Huge Tree Pastry

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In west [Taipei] born and raised,
On the playground was where I spent most of my days…

First of all, I have no idea if I was born and raised in the western part of Taipei, and I probably wasn’t spending most of my days on the playground due to all that smog. However, despite Eugenia’s recent Trump-like rants directed at me like I’m President Obama, I’m still a Taiwanese boy at heart – food-wise. But like Will on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, my time in LA has made me soft. I had forgotten my culinary roots! Doesn’t help that there isn’t a plethora of Taiwanese options in LA, and that I grew up west of Downtown away from all the Chinese people, but now that I’ve grown up there is absolutely no excuse to continually put off rediscovering all the foods I grew up loving.

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The road to recovery begins with Taiwanese breakfast (for a guide/background, I point you to Serious Eats’ article, written by LA-based Clarissa Wei). One of the most popular places for Taiwanese breakfast is Huge Tree Pastry on Atlantic Blvd in Monterey Park. I’ve been to their former location with my grandparents, but that was a long time ago. The biggest problem for me with regards to getting Taiwanese breakfast is that I can’t get to SGV before these places close on weekdays, and I sleep in on weekends (hence me being away from dim sum for far too long as well). But here I was one day, in Monterey Park visiting grandparents and running errands. Yes 6pm isn’t an optimal time for shao bing you tiao, but when else am I going to have an opportunity?

I walked in, placed my to-go order (to-go because I was buying stuff for days), and of course pulled as much Mandarin out of my ass as I could without sounding like too much of an idiot (love the owner). Niu rou shao bing, fan tuan, gua bao, dou jiang, mi jiang – all my childhood friends! It was like an elementary school reunion for a loner fat kid in Taiwan. Of course, I threw Eugenia a bone and ate the other 95% of what I brought back. Not wanting to go into detail, I’ll say that this is simple food for simple folks. No gimmicks here – just simple ingredients in simple preparations. But such banal descriptions cannot describe the ability that the food is able to accomplish in satisfying a Taiwanese boy’s inner childhood memories and pleasures.

I’ve been back a couple of times since, and each visit has been late and me ordering way too much to-go. But if I’m heading east to SGV and it’s before 7pm, I’m making a beeline for Huge Tree Pastry, and no one better get in my way.

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Chris Hei grade: B+

Huge Tree Pastry
423 N Atlantic Blvd, Ste 106
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 458-8689

Huge Tree Pastry on Urbanspoon

Cook’s Tortas

2/12/12

After a basketball game a few Sundays ago in Covina, a few of us decided to eat at Cook’s Tortas for a late lunch, since it was kind of on the way back, and it’s one of Kevin’s favorite places. Like the name states, they serve tortas, or Mexican sandwiches. But instead of your traditional street food ones, the tortas here are a bit more classy, and not limited to traditional ingredients. Also, instead of using a bolillo or telera bread (the standard for tortas), Cook’s uses a bread that is more along the lines of a baguette and ciabatta, with a sourdough taste. I thought that the chew on the bread made it a nice vessel for the various combination of ingredients.

I ordered the ahogada, which was a wet sandwich that had carnitas and pickled onions, with the bread soaking up a spicy gravy and more of said gravy poured over the completed sandwich. The pork was cooked nicely and the sandwich tasted very good, although I didn’t really get any heat. And I thought that the flavors could’ve been a bit bolder. I had a bite of Daniel’s portobello mushroom sandwich, which was pretty good but a bit on the dry side. It looks like they rotate most of the sandwiches on a regular basis, which is cool. I really want to come back and try some of the other variations. Also, the agua frescas were very good. I tried the jamaica (hibiscus) and melon ones; both were very refreshing. And each sandwich comes with one side. I got the potato salad, which was okay. Will choose the sweet potato fries instead next time.

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Ahogada

Ahogada #10 – slow cooked pork, spicy double dip, extra napkins, onion pickles

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Chris Hei grade: B

Cook’s Tortas
1944 S Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(323) 278-3536

Cook's Tortas on Urbanspoon

Beijing Pie House


Photo credit: Gastronomy

Came here on a random Wednesday night when I was in the area. It was on one of my Foursquare to-try lists, and I figured it would be something simple and cheap. And it certainly did live up to those two expectations. But after reading a favorable article from LA Weekly, would it live up to those expectations?

