Category Archives: San Gabriel Valley

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.
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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!
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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.
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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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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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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.

Looking Back to 2015, Looking Forward to 2016

A little over a year and a half ago I wrote a post reflecting on my first year of serious blogging and places I looked forward to dining in during the coming year. I didn’t do a similar post earlier this year, but I figured today was the perfect time to do it since a calendar year ended a few days ago.

Upon reflection, 2015 has been a year of “firsts” for me. It was my first time eating Dongbei cuisine from Northeastern China (what some of you may have learned in textbooks as Manchuria). It was my first time blogging about Thai food. Most importantly for me, however, it was my first time traveling to Hong Kong.

It’s undeniable that my trip to Hong Kong left a lasting impression on me; so much so that Hong Kong eateries make up a majority of my 2015 list of most delicious eats. It makes sense given that, in a way, it was my journey home, home to where my parents were born and home to the culture they raised me in. That’s not to diminish the other wonderful non-Hong Kong places I ate at throughout the year. It’s just to remark about on my year-ending list full of “firsts” that my first trip to Hong Kong makes the biggest impression.

So without further ado, here are the most delicious places I ate (and reviewed) for my blog in 2015:

Muslim Lamb Chops at Fu Run

Muslim Lamb Chops at Fu Run

  • Fu Run (Flushing, Queens, NY) – My first foray into Dongbei cuisine was magnificent! My cousins and I loved the grass jelly noodles as well as the amazing and succulent cumin lamb.
  • LKK (North Point, Hong Kong Island, HK) – Technically not a restaurant, but a street stall that sells arguably the best egg waffles (雞蛋仔) in Hong Kong.
Afternoon Tea - a favorite on my mom's side

Afternoon Tea – a favorite on my mom’s side

Dim Sum at Ming Court

Dim Sum at Ming Court

  • Ming Court (Mong Kok, Kowloon, HK) – I’ve eaten at a number of Dim Sum restaurants this year (see Elite, King Hua, Sun Hing, and Dragon Beaux), but this 2 Michelin star restaurant at the Langham Place hotel was the best dim sum I had, hands down. Yes, even better (though certainly not cheaper) than Tim Ho Wan.
  • Pho Ngoon (San Gabriel, CA) – I also had my first taste of northern Vietnamese food in 2015. Let me say that I love northern Vietnamese just as much as southern Vietnamese, especially the Pho Cuon.
  • Yat Lok (Central, Hong Kong Island, HK) – You think roast duck from a Chinese BBQ joint in the US is good? You haven’t had roast goose from Yat Lok that perfectly balances crispy skin with juicy meat.

As you can see, it’s been a fantastic year of food adventures!

2016

This year, I want to continue my pattern of breaking new personal boundaries when it comes to experiencing various Asian cuisines and dishes. Fortunately for me, one of my first trips will be to Macau where I will get the pleasure of tasting Macanese food, which borrows from the cuisines of Guangdong and Portugal.

However, there’s a ton of restaurants I do want to try and blog about in the coming year that include cuisines I’m already familiar with. Given my desire to explore new foods but also refine my palate in cuisines familiar to me, here are 5 restaurants on my list for 2016:

  • Chengdu Taste – Sichuan cuisine is enjoying a renaissance in the US thanks to the large number of Sichuanese people moving to the States. Chengdu Taste is among the very best of these newer Sichuan restaurants and I’m eager to finally have a taste (especially with the convenience of 4 locations now with its rapid expansion).
  • Lung King Heen (龍景軒) – The first Chinese restaurant to receive the highly prized 3 Michelin stars. While it’s definitely pricey, with 2 trips to Hong Kong this coming year I’m sure I’ll be able to save some money to eat here this year.
  • Private Party – The kitschy and potentially problematic Communist theme aside, I’ve never had Beijing style hot pot so it’s definitely high up on my to-try list. It’s especially interesting given that you can grill skewers in the center of your hot pot contraption as well!
  • Thip Khao – Keeping with the theme of “firsts”, the first time I had Lao food was a few weeks ago. During my trip(s) to DC this year I hope to taste more delicious Lao dishes
  • Tita’s Kitchenette – While I have grown up in San Diego and gobbled many plates of Filipino food, astonishingly enough I have never eaten in National City before, one of the centers of Filipino cuisine and shopping in the US. This year I hope to take a bite at one Filipino place my brother and sister in law highly recommend.

Hopefully I’ll be more successful than May 2014-May 2015, where I only ate and blogged about 1 of my wish list restaurants. Only time will tell if I’ll keep this New Year’s Resolution.

Egg Waffles (鷄蛋仔)

After dinner Sunday night my friends and I decided to go to a Hong Kong dessert place. We stumbled on the place by pure accident, but it gave me a chance to eat one of my favorite dessert items for my birthday: an egg waffle (or 鷄蛋仔 as it’s called in Cantonese and eggette as an alternative in English).

