Inspired by the San Gabriel Valley Part 2: Hot Dishes

SI-smoked-duck

The Best of the Best~~

I promise I’m going to get back to cooking and sharing recipes soon, but I have to entice/torture you one more time with the best dishes I had during my summer in Los Angeles. I picked up Fong Chong from summer school everyday and we headed straight for the San Gabriel Valley, a miniature China with the widest array of regional Chinese cuisines to be found in this country.

I know this fact thanks partly to the fantastic reporting of Clarissa Wei, a young L.A. native who covers the SGV food scene for several prominent media outlets. Fong Chong and I met up with her for lunch at the Rosemead location of Chengdu Taste and learned even more about the best of the best of Chinese food in America. We also got a bowl of Chengdu Taste’s famed liang fen (spicy cold noodles made from mung-bean starch) as a complementary starter for being in her presence.

I asked her how she manages to get the scoop on Chinese eateries run by Mainland Chinese owners, who are notoriously competitive and secretive. As she poured us some house-made smoked plum juice—OMG, how had I overlooked this treat?—she  explained that the SGV’s best restaurants of late—the ones with painstakingly sourced and prepared regional Chinese cuisine served in a stylish setting—are all Sichuan and all run by young, ambitious Mainlanders. These thirty-something owners are social-media savvy and are welcoming of non-Chinese—which is apparent in the decor and English-speaking waitstaff and menus—even though, thank the lord, they never adapt their food to the non-Sichuan palate.

So here you go: Some incredibly delicious dishes from Chengdu Taste (two locations), Szechuan Impression and Spicy City.

(I got a little obsessed with dry pot—cousin of hot pot—while I was in L.A., but I’m saving those adventures for their own future post after I perfect my own version.)

As with the cold dishes I wrote up in the previous post, let me know which of these hot dishes you’d most like me to tackle. FC and I did our best to discern the ingredients and methods and memorize the taste.

First up, Chengdu Taste, whose now-legendary success over the past two years has spawned three additional locations in the SGV.

Toothpick Beef: Falls somewhere in between cumin beef and beef jerky. Chewy, spicy, addictive.

Toothpick Beef: Falls somewhere in between cumin beef and beef jerky. Chewy, spicy, addictive.

Boiled Sliced Fish in Hot Sauce: A classic shui zhu yu.

Boiled Sliced Fish in Hot Sauce: A classic shui zhu yu. I wish I’d also had time to try their boiled fish in green-chili sauce.

Shredded Pork With Green Pepper: I call this tian mian pork because the sauce is tian mian jiang. Pure comfort food.

Shredded Pork With Green Pepper: I call this tian mian pork because the sauce is tian mian jiang. Pure comfort food.

Chengdu Style Fried Rice: Features a Sichuan-only ingredient. The new standard in our house!

Chengdu Style Fried Rice: Features a Sichuan-only ingredient. The new standard in our house!

Next, Szechuan Impression, started by a couple of young women from Chengdu who previously worked at Chengdu Taste. It features a smaller, less traditional menu than CDT and stylishly modern Sichuan decor.

Smoked Duck: Classic tea-smoked duck, done with class

Smoked Duck: Classic tea-smoked duck, done with class

Smoked Ribs: Pork ribs get the tea-smoked treatment to grand effect

Smoked Ribs: Pork ribs get the tea-smoked treatment to grand effect

Next up, Spicy City, which was the Sichuan king of the SGV for a minute or so until Chengdu Taste came along. It looks more like what you’d expect from a Chinese restaurant, but it has an extensive menu of blazing Chongqing-style Sichuan food. (The former Chungking used to be part of Sichuan Province before it became its own city-state.)

Twice-Cooked Pork: What I love is that their hui guo rou comes with fluffy bao, as it sometimes does in Chengdu

Twice-Cooked Pork: What I love is that their hui guo rou comes with fluffy bao, as it sometimes does in Chengdu

Chungking Style Hot & Spicy Noodles: Clearly the rival city's take on Chengdu's dan dan noodles. Read: spicier.

