After a long hiatus, blog posting is back on! In general I’m still trying to dine outdoors as much as possible. However, regardless of where in the restaurant one dines, the dining experience is still (and may never be) not quite pre-pandemic “normal” in most major US cities. Given that, I decided to take my recent trip to Los Angeles as an opportunity to try a new restaurant and post a new review.
I chose Tang Gong because of it’s good reviews from other folks I trust and the fact it opened months before the pandemic began. As I was also meeting up with a friend of mine who was also visiting LA, I asked if he’d like to grab dim sum and meet up there.
Tang Gong is located in the location that used to house Empress Harbor Seafood Restaurant, which was a venerable dim sum and Cantonese seafood restaurant for many decades. I have attended a number of dim sum lunches at Empress Harbor and more than a few Chinese banquets there, so I had high hopes when Tang Gong opened. The plaza it’s in may be well past its late 90s heyday, but I was glad there was still a well rated Cantonese restaurant still there.
My friend and I ate on a Wednesday, so lines and a wait were nonexistent. While there were a number of people eating indoors and outdoors (though I think slightly more outdoors), there was plenty of seating for both. I checked in at the host stand and chose a table outside but close to the front doors. To minimize contact and risk with COVID-19, we were given disposable plates and chopsticks while we were seated, in addition to a menu to tick off food to order and tea which came with our own hot water thermos to refill hot water whenever we needed (which, to be honest, should be standard at dim sum restaurants regardless of a pandemic). After a few minutes we ticked off about a half dozen items to eat and waved a staff member to place our order.
Shrimp Dumpling – 唐官蝦餃皇 – The shrimp dumplings were relatively good. The wrappers were probably a little thicker than I liked but held up well. The shrimp quality was good, but perhaps could have used a touch more salt and white pepper. All in all, pretty solid and up to the basic standards of San Gabriel Valley dim sum.
Pork and Shrimp Shun [sic] Mai – 蝦子燒賣王– The shu mai were pretty good with very juicy pork that was tender and melded well with the shrimp. Didn’t taste too much of the salmon roe (the steam likely overcooking them a bit), but overall a solid choice
Baked Crispy Pork Bun – 法式酥皮餐包 -This is the unofficial dim sum speciality of Tang Gong and it is AMAZING. It’s like if you took the Tim Ho Wan char siu bao and kicked it up a notch. The baked custard top with corn flakes were a great textural and taste complement to the pork filling on the inside. Would definitely order more if I had room!
Pan Fried Turnip Cake – 家鄉蘿蔔糕 – Honestly, these were okay. The fry on them was great so the texture was on point, but the filling could have used a little more seasoning.
Garlic Spare Rib Rice Roll – 蒜香排骨粉卷– This was another standout dish, agreed upon by my friend and I as the best dish of the meal. The pork spare ribs were tender and flavorful, the rice noodle rolls were soft but still retained its chewiness in the sauce, and the bits of pumpkin were soft and complemented the pork, sauce, and rice noodle rolls very well.
Pineapple Bun – 菠蘿包 – Pretty solid pineapple bun. May have been a slight let down in comparison to the baked crispy pork bun, but this was easily a nice dessert and I enjoyed another one as a snack for a DoorDash shift later on in the day.
Baked BBQ Pork Pastry – 香麻叉燒酥 – To be honest I was too stuffed to try these and it was probably the dish that least appealed to me in the beginning. BUT, I asked my friend who did eat them and, in his words, he really liked them as essentially a cha siu bao but in puff pastry form.
All in all, Tang Gong was pretty good. It was definitely worth coming here for the baked crispy pork bun and garlic spare rib rice rolls alone. Parking and the wait was not bad either (and I surmise it probably isn’t that terrible in the weekend compared to other places like Lunasia or Sea Harbour). The bill came out to be less than $20 a person too, which is quite a bargain for menu based higher end dim sum nowadays. If you are in or around LA, I would definitely recommend stopping by Tang Gong for some dim sum.
