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Hong Yei There are a lot of new Sichuan restaurants in Los Angeles — real ones, staffed by chefs from Chungking or Chengdu, most of them with splendid cold-appetizer cases, decent dan dan mien, and food of a numbingly hot complexity most of us barely knew existed a half-dozen years ago. But at none of them, I think, is there anything quite like the Sichuan-style fish that is one of the specialties at the new Hong Yei in San Gabriel, a vast bowl of vegetable oil buried beneath 2 inches of toasted red chiles, and concealing a brace of snow-white fish fillets slow-poached in the flavored oil. The fish are firm yet melt away in the mouth, leaving a clean, spicy flavor behind, a wonderful dish that betrays little hint of the quart of grease left behind in the bowl, subtle almost in spite of itself. Some of the other dishes at Hong Yei aren't quite up to the versions at other local Sichuan restaurants. The fried chicken with chiles is on the stodgy side, and the chile-marinated sliced beef too crumbly. The menu is plumped out with hotel-school eastern Chinese dishes that hardly seem promising. But the scarlet braised ma po tofu is first-rate. And I can hardly wait to go back and try the kidney with hot sauce, the Hong Yei tofu, and the many, many dishes made with what the menu calls "edible frog." 288 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 614-8188. Open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer, wine. MC, V. Chinese.
Hunan Seafood Is there a contest for the best steamed fish head in the San Gabriel Valley? Because if there is, the example at the new Hunan Seafood might win the prize — a mammoth, silvery head, jaws agape, eyes frosted in death. You could work for an hour on that head, picking oozing lozenges of meat from cranial interstices and the secret, gelatinous bits from where they hide inside the animal's cheeks, daring yourself to taste the forbidden scraps. The Los Angeles area has seen a lot of Hunan-style restaurants open in the past couple of years, although many of them have tended to specialize in the oily, fearsomely hot dishes that seem to make up a lot of the peasant cooking in the region. Although it shares a lot of its menu with those other restaurants, Hunan Seafood leans toward the suaver end of the spectrum. But would it be a Hunanese restaurant if it didn't feature the dish often called "Mao's pork," an homage to Hunan's favorite son, a bowl of soft, slithery chunks of pork belly simmered with garlic, star anise and fresh bamboo? It would not. Hunan Seafood's version is the best in town. 8772 E. Valley Blvd., Rosemead, (626) 280-8389. Open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Beer, wine. Lot parking. MC, V.
The Kitchen Well before you have ticked off your selections on the written dim sum menu at The Kitchen, a Hong Kong-style Alhambra restaurant spun off from a successful Millbrae original, your table is surrounded by waitresses bearing trays — hot, delicious-smelling trays straight from the kitchen, laden with crisp, deep-fried nests of shredded taro that conceal tiny hard-boiled quail eggs at their core; sticky rice noodles wrapped around fried Chinese crullers; and hollow globes of pounded sticky rice, tinted kelly green with powdered tea, encapsulating sweet bean paste. Once you have obtained a pot of chrysanthemum tea and powered through plates of glistening, golden-baked pork bao; broccoli with oyster sauce; and white-topped buns, comically bursting out of miniature tins, that turn out to be filled with something like Chinese apple-pie filling, you can be forgiven for assuming that you have eaten lunch even before you have ordered. Recommended dim sum: taro nest with quail egg, steamed chicken feet, congee with dried scallop and pork, fried green-tea dumplings. 203 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 289-4828. Open daily 9 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5-11 p.m. Beer, wine. Lot parking. MC, V. Chinese.
Saigon Flavor Of all the well-documented marvels of the San Gabriel Valley, perhaps none has inspired as much devotion as the Vietnamese noodle shop Golden Deli, which has overflowed its mini-mall parking lot since the 1980s. Golden Deli has opened yet another noodle shop, Saigon Flavor, a few miles south near the big San Gabriel mall. Saigon Flavor was so close to the original that they didn't even bother to print different menus when the new restaurant opened. Saigon Flavor, too, has difficult parking and weekend waits that stretch over half an hour. It is basically a second Golden Deli, a wonderful thing in itself. 208 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 572-6036. Open Sun. 9 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Mon., Wed., Thurs. 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri. 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat. 9 a.m.-10 p.m. (Closed Tuesdays.) BYOB. Street parking. MC, V.