Massive green onion sesame pancakes, handmade dumplings and one of the best beef noodle soups in town — these are among the destination-worthy dishes at Ahgoo's Kitchen, a Taiwanese/Chinese eatery in El Monte that's been around for nearly two years. It's the passion project of chef Thomas Yeh, a Taiwanese immigrant who's been cooking since he was 16 years old.
"When he moved to the San Gabriel Valley, he worked at lots of different restaurants," says his niece, Nina Ha. "It's been his lifetime dream to have his own place." Ha has a special connection to the restaurant. Yeh is her "ahgoo," which in the Taiwanese dialect means uncle on the maternal side.
Expect a wait during Ahgoo's busy hours. The restaurant is wildly popular among locals. Even the take-out operation is busy. As for the food, it's difficult to categorize the type of cuisine Yeh whips up; his menu is a hodgepodge of all sorts of Chinese and Taiwanese dishes. Dough and seafood seem to be the highlights.
"His wife is from China, and she makes the green onion pancakes from scratch and folds the dumplings," Ha says.
Start with a combination cold platter: a heap of offal and bean curd layered with spices. The quality is just as good as at your neighborhood Sichuan restaurant.
You also must order the giant green onion pancake, which is no doubt the restaurant's star dish. The sesame-crusted pancake comes in a massive bread bowl, flecked with chopped scallions and freshly steamed. It's the type of dish that can be found at street vendors in Taiwan and China, great for a quick breakfast. It's crusty on the outside and an ideal mouthful of softness inside. Pair it with the beef noodle soup; the broth is earthy but not overpowering, and there's a hint of spiciness. Just one sip and you can tell the broth has been stewing for hours.
The ever-popular beef roll is on the menu, too, along with fried fish with seaweed (the Chinese answer to fish and chips) and wonderfully seasoned fish and leek dumplings.
"He just wants to make food that he thinks is tasty," Ha says. "He's also always there. He gets there at 10 a.m. and goes home at 10 p.m."
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Ahgoo's is open Wednesday to Sunday, with a two-hour break from 3 to 5 p.m. Ha says that gap is for Yeh to visit his father, who is in a nursing home. "Sometimes he'll close unexpectedly, though, just to see my grandpa," she warns. "He's very xiao shun." Xiao shun, in Chinese, means family-oriented.
Ahgoo's Kitchen, 10053 Valley Blvd., Suite 5, El Monte; (626) 455-0930