Lucky Noodle King

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Lucky Noodle King
534 E Valley Blvd, Ste 10
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 573-5668
www.luckynoodleking.com

Funny how things turn out…

We had this grand plan of finally going to Chengdu Taste this past Saturday. I actually wasn’t the one who suggested it, because I was among Canto people, and you know how weak they are at handling spice ;). But my friend Ben lives near the restaurant, and was very curious about Szechuan/Sichuan cuisine. Of course, it didn’t take much to get me excited about going, and I even went as far as announcing our impending dinner on Twitter, and asking the local big shots (Clarissa Wei, David Chan, SinoSoul) what to order. Knowing how busy the restaurant is, especially after the J. Gold review, I suggested that we have dinner before 6pm. But NOOOOO – these idiots insisted on 7:30, even mentioning that an hour’s wait is doable. Little did they know…

I warned these idiots thusly – there were at least 20 parties ahead of us. We had planned on watching a movie at 10pm, so figured an hour’s wait was okay. But half an hour passed, and only 2 names were crossed out. Then an hour passed, and only another 2 were crossed out. People were not coming out – must be because of the free wi-fi! Anyways, there was no way we would get in and eat dinner before the movie, so unfortunately my dream of dining at Chengdu Taste will have to be fulfilled another day. Since we were so locked in on Sichuan food that night, I first thought of Chung King as the contingency plan – but they closed at 9 (c’mon, really?). But luckily (pun unintended), nearby Lucky Noodle King came to the rescue.

Lucky Noodle King had been on my to-dine list for quite some time, but it’s very easy to get lost in the shuffle when the Andrew Wiggins of the SGV universe enters the picture. The restaurant had the spotlight itself a couple of years ago, when J. Gold reviewed the place, and subsequently naming their dan dan mian as one of his top 10 dishes of that year (Mr. Chan echoes a similar sentiment) – so in no way should this dinner be considered some also-ran. We got there around 9, and the place was empty (they technically close at 9:30). But by mid-meal, the tiny restaurant was packed, all 5-6 tables of it. Upon being seated, we received a plate of spicy cabbage and peanuts, which set the mood for the night: Hot in Herre!

I consider my spice tolerance to be moderate, and it held up pretty well during dinner. But I sweat A LOT when I eat spicy foods (doesn’t help being fat), and I went through the napkins quickly – but it burned so good. We basically ordered the most basic of Sichuan dishes, since the guys weren’t familiar with the cuisine: water-boiled fish, mapo tofu, wontons in chili oil, Chongqing fried chicken, and of course the dan dan mian. The first 3 dishes were executed as well as any version I’ve had in the SGV. But let’s talk about this dan dan mian that’s so hot (again, pun unintended). Every version I’ve had of the dish goes heavy-handed with either the spice, the sesame paste, or the peanuts, but never all 3 aspects. But Lucky Noodle King balances these characteristics of the ideal dan dan mian well (although it might not seem like it above from the angle I shot the dish at), and they worked off all each other wonderfully.

The Chongqing fried chicken was the table favorite, but it was probably the weakest dish of the night for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was still good, but I wanted the pieces of chicken to be crispier. Also, there seemed to be some bits of sugar tossed in – not sure if that’s supposed to be there, but I didn’t like the wok-charred pieces I ate, thinking that they were chicken (maybe the dish was Americanized for us?). Will probably try the intestine version next time, or get one of their hot pots or double-cooked pork – I will definitely be returning. Regardless, the dinner was a successful one, and we were lucky (okay, pun intended here) to have Sichuan food of this caliber while deciding on the fly.

