A Chinese scallion pancake bears little resemblance to the American breakfast classic that shares a part of its name: It's a savory pancake shaped from a water-based dough rather than a batter. The decision to eat one, pan-fried in no moderate amount of oil, is a tacit agreement to set aside any reservations about your calorie intake. A substantial part of what makes a scallion pancake so satisfying is the liberal use of fat, which will caramelize the outside to a crackerlike crisp that gives into a chewy interior flecked with fragrant, chopped green onions.
You'll more likely find scallion pancakes at Chinese restaurants with a mianshi, or dough-oriented delicacies, menu. This means you probably won't find a scallion pancake at, say, a Cantonese seafood restaurant. What separates a great pancake from a decent one can often be determined from how it's pan-fried, so that the taste of oil doesn't overwhelm the flavor. The pancakes generally are fried to order and meant to be eaten piping hot on the spot. We chose three of our favorite versions in the San Gabriel Valley.
J & J Restaurant has been in the plaza near 99 Ranch on Valley Boulevard longer than quite a few of its neighbors. The range of dishes don't stray too far from the Jiangnan, or south of the Yangtze River, focusing on specialties often associated with Shanghainese cuisine. A scallion pancake here is pan-fried evenly, lending to a balanced ratio of crunch to chew. You'd suspect that they've used shortening, perhaps lard, as flaky as the pancake gets. You'll want to avoid leftovers, as these are best when enjoyed while still at J & J. 301 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; (626) 308-9238.
Since opening in late 2011, Flavor Garden has revamped its menu enough that the owners' Sichuan roots are even more apparent. There's a short list of noodles from the culinary canon of the province, from Chongqing-style cold chili oil mung bean noodles to preserved mustard rice noodles. Dumplings, upon which the restaurant initially placed an emphasis, now are listed toward the back of the menu. Portions overall are sizable — and the scallion pancake is no different, large enough to whet the appetites of six and feed two. The pancake here is fried until just browned on the outside, leaving the chopped scallions still a little raw and altogether fresher in taste. You may be tempted to dip your pancake, less salted than other versions around town, into the leftover dan dan noodle sauce for an extra punch. 1269 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 284-3549.
Given the frequent turnover of Chinese eateries in the San Gabriel Valley, A & J Restaurant boasts impressive longevity — even if it moved from its original location in Alhambra to Arcadia. There are now three locations spread throughout Southern California, including Irvine and Diamond Bar. A & J's menu is largely Northern Chinese by way of Taiwan, with a smattering of favorites from other provinces. The scallion pancake here is smaller in circumference, sliced into quarters and denser than the average. It guarantees a bite that will hold well your condiment of choice, whether it's soy sauce, chili or a combo of the two. Unlike others in town, this is a pancake that'll hold up the next day — cold or reheated. 27 Las Tunas Drive, Arcadia; (626) 445-7270.
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