It’s been months since I wrote a blog post, since the pandemic has really made my normal blog staples, reviewing different restaurants, virtually impossible. I thought about writing a blog post on what restaurants are open to outdoor dining, but I am wary about tacitly endorsing dining, even outdoors, in the midst of a new surge and plateau of cases in much of the US.
So instead, I figured I would write about my personal favorite Chinatowns in North America that I’ve been to, why I like them, and which of my favorite restaurants are still open for takeout. The order is loosely based on my preference but don’t fret, even if I left yours out, I still love all Chinatowns.
San Gabriel Valley (LA), CA
I admit, I am a little biased given that I have traveled to the San Gabriel Valley (aka the “SGV” or “626”) since I was a kid, as it was often the area where we could get better dim sum and Chinese groceries that were harder or more expensive to find in San Diego. That said, the SGV is one of the largest “Chinatowns” in North America encompassing hundreds of square miles and dozens of different cities just east of Los Angeles and can probably be divided into 2: the west San Gabriel Valley centered in the cities of Alhambra, Monterey Park, Rosemead, and San Gabriel, and the east San Gabriel Valley around the communities of Diamond Bar, Rowland Heights, and Walnut.
Unlike historic Chinatowns in San Francisco or New York City with their dense streets and small alleys, the San Gabriel Valley is filled with sprawling suburbs centered on commercial corridors jam packed with Chinese strip malls along Valley Blvd, Garvey Ave, Colima Rd, and other streets. Partially because of such vastness, over the last 50 years the SGV has been an area where successive waves of immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China have been able to settle and set up new businesses. This allows a continual wave of new competition and trends from China to emerge, which also keeps old standbys on their toes to better their offerings or potentially be replaced fairly soon.
It’s also a fairly young place, with a pretty dynamic and ever evolving Chinese American culture that help popularize emerging Asian American trends in the United States like boba/bubble tea 20-30 years ago. (yes, bubble tea has been in the US for that long!) This Fung Bros “The 626” video typifies how this culture was like 10 years ago.
So where are some of the places to order takeout in the best Chinatown in North America? See below:
The Bay Cafe – One of the SGV’s better known and regarded Hong Kong style cafes serves a good Hong Kong milk tea and a cornucopia of other great Hong Kong staples. Order on DoorDash or Uber Eats
Bistro Na’s – Michelin starred Bistro Na’s in Temple City serves self proclaimed “imperial court food” that is nonetheless vary delicious, like the Crispy Shrimp and Na’s Spicy Chicken. You can order online via their website, DoorDash, or Grubhub
Elite Restaurant – One of the SGV’s best places for dim sum is now open for takeout again on DoorDash
HaiDiLao Hot Pot – Takeout hot pot you say? Yes, it exists (and I can report that it’s really doable if you got a pot and burner/hot plate at home) and you can order from this popular, and expensive, Chinese chain on virtually all the delivery platforms.
Mian – Chengdu Taste’s sibling restaurant with a tasty assortment of noodles is available for takeout on Uber Eats
Sea Harbour – Constantly evolving and standard setting Cantonese and dim sum specialist Sea Harbour is open for takeout. Given them a call at 626-288-3939
Savoy Kitchen – This perennial chicken rice favorite is available to order togo. Just give them a call at 626-308-9535
Yin Ji Chang Fen – The San Gabriel outpost of this Guangzhou style rice noodle roll chain accepts orders on DoorDash and Uber Eats
Richmond (Vancouver), BC
While great Chinese food can be found nearly all over Vancouver, the best in the Lower Mainland is concentrated in the southern suburb of Vancouver. While the San Gabriel Valley’s strength is in its wide and continually evolving breadth of regional cuisines, Richmond’s strength lies in its particular depth of one regional cuisine: Cantonese.
It’s not to say you can’t find great places serving other regional Chinese cuisines in Richmond, but the particular depth of Cantonese cuisine here lies in its unique history. As the 1997 handover of Hong Kong approached, many wealthy Hong Kongers feared what might change in a PRC controlled Hong Kong and promptly found ways to immigrant. One of the easiest options was to get investment visas in Canada, and thus tens of thousands of Hong Kongers and their children moved and settled to Richmond. They brought along and could entice good chefs from Hong Kong which helped increase the quality of Cantonese food in the region, so much so that many restaurants in the 2000s to mid 2010s were close or at the level of their counterparts in Hong Kong.