Chungking Style Hot & Spicy Noodles: Clearly the rival city’s take on Chengdu’s dan dan noodles. Read: spicier.

FC-noodles-full

Until we meet again, SGV!

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19 Responses

  1. Dave says:

    I vote for ‘toothpick beef’ since it seems fairly unique. Great stuff, looking forward to your taking a stab at one of these dishes!

  2. Melanie Gao says:

    This post made me hungry even though a) I’m vegetarian and b) I’m eating as I read this. 🙂

  3. bethia says:

    I’m interested to hear more about what is unique about the fried rice.

  4. Alex Kaufman says:

    I would be very interested to see the recipe for the Chungking Style Hot and Spicy Noodles.

  5. AK says:

    I would love to see the recipe for the Chungking Style Hot & Spicy Noodles.

  6. Maggie says:

    It’s amazing that you can find such authentic Chinese food in the US! I almost stopped trying because I was always disappointed by “average” American Chinese food. I really enjoy reading your post, and these pictures are mouthwatering! Will definitely stop by when I visit LA next time 🙂

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      The SGV is as close as you can get to China in the U.S.

      You’re in Austin, right? I understand that Mala Sichuan Bistro is Houston is fantastic. Might be worth the drive!

      • Maggie says:

        Yes, I’m in Austin. Thanks for letting me know about Mala Sichuan Bistro! We have a trip to Houston at the end of September. Will definitely check it out by then! Very exciting 🙂

        • Taylor Holliday says:

          I met the lovely owner, Cori (Chengdu native, Texas transplant at an early age), on Twitter. Perhaps she’ll be there when you go. Please report back with your review if you eat there.

          • Maggie says:

            I almost forgot about reporting back on this! I went to Mala Sichuan Bistro with a few friends a month ago. Overall we enjoyed the food there. Their famous mala chicken is the best one, very close to the ones you can get in China. I also like the cold dishes (bamboo shoot with chili oil, cold noodles with sesame sauce). One of my favorite is the braised winter melon. It’s a dish we cook at home in northern China, but seldom see in the restaurant. It’s surprised to see they have it on the menu, and the flavor was really closed to the one my mom makes at home.

            On the other hand, there are two dishes that turned out a bit disappointing.

            One is the water boiled fish (shui zhu yu). It’s my favorite Sichuan dish. First, I don’t like the fact they choose tilapia and it’s the only fish we can choose. The fish was too lean and flavorless, comparing the ones we used in China (my favorite is catfish). The broth is too light, mostly water. The mouthfeel was far from great, comparing to the authentic ones that is submerged in red oil. But I understand, they might do this because (1) it’s quite expensive to use a lot of oil in one dish. we all know in China restaurant recycle these oil and use them again (2) the local customer might think the authentic one is too greasy.

            The other one is the red oil wonton. The wontons are wrapped with very thick dough and had very tiny fillings. They are served in a thick paste that is almost like a sweet sauce. I don’t understand why they serve it this way (considering the bulk amount of dishes on their menu are quite authentic).

            Again, it was a nice experience overall. Maybe I set a bar that is too high (I’m very picky when it comes to Chinese food).

          • Taylor Holliday says:

            Hi Maggie,
            Thanks for the great restaurant review! It sounds overall like Houston is lucky to have Mala Sichuan Bistro. Sure wish I could check it out myself. Appreciate your follow-up!

  7. Betty says:

    Just discovered your webpage and I love it! I would love to see a recipe for the shredded pork and hot peppers. I live in Rockville, MD, home to a large Chinese community and many authentic Sichuan restaurants. One of my favorite dishes at Joe’s Noodle House (http://www.joesnoodlehouse.com/) is “shredded pork with green hot pepper”. I can’t find a recipe for it anywhere.

    • Taylor Holliday says:

      Thank you, Betty! I know this dish as pork and green bell pepper strips, but I bet it would be great with hot peppers. I do have a recipe for it, so I’ll add it to my schedule before too long.

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Do you love Sichuan food and cooking as much as we do?

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