YouTube stars, comedians and brothers Andrew and David Fung ascended to San Gabriel Valley fame in February with music video "626," a witty YouTube mash-up of various restaurants and dishes in the area.
"Food is the one thing that a lot of people can agree that Asians are the best at," Andrew Fung said. "Asians are the best at math, cars, making cars, saving money, being cheap and making really good affordable food."
With over 250,000 views, the clip pays an extensive tribute to food culture in the 626, an area they feel is underrepresented in mainstream media. The Fung brothers are lifelong patrons to the San Gabriel Valley food scene, so we caught up with them on the phone to ask them about their favorite picks and why food is so important to them.
Squid Ink: Tell us a little bit about your family background and how that influenced your passion for food.
David Fung: Both our parents were born in mainland China but my father was raised in Hong Kong and my mother was raised in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Toyko. I think Asian people in general are just natural born foodies. The natural baseline for how much they're supposed to like food is already more than average. It's like they're just foodies by default.
Andrew Fung: When we moved down here after college we couldn't get away from the food and community. A lot of people outside of the 626 don't necessarily know too much about it or think it's cool but coming from where we come from in Seattle, which barely had any Asian people, we really appreciated the 626.
SI: Your thoughts on mainstream perception of the SGV food culture?
DF: I haven't seen much coverage that has been done. We did an episode for the Cooking Channel, but we actually did Chinatown L.A.. So as far as media coverage I haven't really seen it. I know Jonathan Gold is a really big fan of the San Gabriel Valley.
AF: I worked down in L.A. for the whole entire last year and the general population, like non-foodies and people who don't know any Chinese people; they know nothing about the SGV. The coverage you get is from food nerds. So unless you're into food or dating a Chinese person, most people don't really know about the SGV.
SI: Favorite restaurant?
DF: That's a good question. One of the places I always say is Savoy Kitchen because Savoy is this Hainan chicken, like Singaporean and Cantonese spot. The food there is really good, but it's the ambience that's so incredible to me. It's such an iconic spot on Valley Blvd. It's almost like Urth Caffe in Hollywood. In Hollywood you're always bound to bump into a club promoter. Same with 626, you're always bound to bump into an Asian club promoter or a car crew or all these characters. Almost on any given day during lunch hour, you're going to find them sitting on the patio of Savoy.
AF: We like Savoy because of its high profile and the way you feel when you go there. A lot of hip, young cool people of the 626 are there. One of my favorite low-key spots that serves my favorite type of Chinese food is 101 Noodle Express over on Valley. They're open late and they have really good beef rolls and beef noodle soups.
SI: Favorite Asian dish?
DF: I'm actually really partial to curry. I particularly like Portuguese, Cantonese fusion curry. And a lot of its from Macau. There's something about that dish that you can do so much with it. You can go on the low end, and go with chicken Portuguese curry. But then you can also go with crab or lobster.
AF: I can't say dim sum right? That counts as too many dishes. But this is a dish that we get at almost every single restaurant we eat at. It's not the most elaborate dish but it's my favorite vegetable dish. It's string beans. Pretty much we'll get that at every single restaurant because it's my favorite way to eat string beans. I think the way that Asian people cook vegetables is very superior to how everybody else does vegetables. If we can't agree on anything else on Asian food, we can agree that the vegetables are way better. Maybe once in my life have I been to a Western-style restaurant where I actually liked the vegetables.
SI: Best boba joint?
AF: I'd pick Factory Tea Bar as our favorite, then Ten Ren then Le Arbre. Our favorite places are usually one of the better places but it's not always the best. There's other reasons like crowd, ambience and our friends. But I'd say Half & Half is a place that we'll always go to. Even people who aren't really into boba will know Half & Half.
DF: There's also this place called Meow Meow Cafe that we think is really good.
SI: Best shaved ice?
DF: Class 302 in Rowland. Class 302 hands down is the best but also for other reasons like the ambience and location. But especially for where we live now, Fluff Ice is a place that we go to a lot too.
SI: You mentioned earlier that the San Gabriel Valley can be intimidating in terms of food. What is your advice for first time explorers in the 626?
AF: If you're a girl, hit up the Fung brothers before you go. Just kidding. Seriously watch our video. It'll get you inspired and revved up to go. Use Yelp furiously. And use the most reviewed feature. If you're going to the 626 for the first time, I wouldn't say go to the underground spots yet. Definitely hit up the mainstream, the popular and highly rated spots first. And then dig deeper after you understand everything.
SI: There's so many pockets of ethnic cuisine in the Los Angeles area. The San Gabriel Valley is just one of them. What makes it so unique?
AF: The 626 has a bunch of food, boba and shaved ice spots. But there's practically no bars. There's no place you can really get drunk. On a Thursday, Friday and even a Saturday night you go to Factory Tea Bar and it's packed full of people. There are even people who are old enough to drink. It's going to look like a bar and they'll even play club music but there will be nobody drunk. I think if you're really into food, sometimes drinking gets in the way of the taste of food. There's a lot of food nerds in the 626, and food nerds aren't usually the ones to go to the clubs and get smashed.
DF: Food is interconnected with lifestyle and what scene you're into. That's why we love food out in the 626. It's everything and it means so much more than just food. Food is the main driver behind everything.