More recently, arrivals from mainland China have helped expanded the number of good regional options available, but not to the level of SGV yet, and it remains to be seen on how Hong Kong’s latest political turbulence will mean for even more food and immigration to Canada. That said, some of my favorites are:
HK BBQ Master – This was always basically a big takeout restaurant, so you can still get their excellent Cantonese style roast meats in person
Mama’s Dumpling and Coffee – Renown for their xiaolongbao, you can get these delicious orders for takeout
Silver Tower – Old school Hong Kong Style Cafe serves the best comfort food that you can order on DoorDash
Sun Sui Wah – A couple of my friends recently dined here (BC’s COVID rates are significantly better than the US, though I’d still be pretty hesitant) and the food seems just as great as pre-pandemic, which you can order on Skip the Dishes.
Yue Restaurant – One of my favorite dim sum spots in Richmond is open for takeout via DoorDash
Flushing (New York City), NY
The sights and sounds of Canal and Mott Streets in Manhattan Chinatown may get much of the spotlight in New York City, but I say that the best New York Chinatown is a hop uptown and a 7 line subway ride away to Flushing in Queens.
In contrast to the SGV and Richmond’s sprawling strip malls, Flushing is a decidedly urban Chinatown, densely packed along Main Street and its side streets and allies. You can find a variety of Chinese regional cuisines here too, especially in the few densely packed mall food courts like the New World Mall (though not sure how open they might or will be with the COVID-19 pandemic). However, many of the main stars in Flushing are Taiwanese, Fujianese, and Shanghainese and some of my favorite memories in New York City are of walking down Main St with various friends and cousins sipping on boba and eating street food.
Here are a few great places currently open for takeout:
Hunan Cafe – Order some authentic Hunanese food for takeout via Seamless or Uber Eats
Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao – You can order some of the best soup dumplings in the city online through their website
Nurlan Uygher Restaurant – One of NYC’s first Uygher restaurants is open for takeout by looking at their menu and calling 347-542-3324
Xing Fu Tang – I couldn’t write about Flushing without a bubble tea recommendation right? Well get some Brown Sugar Boba Milk from this new kid on the block that replaced the old Red House on Seamless, Uber Eats, or DoorDash
Yi Fang Taiwan Fruit Tea – I love Yi Fang Fruit Tea for their endless array of delectable fruit teas, which you can order on Seamless and DoorDash
The Richmond (San Francisco), CA
There are numerous Chinatowns in the San Francisco Bay Area, but in my opinion the Richmond District in the western part of the city is the best Chinatown in the region.
Why? Unlike San Francisco’s historic Chinatown, the Richmond is a little less touristy but packs in the bustle as much as you’d find on Stockton St. Clement St and Geary St have a large selection of Chinese restaurants, supermarkets, and other businesses, including my favorite dim sum place, Dragon Beaux.
Here are some places to try ordering from in the Richmond:
Dragon Beaux – The aforementioned Dragon Beaux is available for takeout on Uber Eats or Grubhub, but you could also give them a call and order their frozen dim sum to reheat yourself to perfection
HoDaLa – From beef noodle soup to popcorn chicken, this Taiwanese favorite can be ordered for takeout or delivery via its website.
Jiangnan Cuisine – Cuisine from the area just north of Shanghai in Jiangsu province can be found on DoorDash, Grubhub, or Postmates
Kowloon Tong Dessert Cafe – This no frills cha chaan teng is ready to serve you some delicious Hong Kong milk tea or basic Hong Kong style western food and deserts on nearly all delivery apps
Tasty Pot – Taiwanese hot pot chain Tasty Pot is available for your individualized hot pot needs via takeout or delivery on DoorDash or Uber Eats
Manhattan Chinatown (New York City), NY
The only historic Chinatown on my list is New York City. Why Manhattan’s historic Chinatown you ask, instead of other ones like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver, or even my hometown of Oakland? The simple reason is that unlike the others, it’s a perfect combination of history, mix of shops, and an area where both old Chinese families from Guangdong, recent arrivals from Fujian, and tourists alike can mix and mingle with ease. San Francisco’s Chinatown, sadly, feels very weirdly divided between tourist and trinket shop dominated Grant St and local market and restaurant focused Stockton St.