Egg waffles, if you don’t know, are very popular dessert/snack items sold on street stalls throughout Hong Kong. While the origins of this snack item is little known, the modern day form is an egg rich batter that goes into a waffle like griddle with egg-like pockets where puffs of chewy dough form. An ideal egg waffle is crispy and crunchy on the outside while also being soft, slightly sweet, and a little chewy inside the puffs. These can be enjoyed throughout the day, but usually I have them either as a mid-Afternoon snack or a post-dinner dessert.

雞蛋仔 at 利強記北角雞蛋仔  credit to Phillip Lai - "雞蛋仔 #lkk #hongkong" ( https://flic.kr/p/migDuc )

雞蛋仔 at 利強記北角雞蛋仔
credit to Phillip Lai – “雞蛋仔 #lkk #hongkong” ( https://flic.kr/p/migDuc )

The best place I have had an egg waffle is, of course, in Hong Kong. There is a famous stall in the North Point neighborhood called LKK (利強記北角雞蛋仔 in Chinese) on 492 Kings Road, at the corner of Kam Hong Street. On Kings Road it’s hard to spot, but once you turn the corner onto Kam Hong St. you will see an unmistakable line for these egg waffles. The place is an institution, with a number of photos of TVB stars, like Nancy Sit, eating egg waffles at the place plastering the wall of the stall. Yet, it’s location in a fairly working class residential neighborhood means it is never really mentioned in English or Mainland Chinese travel press, given the place a very local feel. They even have a couple of other locations in Hong Kong, testifying to its popularity. The egg waffles, of course, are super great as well with pretty much perfect texture and at a bargain of $2 USD for one.

However, you definitely don’t need to travel to Hong Kong to eat an egg waffle. If you live or visit a city with a large population of immigrants who were born and raised in Hong Kong, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, you can get a bite of one too.

San Francisco Bay Area

It should be no surprise that the Bay Area has plenty of food vendors and restaurants that serve egg waffles. After all, the Bay Area has the largest number of residents that are from Hong Kong according to the census bureau, and it’s the only major metropolitan area with multiple Chinatowns where Cantonese is the lingua franca.

雞蛋仔 at Hong Kong Snack House

雞蛋仔 at Hong Kong Snack House

If you live in the East Bay (around Oakland and Berkeley), like I do, there are a number of options for one to get a taste of an egg waffle. Probably my favorite is the aptly named Hong Kong Snack House in the Pacific East Mall. The tiny store is very reminiscent of a Hong Kong street stall and serve nicely cooked, if slightly underdone, egg waffles. In Oakland Chinatown there are a number of options. If you are on the go, there is the Quickly on 10th Street that can satisfy your on the go craving for both boba and egg waffles. However, if you rather have it at a sit down restaurant, you can go to one of several Hong Kong style cafes/cha chaan tengs like the more upscale Shooting Star Cafe or the more bare bones Yummy Guide.

雞蛋仔 at Creations Dessert House

雞蛋仔 at Creations Dessert House

The city and the Peninsula are not left wanting either. Just the other day my friends and I went to Creations Dessert House in the Richmond where they served perfectly crispy, if oddly misshapen egg waffles. There is also the 4 location chain called Eggettes where egg waffles are their raison d’être. Not to be left out is the well reviewed Kowlooon Tong Dessert Cafe. And if you want a feel of being on a crowded street in Hong Kong, there is Dessert Republic in downtown San Mateo.

Los Angeles

雞蛋仔 at Tasty Garden in Westminster

雞蛋仔 at Tasty Garden in Westminster

To eat an egg waffle in Los Angeles, one will have to do what they have to do to eat any other amazing authentic Chinese food item: drive to the San Gabriel Valley. Once you are in the SGV, however, the number of options are numerous. A vast number of Hong Kong style cafes/cha chaan tengs have them, so you can get your fill at places like Tasty Garden in Alhambra and Monterey Park, Cafe Spot in Alhambra, and Tasty Station in Rowland Heights. Don’t need a meal and just prefer desserts or snacks? Tea and dessert places like Puffect in Walnut and Fresh Roast in Alhambra.

If you prefer not to drive in the SGV, not all is lost. Tasty Garden also has locations in Irvine and Westminster, though I prefer the egg waffles at the Westminster location. And while I haven’t tried the egg waffles at Phoenix, they do offer them at their locations in Gardena and Garden Grove.

Elsewhere

Outside of the Bay Area and Los Angeles, egg waffles are a little harder to find in the United States. While there was an “egg cake lady” named Cecilia Tam that sold bits of egg waffles in New York City during the 80s and 90s, there is little presence of the egg waffles now. You still, however, can get them in Boston at a little stall in Chinatown. In San Diego, one can find them at E + Drink, which is interesting given that the place is mostly Taiwanese (albeit Hong Kong style dessert places in the Bay Area often serve boba instead of Hong Kong style milk tea).

But no matter where I have an egg waffle, eating one just brings me a sense of warmth and comfort. It’s the ultimate snack, a perfect way to finish a busy day of work or a nice bonus to a birthday celebration with friends. In fact, I wish I was eating one right now.

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