And sorry for starting off this post so Chengdu Taste-heavy…

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Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Chinese San Gabriel $ B+

Lucky Noodle King on Urbanspoon

Ha Tien Quan

Bun Mam

Ha Tien Quan
529 E Valley Blvd, Ste 178A
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 288-1896

Despite domination of the San Gabriel Valley by the Chinese (at least from a culinary perspective), there is no shortage of Vietnamese restaurants in the area. You can most likely satisfy your cravings for pho, banh mi, or bun on just about every block of a major street. However, at Ha Tien Quan, a new-ish Vietnamese restaurant that opened on Valley Blvd in San Gabriel a few months ago, you won’t find any of those standard dishes. Instead, you’ll have to “settle” for dishes such as bun mam, an anchovy-based noodle soup with fish, shrimp, pork belly, and eggplant, and hu tieu nai sa-te, a lemongrass chili-based one with slices of deer. I doubt most people in LA, outside of regional Vietnamese households (Ha Tien is a city located in the southwest part of Vietnam, bordering Cambodia), have had these dishes.

So how did I hear of this restaurant, one with minimal critical and online presence? Well, there were a couple of places where Ha Tien Quan was featured, and they’re two very influential ones: LA Weekly, which featured the restaurant in a blog post before naming it one of their 99 Essential Restaurants of 2013, and the Gastronomer, who is one of the most respected food bloggers in LA and my go-to source for all foods Vietnamese. But all that this has resulted in are a dozen or so Yelp reviews and exactly zero reports from other publications/blogs; not that the restaurant is hurting for them though – we arrived on a Saturday night to a lively room, one that wasn’t completely full, but full of apparent regulars of the place who are friendly with the owner.

Although I felt a bit out of place (had the ambiance of a Vietnamese family gathering, one I was essentially crashing), I enjoyed my meal at Ha Tien Quan. I ordered the bun mam (which I described earlier), and it’s quite a genius bowl, combining both savory and sweet flavors, topped off by a briny effect from the anchovy broth that’s fantastically funky. It’s something I can get down to – or with, rather. The herbs and veggies that came on the side were also quite unique. We also split an order of banh khot, which are mini pan-fried rice cakes you eat with lettuce, herbs, and fish sauce (similar to banh xeo, which is more familiar to us novice diners of Vietnamese cuisine). The rice cakes are both airy and crispy, and even more delicious with all the accompaniments.

I look forward to my future visits to Ha Tien Quan and discovering new dishes to expand my Vietnamese palate repertoire. I might even be interested in trying the vegetarian versions of their dishes, which they serve (and those alone) only on every quarter and three-quarter moon days, in accordance to Buddhist traditions – check your lunar calendars.

Banh Khot

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
Vietnamese San Gabriel $ B+

Ha Tien Quan on Urbanspoon

Shanghai Restaurant

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Came here with family for grandma’s 80th birthday. We had two large tables in the back, and ordered the biggest set menu they had. Everything was…forgettable. Everything was either too oily, too salty, or too bland. Even the dongpo pork was just decent, and everyone knows what a pork belly whore I am! Only second base for this one. Service was ok though. And I had a really good time with the extended family. Just wished that it was at one of the other Shanghainese restaurants that were on my to-dine list. Anyways…love you grandma!

Chris Hei grade: C

Shanghai Restaurant
140 W Valley Blvd, Ste 211
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 288-0991

168 Garden

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168 Garden, the restaurant formerly known as Yunnan 168, specializes in Yunnan cuisine. Well, judging by the menu, it’s more of a Yunnan/Szechuan hybrid. We went on a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago before our basketball game, because Lawrence really likes the place and can’t find any similar restaurants where he lives now (Cupertino).

I’m not too familiar with Yunnan cuisine, so color me surprised at how light the guo qiao mi xian (crossing the bridge noodles) was. It’s just rice noodles in chicken stock with chicken slices, Chinese ham, eggs, and veggies. Raw quail eggs are supposed to be used (according to Wikipedia), but I actually don’t remember any egg in the dish. It was solid, but albeit a bit…boring.

We also got a cold appetizer platter (standard), a fried rice (standard), a stir-fry noodle dish (standard), and a fish and tofu dish that’s very similar to “water boiled” fish (pretty good). It was a solid meal, but nothing that really stands out in an area with a dozen similar restaurants within a mile’s radius (although probably not the Yunnan part). Maybe we should’ve ordered some more Yunnan dishes? I blame Lawrence if that’s the case.

