The San Gabriel Valley's Chinese restaurant scene in 2015 can be summed up in two words: hot pot. Hot pots aren’t new to the area; places serving the bubbling, communal cauldrons of broth, meats and vegetables have been around for years. This year, though, hot pot restaurants seemed to dominate openings in the way Sichuan-style places did in the previous two years. Of course, the most notable arrivals were Sichuan-style hot pots, so maybe the shift isn’t that remarkable after all.
As home to the most vibrant Chinese restaurant scene in the country, the SGV sees new trends and concepts from the mainland arrive and evolve constantly. With dozens of hot pot rivals, restaurateurs try new approaches to distinguish themselves from the pack. In 2015, this meant the first true Chengdu, Sichuan-style, “old oil” hot pot — long-simmered oil and beef tallow broth — with the openings of Chengdu Lao Zao, Chinese chain Chengdu Hot Pot and Jiouding Hot Pot. Other new twists were Hunan-style stone hot pots (Boiling Seafood Wok, O’Young’s Rock Pot) and even a kitschy, Communist Party–themed hot-pot place (Private Party).
Beyond hot pots, the 626 got its first true gastropub with the opening of Chang’An. The original crew from Wang Jia went to Shanghai, then returned to open Old Shanghai Kitchen with a menu of Shanghainese and Jiangzhe dishes. Since July, three Shanxi-style places have opened, led by Lao Xi Noodle House, while three more restaurants featuring the fare of neighboring Shaanxi Province popped up in the last three months, including a second Shaanxi Gourmet location.
Chengdu Taste expanded with an eastern branch in Rowland Heights. Qingdao Bread Food — known for its fish dumplings and lu bao — also expanded to Rowland Heights, as did JTYH, a Shanxi-style noodle place, with a branch named O’Heavy Noodles in the Pacific Plaza Food Court. China Tasty dropped its Hunan-leaning fare and reinvented itself as a Lanzhou-style hand-pulled noodle specialist, complete with a glass window where you can watch the chef make your order.
Other Asian cuisines also feature in the SGV, and 2015 saw PappaRich, called the Denny’s of Malaysia for its Malay comfort food, open a flagship in Monterey Park’s Atlantic Times Square, replacing Johnny Rockets. The wonderful melding of influences that is Burmese cuisine got another outpost when Rangoon Kitchen returned, this time in West Covina.
2015 was also a year when dessert shops took off. Longtime Valley Boulevard stalwart Tasty Dessert closed, but Cantonese/Hong Kong dessert specialist Premier Dessert expanded from one to four outlets, another Canto and HK dessert place opened (Sweet Heart Dessert House) and more and more ice creameries set up shop, most notably Chelo, which brought Thai ice cream rolls and gelato to the eastern SGV.
Two bakery chains featuring European- and Japanese-inspired sweet and savory breads arrived: Taiwan’s Bake Code and Singapore-based Duke Bakery. Both have since opened second locations, with more expansion in the works. 85°C Degrees Bakery-Café added a location on Main Street in Alhambra, while local chain JJ Bakery opened in Temple City. And Meixinyi Bakery bucked the trend by serving classic Cantonese baked goods. BlackBall Taiwanese Dessert opened its first U.S. location in the former Tasty Dessert space — and drew throngs for its bouncy grass-jelly desserts.
In addition to the aforementioned shuttering of Tasty Dessert, 2015 saw the closures of Taiwanese snack and shaved-snow favorite Pa Pa Walk, the underrated Chengdu-style Fang’s Kitchen (and its rabbit heads) and venerable Monterey Park spot Pearl’s. Taiwanese snack chain Guppy House closed its first two SGV locations, in Hacienda Heights and Temple City. Beloved Ha Tien Quan and its unique, hyper-regional Vietnamese (think deer noodle soup) closed, as did one of the area's best Thai places, Hoy Ka Noodle, a branch of the Thai Town restaurant. Longtime Sichuan favorite Chung King opened and closed rapidly in Arcadia (as Chong King), as did the lone mackerel nugget soup purveyor, King of Mackerel and Shrimp.
What to expect in 2016? Who knows. With new construction and existing spaces being converted into restaurants, particularly in the Puente Hills area (as well as increased openings in El Monte), the diaspora continues.