So if you’re in or near Manhattan, here are some places open for takeout!
Carol’s Bun – Located in the East Broadway part of Chinatown, this no-frills Fujianese places is perfect for some affordable takeout
Cha Chan Tang – One of the original cha chaan tengs in the city serves up comfort Hong Kong style western food like macaroni soup and curry chicken that you can get on DoorDash or Seamless
Kong Sihk Tong – Feast upon all sorts of Hong Kong style foods by getting some takeout via phone at 646-850-6140
Noodle Village – My favorite comfort Cantonese spot in Manhattan Chinatown is available for takeout or delivery on virtually all the delivery apps
Wo Hop – Want some old school Chinese American food? Like so old that the restaurant has been around for 80+ years? Look no further than Chinatown staple Wo Hop to grab some Chinese American takeout
Houston Chinatown, TX
I think many folks tend to think of big historic and even suburban Chinatowns as being exclusively a West Coast or East Coast thing, but one of the largest Chinatowns in the country is, in fact, in Houston! Centered on Bellaire Blvd. east of Beltway 8, Houston Chinatown is similar to what you would find along Valley Blvd in the SGV or heavily Chinese cities in the Silicon Valley around Sunnyvale and Cupertino. There’s a mix of Hong Kong, mainland Chinese, and Vietnamese Chinese people in Houston that also makes Houston’s Chinatown a little unique. Houston’s Little Saigon is also just to the west of Beltway 8.
I’ve only been to Houston Chinatown once, but here’s some places that are still open for takeout:
Fung’s Kitchen – The only one of the places on this list I’ve actually dined in, you can get your craving of dim sum filled here through ordering takeout or on DoorDash or Uber Eats (I hear they are taking COVID precautions pretty seriously too!)
House of Bowls – One of Houston’s cha chaan tengs seems well beloved with a variety of Hong Kong style dishes available for takeout
Mala Sichuan Bistro – The authentic flavors of Sichuan can be had by ordering takeout on their website as well as Uber Eats
Mein – Classic Cantonese food, including the namesake noodles and noodle soups, can be found for takeout at this well regarded spot
One Dragon – For Shanghainese xiao long bao and their crispy bottom cousins, sheng jian bao, order takeout here
I didn’t include pan-Asian areas just so it was clearer/cleaner. However, there are a few pan-Asian districts (places where there’s more of a mix of different pan-Asian shops, restaurants, and markets) that I really love.
International District (Seattle), WA – The most recent non-Bay Area Asian district I’ve been to, the International District, is a historic Japanese and Chinese area that has a great diversity of different Asian cuisines just southeast of downtown Seattle.
Irvine (outside of LA), CA – I went to college in Irvine and loved being able to eat all sorts of Taiwanese food here as many Taiwanese families settled in Irvine in the 1980s and 1990s.
Kearny Mesa (San Diego), CA – Yes, I’m biased in that I grew up in San Diego, but Kearny Mesa, especially on Convoy St, was the area I grew up eating dim sum, Korean BBQ, yakitori, and other variety of Asian food. Mira Mesa, historically a large neighborhood of Filipino and Vietnamese folks, is also a great pan Asian area to visit in San Diego as well.
Mesa (Phoenix), AZ – While Mesa leans more toward Vietnamese and Vietnamese Chinese folks, it’s a great place to eat and shop all types of Asian cuisines. I always made it a point to stop in Mesa on my ways to/from Albuquerque to/from my visits seeing family in Southern California
Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village has been on my radar for awhile given its generally good reviews and occasional mentions as a solid dim sum recommendation among Chinese food writers and bloggers in the LA area. However, given the number of newer dim sum restaurants that have opened up in the San Gabriel Valley the last couple years I spent more time reviewing them rather than seeing how this restaurant stacked up.