Beijing Pie House is known for their northern Chinese items, the xian bing in particular. Xian bing, named as “pies” on the menu, are these thick discs of dough stuffed with filling. Think Chinese papusas. The best and most popular variation is the lamb one, and it’s a good one. You have to eat it carefully and slowly, because the inside is hot and juicy, and can squirt all over the place (get your minds out of the gutter, people). It’s kind of like a ghetto version of the shen jian bao, really.

I also tried the jing dong rou bing (at least that’s what the Chinese looked like to me – the English name is “homeland meat cake”). I liked this one just as much as the lamb pie. It has alternating layers of spiced ground pork and pancake (like the one used to wrap beef rolls). The zha jiang mein (“Beijing Style Noodles,” for reasons I can’t comprehend) came out chilled and deconstructed, which I have no problem with. But mix it all together and what you get is a subpar mutt of a Chinese and Korean version in one.

There were only a couple of other tables when I was there. Both tables had the lamb hot pot only. It didn’t look like anything special though – just slices of lamb you could find at 99 Ranch and some veggies. There were also a few to-go orders, and I think in the future that is what I’ll do. Order some lamb pies and meat cake, and you got yourself some pretty damn good snacks. But it wasn’t the most exciting of foods, and I don’t know if I would go out of my way to dine there for northern Chinese, especially with Dean Sin World and 101 Noodle Express nearby.

Beijing Style Noodle
Beijing Style Noodles ($5.99)

Lamb Pie (4)
Lamb Pie ($7.99)

Homeland Meat Cake
Homeland Meat Cake ($7.99)

Chris Hei grade: B

Beijing Pie House
846 E Garvey Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91755
(626) 288-3818

Beijing Pie House on Urbanspoon

Lake Spring Shanghai

Lake Spring Shanghai Restaurant

Photo credit: Michael R Perry on flickr

What happened to you, Lake Spring Shanghai? You used to be the belle of the Shanghainese cuisine ball in SGV, the class valedictorian. Then like all the Asian girls I know from UCLA, you hooked up with some white guy and things went down from there. Then you rediscover your culture, started studying again, and looking like the hot, smart Asian girl who you once were. But now? I’m not so sure…

If my lame analogy above is hard to follow, this is what happened: my family and I loved and frequented Lake Spring Shanghai for a long time. Then a new owner (I think he was Jewish, at least according to SinoSoul) took over, and the food went downhill. Then my grandma said that the old owner bought back the place, and the food was good again. And it had been pretty good during my few visits over the last couple of years. Not as good as I remembered, but still one of the better Chinese restaurants in SGV.

My grandparents still love the place, and go on a fairly regular basis (the servers know them). And we decided to go for Chinese New Year’s eve…WE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE. I guess they overbooked the place, and people who thought they could walk-in showed up in horror of what they saw. It was like trying to squeeze onto a MTA bus at 7am – everyone was packed close to one another. You got old Chinese people trying to snipe tables that they didn’t reserve, and everyone just standing next to tables, cluttering all walking lanes and the entrance. The fire marshal would’ve fainted at the sight.

But what about the food? As with most places in SGV, the quality really goes down during special days like this. Everything is either pre-made or half-assed, or in our case most likely both. It’s really hard to get on them during a dinner like this, but they should’ve planned it much better. We were among the earliest seating with a reservation at 5:30, and it was still a complete mess in terms of what was served. Pork hock was dry and bland, sea cucumbers were rough and uncleaned, soup was like oily water. The only good thing all night was a plate of veggies…enough said.

I’m sure they’re better than this normally. Lesson of the day: don’t eat in SGV on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

Chris Hei grade: C

Lake Spring Shanghai
219 E Garvey Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91755
(626) 280-3571

Lake Spring Shanghai on Urbanspoon

Seafood Village

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The family decided to come here for my grandparents’ 59th anniversary, because it was near their place. I remember coming to Seafood Village a while back, and thought that the food was decent, but not noteworthy. But my grandparents said that they’ve been here recently, and it was pretty good. So I was definitely open to the idea of trying it again. Also, who am I to complain? I’m terrible at making decisions, and I was in an area where there are a dozen restaurants per block.

