8 Essential Chinese Restaurants in L.A.
Minced pork over rice, pickled taro, tea-smoked egg
When we compiled our 2016 list of the 99 Essential L.A. Restaurants, the city's array of superb Chinese restaurants was sure to play a huge part. The San Gabriel Valley alone is a vast goldmine of regional Chinese cooking, in addition to modern chefs in other parts of town who are putting their own touches on traditional fare. Below is a sampling of what we believe are some of L.A.'s most essential Chinese restaurants — make sure to check out the full list to see everything else.
Lamb pie at Beijing Pie House
Navigating the restaurant scene in the San Gabriel Valley can be intimidating, especially for those who aren’t Chinese. You don’t want to be the dude ordering beef skewers at a place specializing in abalone porridge, after all. But if there’s a restaurant where your directives are clear from the moment you sit down, it’s Beijing Pie House. The wildly crowded restaurant in Monterey Park focuses on the most dangerous style of dumpling. Here, the unit of consumption is xian bing, puck-sized dumplings that contain a loose patty of meat and vegetable suspended in boiling-hot broth that spurts out when prodded with a chopstick. How do you tackle the xian bing? Do you perch one on your wide soup spoon and gingerly slurp out the innards? Do you bare-hand the thing and risk first-degree burns? These are matters of personal debate, but what’s undeniable is that the pan-fried lamb and green onion “meat pies” are crispy and juicy and utterly addictive. You drizzle it with a bit of black vinegar and a few drops of chili oil, which perfectly cut through the richness of the minced lamb, and tear off bites of the dumpling’s thick skin piece by piece. Just don’t forget what your chemistry teacher taught you about contents under pressure. —Garrett Snyder
846 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; (626) 288-3818.
If you plan to eat at Dai Ho, arrive early. The kitchen is open for less than four hours each day, six days a weeks, and an open table at the cramped Temple City diner is as rare as a parking space along Venice Beach. There’s a glass display case filled with cold sliced pig ears, spicy pickled papaya and crispy peanuts with tiny fried fish, but everyone, including you if you manage to snag a seat, is patiently waiting for the wonderful handmade noodles — long, tensile strands with the elastic properties of a Stretch Armstrong doll. They can be had swimming in murky beef broth with soft hunks of braised shank, doused in rich sesame sauce or smothered in a ground-pork sauce mixed with salty bean paste until it resembles thick Bolognese. The cooking at Dai Ho might be described as Sichuan by way of Taiwan, or vice versa, but it doesn’t seem to matter much. Owners-chefs May and Jim Ku make their own rules, the parameters of which involve no substitutions, long waits, limited availability and boiling hot tea served in styrofoam cups. But when you finally get that bowl of noodles slicked with chili oil, these constraints feel like part of Dai Ho’s charm. —GS
9148 E. Las Tunas Drive, Temple City; (626) 291-2295.
Xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung
To some purists, the proliferation of Din Tai Fung locations — its status as an international chain — makes the dumpling house less thrilling than it was when we knew it as a single restaurant in Arcadia. There are now two locations in Arcadia and one attached to the Americana at Brand mall in Glendale, as well as an Orange County outpost and a couple of branches in Seattle (not to mention the 11 other countries with Din Tai Fungs). But if that means you can eat juicy, thin-skinned xiao long bao before running errands at a fancy mall, or wait a little less time for a seat in Arcadia, then what’s not to love? The truth is that no matter how many outposts of Din Tai Fung there are, the food — those XLB soup dumplings, as well as the other dumplings and the veggie dishes and the noodles and the rice cakes — are still damn good. When the urge strikes to stuff ourselves with seven different kinds of dumplings, this is still the first place we turn. If that leads to world dumpling domination, then so be it. —Besha Rodell
1088 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia; (626) 574-7068, dintaifungusa.com.
Toothpick lamb with cumin
The Chengdu Taste empire just keeps growing, with four restaurants now under the same ownership, all thanks to the public’s hunger for this particular brand of spicy, numbing, complex, alluring Sichuan food. We still prefer the original Valley Boulevard location, for toothpick lamb bristling with cumin, wontons that have an almost floral undertone (if you can taste anything under the extreme chili-oil heat), slick jelly noodles and water-boiled fish with green chilies. You can order a whole pork shank cooked in a deep, sweet braise and slathered with red chilies, or chopped rabbit in Younger Sister’s Secret Sauce. What’s in that secret sauce? Peanuts, and — you guessed it — chili. Yes, this is a pilgrimage spot for spice masochists, but focusing on that alone takes away from the nuance in this cooking, the layering of flavors that make this food so much more complex and satisfying than places where heat is the primary characteristic. Expect to wait a long time for a table, expect to order far too many things, expect to fall into a kind of Sichuan peppercorn–induced stupor for the rest of the afternoon or evening. —BR
828 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 588-2284.
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