Seeing that there weren’t any new and notable openings that I know of, I look the opportunity of having dim sum with a friend to check the place out. We arrived Friday after Christmas a little after 11AM and managed to snag a table for two with no wait. After browsing the menu and wanting to check off half of the items, we settled on the following:
Beef Ball w/ Orange Peel Sauce (陳皮牛肉球) – These were fairly decent beef balls, chewy but tender with a good amount of seasoning. The orange peel sauce gave the beef balls a slight tangy flavor that was nice.
Pork & Shrimp Dumpling at Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village
Pork & Shrimp Dumpling (蝦子燒賣皇)– The shu mai here were pretty fabulous. They were filled with plump, juicy, well-seasoned pork with a little bit of shrimp. The shu mai had a nice snap as well and topped with a little bit of salmon roe for a slight pop of saltiness.
Abalone Rice w/ Lotus Leaf (鮑魚糯米雞) – While I shouldn’t have been surprised because of the price, I was a little let down that there wasn’t much abalone in this version of steamed sticky rice with chicken. However, overall the dish was a nicely made version of the dish that was well and evenly seasoned.
Steamed Crab Meat Dumpling (蟹肉荳苗餃) – Perhaps I was served the wrong dumplings, but the ones I got were very light on the shrimp and very heavy on the chives. Not bad, but just not what I expected.
Shrimp Dumpling at Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village
Shrimp Dumpling (晶瑩蝦餃皇) – Although the shrimp filling was fresh, seasoned just enough, and had a nice snap, the wrapping was very thick and really disappointing. While it definitely is decent, my quest for shrimp dumplings in the US as good as Hong Kong continues.
Turnip Cakes and Rice Noodles at Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village
Salty Pork Turnip Cake (上海咸肉蘿蔔糕)– These turnip cakes could have used a little more pork (or other meaty/umami flavor) and fried slightly more. They weren’t bad, but could have been better.
Rice Noodle w/ Beef (榨茶牛肉腸) – The ground beef and scallion filling was pretty flavorful and the rice noodles were fairly well steamed. I would say these were pretty good for a rice noodle roll.
Steamed Rice Noodle w/ Scallop (帶子白玉腸)– On the other hand, these rice noodle rolls were a little disappointed. The primary filling was tofu and the little bits of scallop seemed barely there. I would not recommend.
Osmanthus with Red Bean Cake at Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village
Osmanthus with Red Bean Cake (桂花條頭榚)– This dessert was literally my favorite item of the whole milk. The mochi-like outer layer combined with the red been paste inner layer made for a truly divine soft and sweet dessert to end our meal.
Deep Fried Carrot Cake at Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village
Deep Fried Carrot Cake (經典蘿蔔酥) – These flakey daikon puffs had a nice filling that included some shrimp and mushrooms. While I am not normally a person that like savory dim sum items in puff pastry, these were pretty good.
Overall, Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village serves some solid, if not spectacular, dim sum. It does merit in consideration on being one of the better San Gabriel Valley dim sum places (and thus, fairly good nationally), but I would agree it’s not quite on the mark as other well loved places like Sea Harbour or the more newly open Longo Seafood. I would, however, say that I did miss an opportunity to try some of their more Shanghainese dishes on the menu. Those could have been more successful and may have made the meal even better.
All that said, I would say it’s worth a try because it is undoubtedly one of the best dim sum places for value in all of the SGV. Small dishes start at $1.98 and Medium dishes at $2.98. Those are prices that you’d be hard pressed to find at drabbier, more overcooked, dim sum places that still used carts, much less fancier menu order places. The total bill for all those dishes, before tip, came out to $32, which is quite the steal. So even if it may not be the best, certainly Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village is the best bargain for any dim sum lover looking to dine on a budget.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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):
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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.
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.
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 calledLKK(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
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 namedHong Kong Snack Housein 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 theQuicklyon 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 upscaleShooting Star Cafeor the more bare bonesYummy Guide.
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 toCreations Dessert Housein the Richmond where they served perfectly crispy, if oddly misshapen egg waffles. There is also the 4 location chain calledEggetteswhere egg waffles are their raison d’être. Not to be left out is the well reviewedKowlooon Tong Dessert Cafe. And if you want a feel of being on a crowded street in Hong Kong, there isDessert Republicin downtown San Mateo.
