Photo by Anna FishbeinBahooka
There are fish in this Polynesian restaurant's foyer, fish tanks surrounding three sides of each booth, fish swimming inside the glass-topped bar and, on the menu, fish puffs, which go better with a Monsoon or a Jet Pilot or a Flaming Honey Bowl than you can possibly imagine, though the leaden deep-fried balls of food aren't anything you'd want to look at by the light of day. The onion rings aren't half bad either. Then, when the steel-guitar lowings on the PA start to sound good, it's time for a Shark's Tooth or a Cobra's Strike. Halfway into one of those, a sticky order of Exotic Ribs seems just the thing. You can also get teriyaki chicken breast, ham with sweet-and-sour sauce, roast beef, or fried golf balls of shrimp. 4501 N. Rosemead Blvd., Rosemead; (626) 285-1241. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $20$25. Full bar. MC, V.
Dinners at Dulan's are massive things, with towering entrées that share the plate with rice or a mountain of crisp-edged corn-bread stuffing, also with two little bowls of side dishes: pungent collard greens; pillowy, herb-redolent red beans; blandish macaroni and cheese with a crunchy cheese crust; green beans simmered with fatback; or sweet, gently spiced, stewed yams. The dinner menu, prix fixe at $10.95, is the eternal soul-food list without the various innards and tails: crusty fried chicken, fragrant with garlic; long-cooked pork chops smothered in brown gravy; big trenchers of meat loaf made delicious with peppers and herbs. 4859 S. Crenshaw Blvd.; (323) 296-3034. Open Sun. only for brunch and dinner; catering all week. No alcohol. Takeout. MC, V.
Johnny's Shrimp Boat
At Johnny's, a converted roadside stand near where Temple City fades into El Monte, the fried shrimp is pretty much everything you hope for: golf balls of crispy dough, deep golden speckled with sandy brown, that taste of clean oil and happen to have a shrimp hidden somewhere inside each one. Sometimes the batter stays too liquid at the center, but these shrimp satisfy some primordial fried-shrimp need, bought by fours, sixes or eights, swabbed with a dab or two of the Shrimp Boat's mild chile sauce. There are $2.99 lunch plates, which include a couple of the shrimp, a braised short rib or two, a mound of rice, a ladleful of plain pinto beans and a wash of thick brown gravy — the kind of tasty, Spartan lunch you'd probably want if you had only $3 to your name. 1545 Hacienda Blvd., La Puente; (626) 918-5151. Open Mon.Sat. 10 a.m.11 p.m. Second location at 2712 Whittier Blvd.; (323) 262-8713. Lunch for two, food only, $6. No alcohol. Takeout. Cash only.
Johnny Reb's fried green tomatoes — bright-green things dipped in cornmeal and grilled, topped with crumbled bacon, and as sweet, tart and savory as you could want — might inspire somebody to write a book someday. Same with the hushpuppies, round balls of corn batter deep-fried into a golden crunchiness with all the terrific, trashy fried-onion flavor most places try to civilize out of them. Here, too, are lavishly buttered bowls of grits at breakfast, served with hot corn bread, eggs any way you like them and pungent, profoundly salty slabs of real country ham. The prime rib, smoked first in the pit, coated with Prudhommesque seasonings and charred, is great, and the curls of fried catfish, cornmeal-coated fillets that practically dissolve on your tongue, are the best in the county, all spice, juice and crunch. 4663 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach; (562) 423-7327. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $13$20. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. MC, V.
The Krispy Kreme doughnut is a slender thing, smaller and somewhat denser than, say, its Dunkin' Donuts counterpart, pleasantly oily, fried to a consistent tawny brown, and crisp only in the sense that it is slightly tauter than what it surrounds. Instead of being puffed out and airy like a freshly made Winchell's doughnut, the dough remains dense, moist, almost liquid, with a texture very close to the sort of risen egginess you find in a hot popover. The thick, ultrasweet glaze, which seems to cling to every square micron of the doughnut's surface, would probably be too cloying if you didn't eat the doughnut as quickly as God and the Krispy Kreme corporation intend, which is to say, practically suck the thing through your nose. (Unless you have joined a 12-step program for pastry abuse, you will probably end up inhaling a half-dozen of the things before you realize you've opened the box.) 1801 W. Imperial Hwy., La Habra; (562) 690-2650. Drive-thru open 24 hours. AE, D, MC, V. Also at 7249 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys; (818) 908-9113. Open 6 a.m.mid. daily.
One of the most famous Chiu Chow dishes is tau hu ky, which this menu calls “bean curd skin,” and it's the great house specialty here. Coarsely chopped shrimp are wrapped in a thin sheet of bean curd and deep-fried, and the compressed bundles are sliced into chunks about the size of after-dinner mints, crackling-crisp, tasting of ocean and clean oil. You can eat tau hu ky in at least a dozen ways here: Tuck them into a lettuce leaf with slivers of marinated carrot, a little mat of steamed rice vermicelli and a few leaves of mint, and dip the bundle into a bowl of the sweetened Vietnamese fish sauce nuoc cham. Fold them with a few herbs into a sticky wafer of rice paper. Eat them in combination with the gritty Vietnamese chicharrones called bi, or sheets of baked Vietnamese omelet, or chao tom, shrimp paste wrapped around short lengths of sugar cane and grilled. As you like it. 8232 Garvey Ave., Rosemead; (626) 571-0379. Open daily 9 a.m.10 p.m. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $9$18. Beer and wine. Takeout. Cash only.