Inspired by the San Gabriel Valley Part 2: Hot Dishes
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.
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.
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.)