Recent years have seen a boom in San Gabriel Valley restaurants featuring the lamb-intensive cuisines of North Central and Northwestern China. A few restaurants are particularly good at this: Shaanxi Gourmet, Omar, Sweethome Grill and JTYH. Normally, you wouldn't think to look for lamb at the last SGV outpost of a former chain with a Taiwanese and pan-Chinese menu. But, in the case of Liang's Kitchen in Monterey Park, you should. 

Liang's Kitchen originally had a self-described menu of “military camp food” (a combination of various mainland China and Taiwanese favorites). Liang's expanded rapidly, opening both family-operated and franchised restaurants around the SGV and San Francisco Bay Area as well as single locations in San Diego and Flushing, New York. Its collapse was almost as quick, leaving a few independent operators to soldier on.

This kind of sudden autonomy can lead to the unexpected, like the Arby's on Sunset once having chopped liver and pastrami or, in the case of the Liang's Kitchen in Monterey Park, an operator from Henan Province having a regional menu featuring dishes from Henan, Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces.

#10, cumin lamb sandwich, Liang's Kitchen, Monterey Park; Credit: Jim Thurman

#10, cumin lamb sandwich, Liang's Kitchen, Monterey Park; Credit: Jim Thurman

As first reported by the Chinese-language site Chihuo, then passed along via Chowhound, Liang's Kitchen indeed has a nice selection of lamb dishes. The regular Liang's menu carries over with red pork and other favorites. However, it's the smaller, 28-item additional menu that should grab your attention. On that menu are several dishes familiar from Shaanxi Gourmet, Sweethome Grill and Omar's, among them four variations on lamb soup, including yang rou pao mo (#2, lamb soup with bread).

The yang rou pao mo, first seen in this area at Shaanxi Gourmet, has small pieces of flatbread in the soup. The same type of broad, hand-pulled noodles used at the other restaurants turn up in the lamb noodle soup. A cumin lamb sandwich and the seemingly omnipresent cumin lamb skewers are other lamb items on the second menu; you can also find another familiar dish, Big Plate Chicken (da pan ji). A cold table featuring appetizers has been added to the restaurant as well.

There are some differences worth noting. The cumin lamb sandwich (#10) is made from meat that has been stewed rather than ground. This may be preferable, as it leads to a juiciness that seeps into the dense, split flatbread-like bun; the customary red and green peppers are there to give it a nice kick.

Another item worth checking out is #16, stewed lamb with garlic sauce: a plate of thinly sliced, stewed lamb doused in minced garlic and drizzled with a brown sauce. Be forewarned, as the potency of the garlic equals if not surpasses the vaunted garlic-dipping sauce at Qingdao Bread Food. No vampires for you.

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