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First Bite: The Chinese Revolving Door at Lao Bian Dumpling

Jonagold apples
Jonagold apples
F. Friesema

The storefront that houses Lao Bian Dumpling has had many faces over the last few years, including Noodle Island, a favorite for its Hainan chicken rice. Its transformation into Lao Bian Dumpling was pretty recent.

But even with the rapid turnover, it was surprising to walk into the restaurant the other day and be greeted by the owner informing me that the restaurant had changed over once again, into a Sichuan place whose chef is recently arrived from Chengdu.

There didn't seem to be any actual menus yet, but there was a great version of twice-cooked pork sauteed with leeks and lots of chile; a dish of fish filets sauteed with chile, garlic and tofu; and flash-fried string beans with a salty crumble of fermented things. The lamb ribs, coated with cumin, chile and Sichuan pepper, and fried with a giant, crimson pile of dried chiles for fragrance, was the best version of this dish in town, and there are a dozen contenders.

I intend to go back for mapo doufu, dan dan mian and whatever else the chef has in mind -- most assuredly including Sichuan wonton in red oil. "I think I'm going to keep the English name the same," said the new proprietor, who also owns the well-regarded Taiwanese restaurant Ho's Kitchen. "In Chinese, I don't know -- probably something like Eat Spicy, Drink Spicy."

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Lao Bian Dumpling

800 W. Las Tunas Drive
San Gabriel, CA 91776