For the Chinese, breakfast is the most important part of the day. A steamed pork bun and a soy milk for take-out is pretty standard, but if you want to make it a sit-down affair, try salty soy milk with crispy chunks of twisted cruller (also known as you tiao 油条), a large turnip cake with the sides lightly crisped, and a flaky green onion pancake topped with an egg.
The composition of Chinese breakfast joints in Los Angeles can get complicated. You have your Hong Kong and dim sum restaurants, and then you have an entirely different genre of Chinese breakfast restaurants, often labeled Taiwanese or Northern Chinese.
For this particular genre, add in the context of Los Angeles and the distinction gets difficult. Places like Ye-May and Yung Ho Restaurant market themselves as Taiwanese breakfast joints, but are managed by a Chinese staff. Or take Garage Restaurant in Monterey Park: It's a Tianjin-style (Northern Chinese) place, but has a fair number of “tai shi” (台式), or Taiwanese, items on the menu.
But at all these eateries, whether strictly Taiwanese or partially Chinese, the dishes are the same: twisted cruller, green onion pancake, soy milk, various buns, egg pancake, turnip cake, and rice rolls. There aren't that many, but we rounded up the 10 best Taiwanese breakfast places in Los Angeles. Get to these places early — they're notorious for running out of items by noon.
10. Ding Pangzi:
The English translation for Ding Pangzi is Ding Fatty. It's actually a Sichuan restaurant with a section of the menu serving Taiwanese breakfast specialities. Though the selections are really limited (soy milk, you tiao, scallion pancakes, among the core) it's a good alternative if you also crave a heaping of spicy Sichuan cold appetizers. 117 N. Lincoln Ave., Monterey Park; 626-288-2211.
Yung Ho, which was previously owned by the Taiwanese management of Yung Ho City Restaurant, is now a Chinese establishment serving up the classics. The tables get a little sticky in here, but they make a mean salty soy milk (spongy pieces of you tiao and scallions) and rice rolls embedded with chopped cruller, pork sung, and pickled vegetables. Everything is served up freshly made from the kitchen. Despite the downhill service at Yung Ho, their tables are always full with patrons from around the SGV looking for cheap grub. 533 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; 626-570-0860.
Located inside a strip mall on the iconic Valley Boulevard, Ye-May Restaurant is a small hole-in-the-wall with modest decor and a few tables. The sweet Cantonese staff speaks Mandarin and horribly broken English. Pastries are made fresh — don't be alarmed when you're confronted with a rack of abnormally large twisted crullers by the cashier. There's a lot of Taiwanese specials (oyster pancake, Taiwanese meatballs) available, but stick with the breakfast items. Be sure to check out the large pastry selections — try the curry cake ($1.10) and slice radish cake ($1.10). 608 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; 626-280-8568.
7. JJ Bakery:
JJ Bakery may be an Asian bread shop with adorable pastries, but they do have a breakfast counter going on in the morning. Though their a.m. selections may be limited compared to other Los Angeles establishments, they make delicious steamed baos. They only do take-out and the dishes are conveniently packaged so you can eat them on the go. And if you miss the morning deadline for breakfast, you'll always have an amazing selection of fluffy Asian breads to choose from. 130 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia; 626-836-6888.
Yung Ho City Restaurant is owned by the Tsang family, who are the original owners of the Yung Ho branch (they sold the 533 W Valley Blvd. location). The late owner was a chef in Taiwan and the place is now managed by his wife and children. Everything is freshly made an hour before they open — by 11 a.m. most of the items are sold out. Yung Ho offers black soybean milk, a unique twist on the common breakfast drink that's made with soybean, peanuts, and sesame powder. They win points for having an extremely versatile menu: they carry the unique Beijing specialty of bean curd stew (known as Northern salted soybean milk on their menu) that consists of mushroom, corn starch, preserved vegetables, wooden ear, shrimp, lily flower, and tofu. Yung Ho also has a bilingual staff. 1045 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; 626-280-9317.
5. Garage Restaurant:
Garage Restaurant is actually a Tianjin breakfast place, but they have some Taiwanese-style selections. If we're going to get technical about it, Tianjin (which is part of Northern China) and Taiwan do share similar breakfast menu items. There's a lot of dough involved. You can get the standard soy milk, rice rolls, mantou, and egg pancakes here. There's also more Tianjin exclusive items, like fried dough with brown sugar, tofu jelly in gravy, and Tianjin buns. Their wheat items, even the plainest, are some of the freshest around and will transform the way you think about bread. 123 North Lincoln Avenue Monterey Park; (626) 573-9088.
4. Doe Jon Station:
Doe Jon, (the name means “soy milk” in Chinese) is a Taiwanese breakfast place located in an obscure part of Arcadia. They sell a massive turnip cake and will top everything with a fried egg. Cash only — and we suggest to treat this place as a take-out restaurant. The seats are limited and the prices are higher than usual, but the food is authentic and generously apportioned. A favorite here is the plain, white mantou with egg. 46 W Las Tunas Drive, Arcadia; (626) 821-2088.
3. Yi-Mei Deli:
If you're willing to venture further east to Rowland Heights, Yi-Mei Deli is a Taiwanese-owned and operated establishment that has some of the best turnip cakes around. Though they can be inconsistent with their soy milk quality, they produce a flaky shao bing and a green onion pancake that practically mirrors the stuff over at Taiwan. 18414 Colima Road, Rowland Heights; 626-854-9246.
Featured on the Cooking Channel and covered by most of the media outlets in Los Angeles, Huge Tree Pastry has high scores in both food and service. Their soy milk is authentically nutty and if you order a large size, you'll get enough milk to quench the morning thirst of at least three people. They aren't kidding about the large; the size of that container is shocking. 423 N. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; 626-458-8689.
If you're from Taiwan, stepping into a Four Sea establishment will make you feel right at home. They have two locations — one in Hacienda Heights and another in San Gabriel. Rumor also has it that they're opening another branch in Irvine. Their success isn't unwarranted. They have one of the largest selection of Taiwanese breakfast items in Los Angeles and their staff is uniformed and polite. Maybe the English abilities of some of the servers are lacking, but the efficient ordering process at the counter more than makes up for it. Go for the salty soy milk and sticky rice roll. They produce some of the best variations of the rice rolls, or fan tuan 饭团, outside of Taiwan. For those unfamiliar with the dish, it's chewy grains of rice wrapped around pieces of twisted cruller and a perfect balance of shredded dried pork and assorted vegetables. 2020 S. Hacienda Boulevard, Hacienda Heights; 626-330-3088.
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Follow Squid Ink at @LAWeeklyFood and check out our Facebook page. Clarissa blogs about Asian food at clarissawei.com. Follow her on Twitter or on Facebook.