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We ordered a combination of lunch special dishes, and house specials that are displayed on the restaurant’s walls. The pork belly dish was good, as was the tofu and seafood dish and the black bean oyster dish. Their version of the beef loc lac was nowhere as good as Newport’s (way too sweet), although their clams with basil weren’t too far off. Overall, it was a solid lunch, but was very filling and satisfying. If I do go back, I’ll have to order their house special crab, and some more of-the-wall seafood dishes (literally).

Chris Hei grade: B

Seafood Village
684 W Garvey Ave
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 289-0088

Seafood Village on Urbanspoon

Daikokuya

9/24/11

Paul was nice enough to drop me off in South El Monte so I could pick up my baby (my car, that is) from the auto shop. I decided to treat him to lunch beforehand to show my gratitude. He was in the mood for ramen, so the most logical choices in the SGV were Shin-Sen-Gumi and Daikokuya, the latter of which we chose. I remember going to the Little Tokyo location a long time ago, and found the ramen to be good, but a little overrated given the restaurant’s crazy popularity. This Monterey Park might not be the main location, but I figured it was a good chance for me to possibly change my mind.

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Gyoza ($5.95) – pan-fried pork dumpling

Started with an order of the famous gyoza, which are pork and vegetable. A ponzu sauce came on the side. I thought that these were pretty good, but the filling wasn’t really juicy and I prefer the skin of Chinese potstickers to these thin wrappers.

PhotoDaikokuya Ramen ($8.50) – bamboo shoot, bean sprouts, green onion, half boiled egg, homemade sliced pork, sesame seeds

This was a very big bowl. Very filling. But nowhere near Santouka’s level. However, Paul argued that while he shared my sentiments, it wasn’t really fair to compare the two since we didn’t order the ramen kotteri (extra pork back fat). The broth in the regular version, while milky and thick, was ultimately a little on the milder side in terms of flavor. The chashu was really good though, and the marinated egg tasted great (but the center was a bit cold).

Again, it’s unfair to fully access the quality of Daikokuya’s ramen without ordering it kotteri (and possibly needing to go to the Little Tokyo location), but the ramen at the Monterey Park location was good. The ingredients in the ramen were really good, and the big bowl was extremely filling. And luckily, we waiting all of five seconds to be seated, as opposed to possibly over half an hour at the Little Tokyo location. So if you want a (possibly) lesser version of Daikokuya’s ramen without the hassles, then come on down to the Monterey Park location. Should be pretty satisfying.

Chris Hei grade: B

Daikokuya
111 N Atlantic Blvd, Ste 241
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 570-1930

Daikokuya on Urbanspoon

Green Island

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Despite the number of photos I have, I think I’ll just do a lazy post for Green Island. We came here a couple of Saturdays ago. The restaurant looks relatively new (located in that new fancy-looking plaza on Atlantic Blvd with the condos), and is the sister restaurant of the Temple City one that shares the same name. Inside the restaurant, the decor is more upscale than your traditional Chinese restaurant in the SGV (however tacky it looks), and there’s even individual TVs at some of the booths/tables.

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PhotoWe had six people, and ordered eight dishes (two were freebies because we ordered more than seventy dollars I believe). Some were pretty good, but most were just average. I was really hungry that night, so I ate everything with joy. But it’s a good thing I had time to let my thoughts about the restaurant marinate, because I have a tendency to let my hunger dictate my palate at times. Everyone raves about the fried rice (we ordered both the “prime rib eye” and eel varieties), and they were really filling, but take away the dog and pony show that is the stone bowl with table serving of mixing the rice, and what you have left is just a simple order of fried rice (although it was decent). The majority of my apathy of Green Island stems from their “pork belly” dishes. They weren’t really pork belly, but rather just some fatty cuts of cheap pork in my opinion. They could’ve just said pork, but with the pork belly in the description, I definitely raised my expectations of those dishes. Total letdown.

So average some decent dishes with some disappointing ones, and what you have left is an average restaurant. My group really liked the restaurant though, so there is a good chance I might be back to reassess my opinion of the place. And if you’re looking for value, Green Island does provide that (we ate all of the above for less than fifteen dollars per person including tax and tip). Still, if it was my choice I wouldn’t choose to come here.

Chris Hei grade: C

Green Island
500 N Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 289-7788

Green Island on Urbanspoon