It was good quality Korean BBQ and I had fun introducing a friend to the wonders of All You Can Eat Korean BBQ. It’s also the only non-Chinese restaurant on this list makes me realize the need to review more Korean and Japanese places (which there aren’t a lot in Albuquerque).
Pro(s): Absolutely delicious and fall off the bone galbi. The galbi was simply marinated well, tender, and just meaty enough. Banchan, especially the mung bean noodles, were excellent.
Con(s): The proportion of meat was probably better for 4 people. However, if we’re really nitpicking that there was too much meat at an AYCE Korean BBQ place, it means the restaurant has done its job well.
Pearl (San Diego, CA)
Reason(s): It was the last meal I had with my cousin Charita, and a good one at that. I always love a good Cantonese style Chinese banquet and Pearl did not disappoint with good execution.
Pro(s): Delicious lobster and freshly steamed lived fish (with a sauce/marinade that all my cousins salivated over). The chicken with ham as well as the roast pork were mouthwatering and well executed. The service was very friendly and efficient.
Con(s): The servers seemed to be rushing the dishes over, creating a dance of overpiled plates of food on a cramped lazy susan. The abalone and mustard green combination was a bit overdone, and I gathered that I was the only one at my table that actually liked it (despite it being one of the most expensive dishes in the banquet). The servers didn’t comprehend us well, in English or Chinese.
Chopstix (Albuquerque, NM)
Reason(s): Homestyle Cantonese/Fujianese style food that is decently done and providing me a good taste of home in Albuquerque. In fact, the discovery of Chopstix has made me become a regular and allowed me to have old favorites like “Ants Climbing Up A Tree” (which is really mung bean noodle stir fried with ground pork).
Pro(s): Decently stir fried string beans and minced pork, similarly to how my mom used to make it. Teapots were filled with actual tea and floral leaves (for chrysanthemum tea). Bargain lunch specials (not reviewed, but I have since been a regular customer at lunch).
Con(s): Ho hum Americanized Chinese dishes on the menu. On busy nights the wait staff can be overwhelmed, though they are pretty friendly.
Noodle Village (New York, NY)
Reason(s): The lunch I reviewed was a perfect combination of a great time with family while eating classic Cantonese comfort food as it should be.
Pro(s): Nearly everything I have tried here is well executed and seems deceptively simple. I would recommend ordering the wonton noodle soup, any type of Hong Kong style lo mein, and blanched vegetables. The decor is nice too, especially for Manhattan Chinatown. The prices are very reasonable.
Con(s): On an earlier visit some friends and I tried pumpkin congee, and while the cook staff tried, it didn’t really mesh well. There could have been more toppings/filling for what’s a moderately expensive clay pot rice and the soup dumplings could have had better wrappers.
I also gave strong consideration to JJ Restaurant (Denver, CO), Daikaya (Washington, DC), East Pearl (Rockville, MD), and Street Food Asia (Albuquerque, NM).
Looking forward to the next year, there are a number of restaurants I would love to write about. Here are just five of my top restaurants I’m eagerly awaiting to eat at. Fortunately, current travel plans mean that they should be on this blog soon!
Kirin Restaurant (Richmond, BC) – Considering that Vancouver has some of the best Chinese food outside of China, I’d be foolish not to experience one of their most highly rated Cantonese seafood restaurants.
Sun Sui Wah (Richmond, BC) – Rivaling Kirin (and the Richmond branch of Sea Harbour) is Sun Sui Wah that has even been mentioned in the New York Times of top restaurants around Vancouver.
Kaya (Irvine, CA) – I love Korean BBQ as much as anyone, but there’s something more comforting about soondobu and bibimbap. Bonus, it’s rated by OC Weekly as the best Korean restaurant in Orange County
Jai Yun (San Francisco, CA) – I’ve always been piqued by the chef’s omakase-ish style of non-Cantonese Chinese plates and listed as one of the best Chinese restaurants in America.
Pho Nguyen Hue (Westminster, CA) – Yes, I have been here many times and it is consistently my favorite pho place in an area with one of the largest Vietnamese populations outside of Vietnam. However, I’ve never written about it!
Of course, there are many, many other restaurants I want to eat at and write about, including some on the East Coast (Ivan Ramen) and consistent West Coast classics (Sushi Ota). Hopefully in the next year I will take a trip to Hong Kong as well. Here’s to another year of great food and writing!