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Chris Hei grade: B-

168 Garden
1530 S San Gabriel Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 280-7688

168 Garden on Urbanspoon

Newport Seafood (3)

Another place I’ve already written twice about, so won’t say too much here. But Newport Seafood continues to be my favorite Chinese restaurant (even if it’s not completely Chinese). It was a crime not returning for over eight months, so it was the perfect place to celebrate my birthday early with family. There were only four of us, so didn’t get to order too much. Of course, the lobster and beef loc lac are must-orders, and the clams are always a hit with my family. Decided to try the fried frog legs this time, since they were out of elephant clam (geoduck) – they were pretty good, but nowhere near the quality of the other three dishes. Still, everything else was as good as ever. And we went around 5:30pm on a Thursday, so the restaurant was less than half full. By the time we left, it was packed. So go early, since they don’t take reservations.

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Chris Hei grade: A

Newport Tan Cang Seafood Restaurant
518 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 289-5998

Tan Cang Newport Seafood on Urbanspoon

Beijing Duck House

12/25/11

For a “duck house,” Beijing Duck House sure has a lot of seafood. And it’s not as if they’re good at it, either. The family decided to come here on Christmas day for lunch, like most Chinese families in the SGV who don’t abide by American traditions. I was actually really excited about coming here, because I haven’t had peking duck in a LONG time, and I had read a positive review of the restaurant by Jonathan Gold in LA Weekly months ago. My grandma ordered a set meal, where an order of duck came with numerous dishes and a soup made from the duck leftovers. Sounded very promising.

After waiting for an extended period of time (even though we came early and the restaurant wasn’t packed yet), the dishes started rolling out. First came a sauteed squid dish. Then a sauteed vegetables dish. Then a sauteed fish dish. All three of these dishes seemed to be prepared the same way, and said way wasn’t very good unfortunately. Just a bunch of stuff sauteed in a salty sauce x3. Following these was a spicy sauteed fish dish of sorts, but the fish was just terrible in this one. There were also a couple of side dishes in the form of duck liver and smoked fish. Both were surprisingly unspectacular.

Then came the main attraction: the duck. Although the duck tasted fine, it appeared to be pre-cut and prepared far in advance, so it wasn’t very hot coming out. Also, the skin had no crisp whatsoever. Taste itself was decent though, and pancakes were nice, but factor in everything else and what you have is an okay peking duck with a poor supporting cast. If I wanted to nitpick even further, I could mention that some of the meat was a bit over. Even the soup made from the duck felt lifeless. And the shredded duck with bean sprouts was like all the other sauteed dishes :(

I was really looking forward to this meal, and sadly it didn’t live up to any expectations. Maybe it was just an off day, but if I were to visit a peking duck restaurant, I’ll err on the safe side and visit Duck House or Ji Rong next time. My peking duck cravings have since grown exponentially due to this meal, but for all the wrong reasons.

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Chris Hei grade: C

Beijing Duck House
6420 Rosemead Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91775
(626) 286-5508

Beijing Duck House on Urbanspoon

Golden Deli

I went over to Danno’s house to watch football after my basketball game and brunch at BJ’s last week. After the 1pm games ended, we decided to get an early dinner at Golden Deli, probably the most famous Vietnamese restaurant in LA County, assuming that they wouldn’t be busy at the time. Sure enough, they were packed, but we only had to wait a few minutes for a table for four.

I’ve been to Golden Deli many times in the past, but this was my first visit of 2011, because they’re always so busy due to the hype, and that they aren’t necessarily head-and-shoulders above the other Vietnamese restaurants in the SGV. Ben and Larry both ordered pho, and Danno ordered a rice dish. I ordered the bun thit nuong, which is vermicelli with charboiled pork. Solid, but nothing spectacular. I also ordered the cha gio, which are fried Vietnamese spring rolls. I forgot to take a photo of this, but it easily bested the bun thit nuong. If Golden Deli wasn’t always so busy, then I would be more inclined to visit, if just for the spring rolls.

Bun Thit Nuong

Chris Hei grade: B

Golden Deli Vietnamese Restaurant
815 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 308-0803

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