Monthly Archives: February 2017

Food Alley at Westfield Santa Anita, Arcadia

For a couple of years now I have heard about the growth of exciting, quality Asian dining establishments in Westfield’s Santa Anita Mall. First, it was Hai Di Lao, the first American branch of the pricey Sichuanese hot pot chain. Then it was the development of Meizhou Dongpo’s second US location and Din Tai Fung’s new larger 3rd Arcadia location. 

All this development has not been limited to big Chinese or Taiwanese chain restaurants. Late last year Westfield Santa Anita opened “Food Alley”, a food court of sorts between the Nordstrom and Din Tai Fung that doesn’t have your typical Panda Express or Sbarro mall food court options. To be clear, there still is a regular food court at Westfield Santa Anita on the first floor near JC Penney’s for all your McDonald’s and Sarku Japan cravings. However, Food Alley contains some out of the box, Asian oriented stores with food that I have never seen in any American mall.

Thus, I had to try out these eateries and see how they matched to all the great restaurants that dot the strip malls elsewhere in the San Gabriel Valley. Since it would be very difficult to try them all by myself, I asked a friend if she would be interested in joining me and she thankfully said yes. These are the dishes and places we tried:

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Side Chick

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Side Chick

  • Hainanese Chicken Rice at Side Chick – Our first stop was at Side Chick, where the star dish is the Hainanese Chicken Rice. The chicken was moist and flavorful while the rice was a little dryer than I like (though saved a little by the church of the fried garlic). I loved the ginger scallion, sambal, and vinegary soy sauces that accompanied the chicken. While the rice is not as good as Savoy, the vaunted Hainanese Chicken Rice slinger in Alhambra, I think Side Chick has the edge as my favorite Southern Californian chicken rice spot for the chicken.
Spicy Niku Udon at Tsurumaru Udon Honpo

Spicy Niku Udon at Tsurumaru Udon Honpo

  • Spicy Niku Udon at Tsurumaru Udon Honpo – While I would have wanted to try more bowls of udon, we were starting to get full from the Hainanese Chicken Rice. We settled on the spicy niku udon. I liked the chewy udon and tender beef slices, but wasn’t really feeling the thicker, kimchi laden broth. While I wouldn’t get the spicy niku udon, the udon and beef were definitely good enough that I am eager to try other bowls of udon the next time I am there.
Pork Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Westfield Santa Anita

Pork Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Westfield Santa Anita

  • Pork Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung – Since the new Din Tai Fung was around the corner, I just had to try some soup dumplings. I ordered a half order of 5 soup dumplings. While none of them broke (making them better than the Glendale and South Coast locations), there were a couple with dumpling skin tops that were a little thick and chewy. They were certainly good but not up to the standard of the original Din Tai Fung in Taiwan.
Japanese cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu

Japanese cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu

  • Japanese Cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu – For dessert we had the Japanese cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu. The several slices were, in a word, sublime. It was like a creamier sponge cake that was light and fluffy and just a touch sweet. Honestly, if I didn’t have as much self control that night, I might have eaten an entire cake.

All in all, Food Alley blew away my expectations and definitely was the tastiest mall food court I have eaten at this side of the Pacific. And yet, I didn’t even try any ramen or skewers at the Backhouse nor any drinks at Matcha Matcha. If this is what new, modern mall food courts will be like from now on, I guess I’ll be spending more money shopping at Nordstrom and slurping noodles across the country.

 

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Original Din Tai Fung, Taipei

Din Tai Fung (Xinyi Road)
No. 194, Section 2, Xinyi Rd
Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106

Having dined at a number of Din Tai Fung restaurants in the US, I thought it would be most appropriate (and most touristy) to visit the original Din Tai Fung while I was in Taiwan. Aside from going to the most touristy temple of 小籠包 (soup dumplings), I mainly wanted to see how the US locations compared to the original ones in Taiwan.

After visiting Taipei 101’s observation deck I decided to get dinner at Din Tai Fung. While I could have visited the Taipei 101 branch of Din Tai Fung, I didn’t want to wait an hour and I thought it might be better to go to the original location. Fortunately, my instincts were right and I got a seat right away as a table of 1. I had to share a large table with a pair of Japanese tourists, but it wasn’t too bad (and I certainly had more space for myself than if I was sharing a table in Hong Kong).

A few minutes after sitting down I ordered the following four dishes:

Stewed Spongy Gluten at Din Tai Fung Xinyi Road

Stewed Spongy Gluten at Din Tai Fung Xinyi Road

  • Stewed Spongy Gluten 烤麩 – This gluten wish was absolutely delicious. The gluten was chewy but not tough and had a nice subtly salty and sour flavor that was pleasant but not overpowering. It was a great start to the meal.
Sauteed String Beans at Din Tai Fung (Xinyi Road)

Sauteed String Beans at Din Tai Fung (Xinyi Road)

  • Sauteed String Beans With Minced Pork 乾煸四季豆 – The string beans and minced pork were excellently stir fried. While some of the US locations might put a little too much oil in this dish, the balance of meat, string beans, and spicy oil were perfectly balanced.
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Pork XiaoLongBao at Din Tai Fung Xinyi Road

  • Pork XiaoLongBao 小籠包 – These are definitely the best xialongbao I have ever had (with the caveat that I haven’t been to Shanghai so I can’t say they were the best ever). The wrappers were thin but did not tear (unlike how 20% of mine in the US have been) and did not have too much dough on the top like I experienced a few weeks later at the Westfield Santa Anita branch in the US. The skin was also moister (in a good way) than the US ones, perhaps due to the use of bamboo steamers in Taiwan as opposed to the metal steamers in the US. The pork and soup were juicy and well rounded with the vinegar, ginger, and soy sauce. Best of all? The server also made the dipping sauce and noted that the perfect ratio is 3 portions vinegar to 1 portion of soy sauce for xiaolongbao. I definitely didn’t know that before I dined here.
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Noodles with House Special Spicy Sauce at Din Tai Fung Xinyi Road

  • Noodles with House Special Spicy Sauce 紅油燃麵 – This was a great dish to finish the meal. The noodles were perfectly cooked and there was just the right amount of sauce to coat all the noodle strands without overpowering. This meant that every noodle was evenly coated with the hot oil sauce.

Overall, the original Din Tai Fung (on Xinyi Road) was undoubtedly better than the US locations. Perhaps this is due to less rigorous training. Perhaps some of it is due to the use of different cooking utensils not allowed by Los Angeles or Orange County regulations (like bamboo steamers). Either way, the original Din Tai Fung is worth a trip when you are in Taipei.