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Din Tai Fung. It took Din Tai Fung to transform the soup dumpling — thin-walled
spheroids filled with pork, seasonings and teaspoonfuls of jellied broth — into
high-tech industry. The soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung are incontrovertibly engineered
to be the state of the art, elastic, ultrathin wrappers bulging with the steamy
weight of the soup within, served 10 to an order in bullet-shaped aluminum steamers
that look like relics of the Taiwanese ’50s. Pick them up carefully, garnish simply
with a shred or two of fresh ginger and a few sparing drops of black vinegar,
and inhale. 1108 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, (626) 574-7068. Lunch and dinner
daily 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Takeout. MC,
V. Lunch for two, food only, $8–$14. Chinese.
JG ¢


Empress Pavilion. I can’t think of a better way to spend a couple of hours
on a Sunday than meeting friends here for dim sum. The trick is to pace it out,
so you won’t risk missing the little short ribs in a glorious black-bean sauce,
or any of the exquisite and varied steamed dumplings, so transparent you can easily
read the contents: shrimp and greens, chicken and mushrooms. My favorite is a
boiled “water dog,” a bird’s-nest-soup dumpling the size of a small bowl; break
into it with your spoon, and you’ll find a broth so concentrated it tastes as
if 10 chickens have been boiled down to get one cupful of soup. Bamboo Plaza,
988 N. Hill St., Chinatown, (213) 617-9898. Lunch and dinner Mon.–Fri. 9 a.m.–10
p.m., Sat.–Sun. 8 a.m.–10 p.m. Full bar. Takeout. Validated parking. AE, DC, MC,
V. $1.85–$4.80 per plate; $12–$15 per person. Chinese.
JG $$


Hong Kong Low Deli.
Open in time for early breakfast, Chinatown’s Hong Kong
Low Deli serves what dim sum used to be back when everybody called them “teacakes,”
i.e., dumplings without the parboiled geoduck and jellyfish salad. Baked bao,
browned and hot and brushed with sticky syrup, are filled with barbecued pork
in a sweet, garlicky sauce. Turnoverlike pies are made of flaky pastry, egg-washed
to a deep, burnished gold, stuffed with chicken stew, barbecued pork or a truly
fine pungent mince of curried beef. 408 Bamboo Lane, Chinatown, (213) 680-9827.
Lunch and dinner seven days 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout only. Cash only.
Food for two, $3–$5. Chinese.
JG ¢


Hua’s Garden.
The aftermath of a dinner at Hua’s Garden is like a Francis
Bacon painting splashed across the tabletop in shades of red — gory puddles of
scarlet juice alive with Sichuan peppercorns, scraps of scallions, and frog bones
stripped clean of their meat. We have seen many of these dishes before — the pornographically
delicious ma po bean curd, the Sichuan dumplings, the Chungking hot pot, the fantastic
hacked cold chicken sluiced with chile oil — but the Hunanese and Sichuanese cooking
found at Hua’s Garden is presented with a depth of flavor, a brutal frankness
that has rarely been seen around here before: eel with pepper, twice-cooked pork,
boiled fish with Sichuan special sauce. There is an entire array of dishes stir-fried
with fermented hot chiles — beef, squid, splinters of firm-fleshed fish — that
amplify severe vinegar tartness with a truly terrifying level of heat, and the
result is not unlike a refined version of what might happen if you were to eat
an entire jar of the hot peppers at a Thai restaurant, spooning them right out
with their juice. You might think this food would go well with beer, and you would
be right. 301 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 571-8387. Lunch and dinner
daily. 10:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Budweiser served. Lot parking. MC, V. Entrées $15–$25.
Chinese.
JG ¢


Luscious Dumplings Inc.
There are the usual kinds of dumplings and noodles
here. But the pan-fried pork dumplings at Luscious Dumplings Inc. can be absolutely
magnificent things — flattened hemispheres blackened to a luminous, carbon-edged
crunch, heavily caramelized, then exploding in the mouth with a blistering, onion-scented
pop, a primal flood of juice, of heat, of flavor. 704 W. Las Tunas Drive, No.
E4, San Gabriel, (626) 282-8695. Lunch and dinner Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.–2 p.m. and
5–8 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–2 p.m. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only. Lunch for two,
food only, $10–$16.
JG $


Mandarin Deli.
The real reason to come to Mandarin Deli just may be the fish
dumplings, airy, steamy things filled with a loose, fragrant mousse of whitefish
and chopped greens. 727 N. Broadway, No. 109, (213) 623-6054. Lunch and dinner,
Fri.–Wed. 11 a.m.–7:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking. Lunch or dinner
for two, food only, $15–$20. Cash only. Mandarin.
JG ¢


Wonton Time.
The wontons here are wondrous things: delicate and lightly crunchy,
scented with toasted sesame oil, available either plainly steamed or plunked into
a bowl of double-strength chicken broth with only a few slivers of scallion for
garnish. They come only a few to an order, but they are so intricately dense,
so bulky, that three or four are a meal. If you’re in the mood, the cook will
throw in a skein of chewy yellow vermicelli noodles, which are rugged enough to
maintain their tensile integrity in the extremely hot broth, yet not so aggressive
as to overpower it. 19 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 293-3366. Seven days,
11 a.m.–9:30 p.m. No alcohol. Takeout. Valet parking. Lunch or dinner for two,
food only, $8–$11. Cash only. Chinese.
JG ¢


Yung Ho Tou Chiang.
At Yung Ho Tou Chiang, the breakfast protocol is easy.
You order some soy milk, then some stuff to go along with it: flaky buns stuffed
with sweet, simmered turnips; steamed buns filled with spiced pork or black mushrooms;
crusty fried pies stuffed with pungent messes of sautéed leek tops; steamed pork
dumplings bursting with juice. The traditional accompaniment to soy milk is a
long, twisted, light-as-air cruller, and Yung Ho does them well. 533 W. Valley
Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 570-0860. Breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days 6 a.m.–6
p.m. Beer. Lot parking. Cash only. Food for two, $5–$10. Chinese.
JG ¢

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