Monthly Archives: June 2016

Chengdu Taste, Alhambra

Chengdu Taste
828 W Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91803

Of all the restaurants I want to visit this year, Chengdu Taste is at the top of the list, even higher than 3 Michelin Star rated Lung King Heen. Much of that is due to Chengdu Taste’s reputation as one of the most hyped and lauded Chinese restaurants ever since it opened a few years ago.

So when I happened to be in LA last weekend, I decided that this was my chance to finally eat at Chengdu Taste. I invited a friend, who happily accepted and we decided to meet at 6PM on Friday. Thankfully we decided to meet early because the wait for a table started soon after we sat down.

We took a look at the menu, finding it hard to narrow the choices down to 3 dishes. In the end we decided to eat 2 well praised items and a vegetable dish to balance out the meat and carbs.

Mung Bean Jelly Noodles with Chilli

Mung Bean Jelly Noodles with Chilli Sauce

  • Mung Bean Jelly Noodle With Chilli Sauce (伤心凉粉) – The first item we ate were  the mung beans noodle, which is simple but well executed. The thick mung bean noodles had just enough bite and soaked up the hot oil and peppers really well. Given the amount of chile peppers in proportion to the amount of Sichuan peppercorns, these were the most directly spicy dish we had but not too much to be overbearing.
Toothpick Lamb at Chengdu Taste

Toothpick Lamb at Chengdu Taste

  • Toothpick Lamb (牙签羊肉) – One of the signature dishes of the restaurant, these bites of lamb did not disappoint. The lamb not only was tender and juicy, but perfectly flavored with cumin, chile pepper seeds, and sichuan peppercorns. We demolished the plate.
Sauteed String Beans at Chengdu Taste

Sauteed String Beans at Chengdu Taste

  • Sauteed String Beans (干煸四季豆) – Because I’m a fan of balancing proteins and vegetables in my meal, we chose this to be our dish with vegetables. The string beans were stir fried just right, allowing the string beans to still have a little snap. The minced pork was juicy as well. This dish had the most Sichuan peppercorns of the three allowing for a nice, but not overwhelming, mala flavor.

Overall, Chengdu Taste did not disappoint. The reason why it is so lauded was very clear dish after dish: all the dishes have just the right amount of spice and balance of flavors. While other Sichuan places overload with too many peppers or compensate with too much oil, Chengdu Taste masters the the balance of flavors to let the main ingredients shine. It is undoubtedly the best Sichuan restaurant I have eaten at.

It’s definitely a restaurant that should be on anyone’s list while they are in LA. If you want a more casual restaurant with better individual servings you can also go to their offshoot, Mian, on Valley Boulevard in nearby San Gabriel, where you can taste solid Sichuanese style noodle dishes.

Baby Cafe, Oakland

Baby Cafe
358 11th Street
Oakland, CA 94607

Over the past couple months Oakland Chinatown has seen a small wave of new food retail spaces that seem to cater to Millennial urban professionals. While the majority of these new establishments are purveyors of boba, with four new boba shops in the past few months, the trend of new, hip eateries are spreading to Hong Kong style cafes (茶餐廳) as well.

The current leader of Hong Kong style cafes in Oakland Chinatown is Shooting Star Cafe, which has had a new glitzy vibe since it opened a decade ago. With its decor and decently made food, it has drawn a consistent crowd of diners, especially those who are young. However, with a change of ownership and a little bit of remodeling, formerly lackluster Hong Kong style cafes Cafe 88 and Yummy Guide have reopened with updated decor, better food, and higher prices, probably in hopes of gaining the business of young Chinese clientele that live and/or work around Oakland Chinatown.

Baby Cafe 2

New remodel for Baby Cafe

Baby Cafe is the restaurant that took over the old Yummy Guide space. Yummy Guide was previously a very basic Hong Kong style cafe known for its very inexpensive food. As some might guess, the food quality matched the low prices at Yummy Guide. When I saw that Baby Cafe opened in this spot, I was hopeful that the quality would be a bit better so I would have more decent options for lunch. Since it has opened I have been there twice, ordering the following:

Wonton and BBQ Pork Noodle Soup at Baby Cafe

Wonton and BBQ Pork Noodle Soup at Baby Cafe

  • Wonton and BBQ Pork Noodle Soup – The wontons were noticeably better than when they were at Yummy Guide, though still a bit pork heavy. The broth was light but still flavorful though the noodles were cooked a little too long in my opinion. The BBQ Pork slices were mostly moist and flavorful. Overall it was a solid lunch option at a reasonable price.
Hainanese Chicken Rice at Baby Cafe

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Baby Cafe

  • Hainanese Chicken Rice – A standard at Hong Kong style cafes, this version had pretty moist chicken that matched well with the ginger scallion sauce. Unfrotunately, the rice could have used a bit more chicken fat as it was fairly dry and lacking in flavor. At lunch, however, they did serve it with the soup of the day and a hot drink of your choice which made this a pretty reasonably lunch option.
  • Hong Kong Style Milk Tea – Of course, I had to try their Hong Kong style milk tea. Like most places they served the milk tea with evaporated milk. The milk tea was pretty good, though the tea was not a strong as Shooting Star Cafe.

All in all, my initial thoughts are that Baby Cafe is a lot better than the space’s former occupant. However, it’s still not at the level of Shooting Star Cafe. That being said, the quality is good enough and prices are slightly better to be a good alternative for Shooting Star Cafe. I look forward to more lunches at Baby Cafe and hope they continue to improve.