When it opened, Mission 261 was among the most ambitious Chinese restaurants ever to hit California, a sprawling, sweetly old-fashioned seafood palace carved out of San Gabriel's old city hall. Some of the banquet rooms were cavernous and featured live Chinese classical music; others, mostly arrayed around a patio dominated by a 150-year-old grapevine, were home to more intimate celebrations. It was for a long time one of the most prestigious Chinese banquet halls in the San Gabriel Valley, famous both for its refined Hong Kong–style seafood cooking and for its elegant dim sum lunch. Then the restaurant abruptly closed a couple of years ago. The kitchen had been declining a bit, the employees dispersed all over Southern California, and there were rumors that an enormous real estate deal — Mission 261 is in the heart of San Gabriel's Mission District, one of the oldest areas in Los Angeles — was in play.
Mission 261 is back again, looking more or less the same, and with cooking that is pretty much as you may have remembered it before it closed: elaborate versions of things like abalone with oyster sauce and pan-fried crab with garlic at dinner; and menu-based dim sum that is at the moment a tick or two below the level at places like Elite and Seafood Harbour, without the intricate rabbit-shaped dumplings or shrimp-filled “bees'' that distinguished the place before, but with properly gooey steamed rice noodles and meaty roast duck. Is the restaurant on the upswing? I'm hoping.
MISSION 261: 261 S. Mission Dr., San Gabriel. (626) 588-1666, mission261.com.