The first U.S. city with an Asian population majority, Monterey Park has been referred to as “the Chinese Beverly Hills” and “the first suburban Chinatown.” When it comes to doing a food crawl, it will obviously skew heavily to Chinese cuisine. Indeed, a top 10 could consist solely of Chinese restaurants, but that would be missing excellent representatives of other Asian cuisines, and so much more.
Eateries dot the city thoroughfares of Atlantic, Garfield and Garvey. While the clusters around the intersections with Garvey are easily walkable, you'll probably want to take a car for outposts further east on Garvey or over the hill on Atlantic. Portions are large and prices low. Because of this, you'll probably want to bring friends and get a bit more walking in. For that, the Atlantic Times Square provides a strollable city centerpiece with additional dining options, shops and a place to see first-run Chinese movies. From dim sum palaces to late night Hong Kong cafés to tiny dumpling houses and everything in-between, you can find it in Monterey Park. Here are our picks for Top 10 eats. Turn the page.
10. Hoy-Ka Thai Noodle (CLOSED):
While Thai restaurants can be found around the SGV, it's generally been better to head to Thai Town. The exception to this rule is Hoy-Ka, which sits tucked into the back of Garfield Plaza. From their signature Hoy-Ka noodles to authentic boat noodles (in other words, blood cubes), Hoy-Ka ranks as the best choice for Thai cuisine in the 626. Did we mention the family connection to the Hoy-Ka in Thai Town? Enough said. 230 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park; 626-927-9629.
9. Wok BBQ (CLOSED):
Don't take the name too literally. It's not BBQ, but is instead served in a wok. Confused? The specialty at Wok BBQ is dry pots. Your choice of meats or seafoods, combined with vegetables (and a wide selection of extras) rest atop a shallow pool of broth and oil in a wok, the whole shebang placed atop a tabletop hot plate, where it braises merrily away. With frog or chitterling available for the more adventurous and choice of spiciness level (medium is plenty hot), you can add broth to turn it into a hot pot — but why? 910 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; 626-307-7176.
Starting at the cold table with a large selection of Sichuan appetizers, Yunkun Garden is solid. Several Yunnan-style items, such as the signature Crossing The Bridge Noodles, are available and worthwhile, but dishes from the neighboring Sichuan province dominate the large menu. Like spicy food? The “wild chili” dishes take a hellish blend of fresh, dried and pickled peppers to create XXX-rated pepper on pepper action. Water-boiled dishes, spicy with spicy, dan dan mian and Chung King fried chicken cubes are among standouts at this underrated restaurant. 301 N. Garfield Ave., #D, Monterey Park; 626- 571-8387.
7. Cook's Tortas:
Beginning with the terrific bread baked on site, Cook's Tortas takes sandwiches to another level. The chalked wall menu boasts a good variety of fillings to go between that wonderful bread, ranging from standards to chef-inspired creations. The menu changes from day to day, providing even greater variety. Wash it down with a fresh agua fresca, often featuring enthralling fusions (again, these change daily). More reasons why Cook's was chosen as Best Torta for our Best of L.A. 2012. Did we mention that bread? 1944 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; 323-278-3536.
Described as sometimes as doorknobs or hockey pucks, xian bing are thin, pliably skinned wheat dumplings stuffed full of meats (minced lamb, beef or pork), vegetables and soup. Impatience will be rewarded with scalding hot soup squirting onto your person, clothes and perhaps adjacent tables. You're warned on the menu. Heed it. But it's worth the wait — lightly browned with a slight chewiness and that wonderful broth. Another standout, the Homeland Meat Cake (your Claire Danes joke here), a pan-fried flatbread filled with minced meat. 846 E. Garvey Ave., #A, Monterey Park; 626-288-3818.
5. Huge Tree Pastry:
Rising Phoenix-like from Yi Mei's ashes at a new location with a new name, one thing didn't change at Huge Tree. Namely, the excellent items at this Taiwanese breakfast specialist. Dip your you tiao (Chinese donut) into a bowl of either salty or sweet soymilk while noshing on a shao bing (sesame bread) and a gua bao, a soft, rice flour bread wrapped around soy and spice marinated pork belly topped with pickled vegetable and cilantro. 423 N. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; 626-458-8689.
4. Nha Trang:
Nha Trang's entire menu fits on a business card: Just six items and two more alternating “specials” on a chalkboard. Indeed, there are more drink options. At many places, this would be a negative, but at the second — and larger — Nha Trang, the narrow approach focuses on their strengths. Here this means Central Vietnamese-style soups such as bun bo hue (spicy beef noodle) and the tomato-based, crab and meatball bun rieu. Just don't look for pho ga. Despite being hailed as the best version in the SGV, it's sadly no longer available. 742 E. Garvey Ave., Unit A, Monterey Park; 626-288-8825.
Burmese food is truly one of the great, under-represented cuisines. Tiny Yoma Myanmar serves a range of dishes from the southeast Asian country that feature a fascinating blend of influences from its neighbors, namely China, India and Thailand. The national dish of mont hin ga (catfish noodle soup), khao soi (coconut noodle soup) and tea leaf salad — with its impossible to describe rush of umami — are starting points, but there's plenty more to discover at this overlooked gem. 713 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; 626-280-8655.
2. Elite Restaurant:
The dim sum experience can be entertaining on two levels. At Elite, the dim sum is served via menu instead of carts. While this removes the spectacle of Chinese grandmothers coming to blows over the first choice from the last cart out of the kitchen, it's more than made up for by the low-key experience and the food itself. Always ranking near, if not at, the top of any list of dim sum palaces, all of your favorites are available, with the shu mai and egg custard tarts attracting particular praise from devotees. 700 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; 626-282-9998.
1. Dean Sin World:
The definition of a “hole-in-the-wall” joint, even after doubling the seating area, charming little Dean Sin World's featured attraction are xiao long bao. These rank among the best in the SGV and are sold at many other restaurants. Other choices are Shanghainese-style small dishes and crab shell pastries, which come in both sweet and savory variations and contain no crab — they're named for their resemblance to the Shanghainese hairy crab. No MSG or lard is added bonus, as is use of chicken aspic (!) in the XLB. 306 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park; 626- 571-0636.