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 likeTasty Gardenin Alhambra and Monterey Park,Cafe Spotin Alhambra, andTasty Station in Rowland Heights. Don’t need a meal and just prefer desserts or snacks? Tea and dessert places likePuffect in Walnut andFresh 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 atPhoenix, they do offer them at their locations in Gardena and Garden Grove.
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 atE + 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.
Of the top 5 restaurants serving Dim Sum in Southern California according to my Dim Sum Rankings, the only one I had never been to, until last week, was King Hua. According to a number of Chinese food writers, eaters, and observers in San Gabriel Valley, it is one of the top 3-4 places for Dim Sum around LA. In fact the restaurant rankings no lower than 7th in all of the Dim Sum ranking lists I looked at to compile my rankings. So when I had an opportunity to take a friend out to Dim Sum, I definitely used it as an opportunity to round out my visits to the top Dim Sum spots in Southern California (and the country).
After braving some LA traffic during the lunchtime rush, we arrived at about 1:30PM on a Monday afternoon. Much of the lunch crowd was just leaving, meaning we were seated very quickly. We ordered chrysanthemum tea and I quickly sat down and looked at their tick sheet menu to order our various dishes. While I wanted to order many items, I managed to limit our table of two to 7 items, which turned out perfectly. The items we ate were:
Baked Low Fat Milk Bun at King Hua
Baked Low Fat Milk Bun – My friend loved these and the buns were nice with a lightly crispy exterior and a creamy, rich filled interior. Unfortunately these were served from a tray of buns that a server was hawking around the restaurant so it wasn’t as hot and fresh as it should have. Casualties of eating at a later hour for dim sum I suppose.
Shrimp and Pork Dumpling at King Hua
Shrimp and Pork Dumpling (Siu Mai) – These siu mai were nicely plump and juicy. The crab roe on top was just the perfect amount (as opposed to too much and overpowering at Lunasia). Albeit not the best I’ve ever had, it’s still probably some of the best I’ve eaten.
Poached Chinese Broccoli at King Hua
Poached Chinese Broccoli – I liked that the oyster sauce was on the side allowing for people to add as much sauce they feel is needed compared to other places where the sauce can be overwhelming in some parts and underwhelming in others. The broccoli could have been poached a little longer but otherwise they were very fresh and nice to cut the fat and meat of other items.
Shrimp Dumpling at King Hua
Shrimp Dumpling (Har Gau) – These har gau were nearly perfect with a skin that didn’t break when holding it but tore with a little chew when eating it. There was a large amount of shrimp albeit I could have used a little more seasoning in the shrimp filling.
Steam Shrimp and Pea Tip Dumplings at King Hua
Steam Shrimp and Pea Tip Dumplings – These were one of my friend’s favorites and it’s easy to see why. Not only are these dumplings beautifully presented, but the flavor and texture contrast between the sauteed pea tips, shrimp, wrapper, and corn melds perfectly. If we had any more room in our stomachs I would have ordered another.
Steam Rice Noodle w/ Minced Beef at King Hua
Steam Rice Noodle w/ Minced Beef – These rice noodle rolls were pretty good with rice noodles that were soft but not soggy. The minced meat was nice, but perhaps it might have been better with a chewier, thicker filling.
Steam Beef Tripe in Special Sauce at King Hua
Steamed Beef Tripe in Special Sauce – Admittedly I thought this dish would use omasum/bible tripe but the honeycomb tripe was nice here too. It was chewy but also tender and the lightly spiced sauce it was simmered in was tasty as well.
All in all, King Hua was a pretty great experience with service that was pleasant but not overbearing. The prices were on par with other higher quality dim sum places in the San Gabriel Valley, though I do agree that it is not at quite the level of Elite or Sea Harbour. One thing I did notice is that while the quality was great, the restaurant was not quite as innovative with items as some of the other better place in the area. Regardless, this is a solid place to take friends out to dim sum and definitely a solid #4 in my list of best dim sum of Southern California (after Sea Harbour, Elite, and J Zhou).