Some of my friends are worried I am going to live with my parents for too long. They should be worried — it’s kind of awesome here. I can do laundry for free anytime, there’s always food in the fridge and rice in the cooker, and the trains behind the house run far less frequently than they did, loudly, when I was a kid.*
And then there’s the food — sometime in the last 15 years, our neighborhood has become a really exciting place to eat. Yes, the western San Gabriel Valley is great for Chinese food; last week I went to Sea Harbour for dim sum and Din Tai Fung for some badass, gorgeous soup dumplings.
But I’m talking about my hood, in the east San Gabriel Valley, like within a 5 mile radius from my house. In the battle between Rowland Heights and West SGV, I don’t yet have enough knowledge to form an opinion. I’m just thrilled that there are so many options. I’m also still thinking in terms of New York prices, so every place here seems mind-bogglingly cheap. My favorite thing about Yelp reviews of restaurants in the area is how many of them start with, “This place is surprisingly clean.”
There are places I’ve known about for years, but there’s also a new crop of restaurants, many of them Taiwanese. I’ve listed the places I want to try (blue marker) and the places I’ve already been to (knife and fork). Click on an icon for more info.
Have you already been to some of these places? Tell me if I shouldn’t waste my time.
View Rowland Heights in a larger map
Newport Tan Cang Restaurant# - This is in the same shopping center as Little Bean. Yelpers love the Newport Lobster.
The Boiling Crab# - I’ve been to the one in Long Beach with my cousin but I’ve never been to this one. I’m assuming it’s the same business — plastic bags filled with garlicky, Sriracha-slathered crawfish or shrimp by the pound, to be savagely destroyed on a table lined with butcher paper. Shrimp = less work, more meat than crawfish. Get the corn. Bibs and latex gloves optional (not kidding).
Class 302 - From what I’ve read, this was the first place to serve Taiwanese-style shaved snow. The wait can be brutal, but service is efficient. We ordered mango-strawberry over plain milk snow with a lattice of condensed milk and bittersweet green tea snow with mochi and red bean — I preferred the latter, especially the Chinese style rectangular boiled rice dumpling mochi.
i-Sweet – (two pics above) A less popular shaved snow place near the movie theater. Airy but creamy, snow is much more filling and substantial than shaved ice, so be prepared for that. It’s kind of like taking Italian cream ice, aerating it, freezing it solid, and Paco-jetting it into soft ribbons of creamy fluff. I feel like it is the kind of thing where the first time you eat it, you’re like, what’s the BFD? But the more you eat it, the better it gets. And I prefer i-Sweet’s somewhat sterile but cutesy atmosphere to Class 302′s. My mom and I ordered a large (big mistake — get the small for two, the large for four) taro, a pale lavender pile the size of a bunny slope. It was even better after a night in the freezer. I am looking forward to my next viewing at the Puente Hills AMC so I can eat myself soporific here and then sit in an over-air-conned theater to watch the latest blockbuster sequel or Hong Kong import. (Those are my only two options at my local movie theater. But so what who cares? I’ve got Netflix for a culture fix, but I can’t get shaved snow from the internet.) You can also order those little egg cakes they sell on Grand St. or the Bowery in Manhattan. Can you imagine a better movie snack?
Little Bean - My favorite boba joint, has been for years and years. The proprietress knows our faces. Her boba is chewy and soft, always still warm and slightly sweet. I like that I can order any color tea, with or without sugar, with or without milk. I do worry that one day I will be driving around with a cup of the stuff, sucking down the last boba through a fat straw, and I’ll get the perfect-sized globules jammed in my windpipe. Hasn’t happened yet, though. I also often order their shaved ice with wiggly, white almond pudding, big hunks of purple-flecked taro, boba, and chewy potato rice balls. Tastes a lot better than it sounds. Okay, maybe only if you’re into starchy Asian sweets.
Ruen Pair - This is the second outpost of my favorite Thai restaurant in L.A. What luck that they chose a spot so close to home. It’s not like there are tons of Thai people where I live. I basically order the same thing every time — pork jerky, papaya salad with black crab and no sugar, and sticky rice. The only thing this lacks is a Bhan Kanom Thai across the plaza so I can get taro coconut patties for dessert.
Meow Meow Cafe# - My cousin tells me I should order the #1, which is some kind of milk slush with pudding and boba, the whole thing drizzled in brown sugar sauce. If you are not an Asian sweets kind of person, this probably sounds horrifying. The Chinese in me drools, the lactose intolerant in me clenches. I’m comforted to know that should I ever lose limbs from diabetes, I’ll still be able to suck down this 1500 calorie dessert through a straw. If this place had been across the street from Nogales High School when I attended, I would have been a blob of pudding.
No. 1 Noodle House# - Dan dan mien is the game here. LA Weekly and Oh Joy blog gave it thumbs up. I’d hit it.
Tofu King# - Stinky tofu. Deep fried stinky tofu. Deep fried stinky tofu you can smell from the street. I mean, let’s live.
FFY Noodle House - (two pics above) This place is crazy packed on the weekends. We’re always eating next door at Ruen Pair instead. I hear the dumplings and the green onion pancakes are the way to go. I’m actually pretty excited to try this place. Looks cheap and interesting. UPDATE: Meh, nothing special. Handmade dough, hand formed buns, but not that interesting. Like a Vanessa’s in New York but with a bigger variety of fillings and actually more expensive than Vanessa’s. However, I do like that they don’t use MSG. I don’t care what you say, Mahoney, my mouth goes dry and I fall asleep when I eat MSG.
New Capital Seafood Restaurant# - Rolling cart dim sum. Some hate it, some love it. I don’t have to get on the freeway to eat there. I am willing to try it for that reason alone.
Boiling Point# - Taiwanese hot pot with lots of international flavors, including curry fish ball. Lest you bring along a boring dining companion, you can always entertain yourself with add ons like pork blood, intestine, and something sexy-sounding called “crown daisy”.
Pho Ha# - Gets good Yelp ratings and looks bustling. Worth a try, eh?
Happy Family Vegetarian Restaurant – I ate here only once, maybe 20 years ago, but I remember some extraordinary, MSG-laden crispy fried mushrooms that blew my mind and made me very thirsty.
Half & Half Tea Express# - My mom says their tea is too rich, but the kids seem to love it. While I’m loyal to Little Bean, I’ve heard good things about this place. I think they were the progenitors of the milk slush in the area. Why aren’t the Asian teenagers who frequent these places morbidly obese?
Ding’s Garden# - This place serves xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and some noodle dish with the delightful double name of jiao huo jiao huo, for which you get to choose your toppings. What? I’ll take it!
* Okay, so there are some major drawbacks. I wanted to see Blue Jasmine this week, and the nearest theater playing it was a 25 minute drive away in a nightmarish strip mall offering Chico’s clothing, waffle sandwiches, “Berkeley” rattlesnake hot dogs, and a four-story parking garage that put the fear of God in me. (I parked at the top, as far away from the clustered vehicles as I could.)
# Haven’t tried these places yet. I need to drum up some high school era friends who are still in the area. Wait, do I want to do that? And do they want to see me? Hm, I must give this some thought.