Happy Garden is arguably the most authentic Taiwanese restaurant in the Los Angeles area. It's been around since 1995 and has always been operated by Jim Huang, who works the kitchen while his wife works the front end of the house. Though the menu has shifted throughout the years, the decor has remained the same: coral pink tables, Chinese menus on the wall, and a beaded fish curtain on the hallway to the bathroom.
Huang was a chef in Taizhong, a city in the southern part of Taiwan, and his menu reflects a lot of southern Taiwanese specialities. You won't find regular customers ordering beef noodle soup or even stinky tofu here; Huang's strong points are offal and seafood.
Unfortunately, the family-owned eatery will be shuttering in the near future. According to Huang, they are too short-staffed and the numbers just aren't adding up. They've already put in an advertisement in the Chinese newspaper to sell the place.
Don't play it safe when it comes to ordering at Happy Garden: Try the offal. Turn the page for a list of 10 recommended dishes.
10. White Goose Meat:
The goose meat at Happy Garden is fantastic. Yes, there are bones in the dish, but it's served cold with slices of garlic on the side and a thick soy dipping sauce.
9. Pig Intestines:
OK, it sounds and looks gross. But unlike at other Taiwanese eateries where the dish is smothered with sauce and sauteed to a dark brown color, in Happy Garden's dish the intestines are served plain with a soy dipping sauce on the side. This may convert even the most squeamish of eaters.
8. Pork Liver:
This is a saucy dish that's mixed with spring onions. Liver, if cooked incorrectly, gets really tough -- their version is cooked correctly and maintains a chewy texture. This dish pairs well with a bowl of white rice.
7. Taiwanese Tempura:
It may share a name with Japanese tempura, but the Taiwanese version is much different. There's no batter, it's made with deep-fried fish paste and it comes with a complimentary sweet and spicy dipping sauce.
6. Clam and Chicken Soup:
Served in a hot pot, the clam and chicken soup is a great addition to an offal-based heavy meal. Note: the taste of the soup is more clam than chicken.
5. Fried Calamari:
The calamari at Happy Garden is extremely crispy and, unlike other places, not drenched with oil. It's paired with white pepper on the side.
4. Fried Rice:
You really can't go wrong with the classics at Happy Garden. Their fried rice is one of the best renditions in the area, and comes mixed with pieces of pork and surprisingly large shrimp.
3. Fried Vermicelli:
This is the noodle version of the fried rice. The dish comes with bean sprouts, cabbage, pork, shiitake mushrooms, shrimp, and fish paste slices.
2. Chinese Water Spinach:
The Chinese for this dish is kong sin cai (空心菜), which literally means empty-hearted vegetable. They have long hollow stalks that help soak up the flavor of the garlic.
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SHOW ME HOW
1. Green Bean Soup:
Finish off with a bowl of mung bean soup. It's a simple, but refreshing way to end a heavy meal.
Follow Squid Ink at @LAWeeklyFood and check out our Facebook page. Clarissa blogs about Asian food at clarissawei.com. Follow her on Twitter or on Facebook.