15 Best Dishes In The West San Gabriel Valley

The San Gabriel Valley is a sprawling area east of downtown Los Angeles that encompasses almost 300 square miles and nearly 40 cities. The valley's culinary tapestry includes the nation's best regional Chinese cuisine, and strong representation from countries like Vietnam, Japan, and Indonesia. Navigating the vast expanse can be a challenge. We start in the western San Gabriel Valley, which runs east to the 605 Freeway. Here are 15 of the best dishes in the western region.

Chengdu Taste: Cabbage with Sweet & Sour Sauce

People routinely wait over an hour to experience Sichuan native Tony Xu's lip-stinging food at this tiny Alhambra restaurant. Not many people talk about Chengdu Taste's vegetables, but don't sleep on this cabbage. Wok-seared leaves arrive coated with light sweet and sour sauce and lavished with dried chiles and wok-blistered Hanyuan peppercorns, which carry mouth-numbing properties. Be sure to order white rice to help reset your palate to zero. 828 West Valley Boulevard, Alhambra, 626-588-2284

Din Tai Fung: Dumpling House Soup Dumplings

The L.A. branches of Din Tai Fung are not allowed to use bamboo steamers, but even stainless steel steamers yield some of Southern California's best dumplings. There's no better time to visit Arcadia's back-to-back locations than weekends, when proprietor Frank Yang's crew prepares limited edition soup dumplings, which often sell out by 11 a.m. If you're not in the first seating, forget it. The juicy pork dumplings come 20 to an order and are served with a bowl of egg drop soup. Each delicate soup dumpling only takes one bite and finishes with a flavorful rush of juice. 1088 South Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia, 626-446-8588, dintaifungusa.com

Tokyo Fried Chicken Company: Fried Chicken

Los Angeles native Kouji Yamanashi replaced his izakaya, The Open Door, after four and a half years in Monterey Park's Deerfield Plaza. He's clearly captured the imagination of locals with the new focus on fried chicken, which he prepares karaage-style, marinated in ginger, garlic, soy, onion and more, fried tempura-style in rice wine oil, and served with some really fun sides. Think soy glazed carrots with bacon and bubbling mac and cheese sprinkled with strips of nori. To accentuate matters, the chef serves ponzu sauce in a squeezable bear bottle, and carries a very respectable craft beer list, which is hard to find in the SGV. 122 South Atlantic Boulevard, Monterey Park, 626-282-9829

Pho Filet: Pho

South El Monte features the Valley's highest concentration of Vietnamese restaurants, and the best place for pho is clearly at Pho Filet. The Nguyen family offers more than 20 variations on the Vietnamese rice noodle soup. It's probably best to order the kitchen sink, which includes namesake filet mignon, brisket, tendon and tripe — though it's possible to single out favorite cuts. The broth, which achieves the right balance of cinnamon to star anise, also hosts rice noodles, shaved onions, scallions and cilantro. Add bean sprouts, jalapenos, a squeeze of lime, and fistfuls of basil and culantro, to achieve your desired result. 9463 East Garvey Avenue, South El Monte, 626-453-8911

Go Go Cafe Fish Steamed Dumplings

At this tiny restaurant in the shadow of Santa Anita Park, Tianjin City native Eva Jheng promises "less oil, less salt, no MSG" — resulting in especially delicate Chinese food. Go Go serves several styles of dumplings, none so distinctive or refined as their steamed fish dumplings. Thin, nearly transparent skins contain silky, scallion-studded clusters of white fish. Dip the dumplings in soy sauce and vinegar to add to the flavor. 838 South Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia, 626-254-9926, gogocafearcadia.com

Happy Kitchen: Double Cooked Pork Slices

What could be better than cooked pork? How about twice-cooked pork? At this joyous San Gabriel restaurant, Jixian Liang and wife Fuang Liu fuse the cuisines of Liuzhou, in southern China, with Harbin, in the north. One of the best options is double cooked pork, which results in slices of pork with pronounced sears, which come coated with a tangy sauce of vinegar, garlic and ginger, and a garnish of crisp cilantro stalks. 301 West Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel, 626-284-2619

House of Mandarin Noodle: Thin Onion Pancake

Janin Chung Wang and her family have spent over three decades running L.A. restaurants. For the past four years, they've set up shop in Temple City. All that experience clearly paid off in dishes like thin onion pancake, clearly the San Gabriel Valley's best, which features crisp edges and flaky, pull apart layers of scallion-flecked pastry. A quick dip in soy sauce results in pure magic. 4819A Temple City Boulevard, Temple City, 626-286-1689

Chang's Garden: Pork Spare Ribs in Lotus Leaf

Their around-the-corner neighbor, Din Tai Fung, often overshadows Chang's Garden, but even the great DTF doesn't have a dish like pork spare ribs in lotus leaf. This Shanghainese dish from chef Henry Chang features bundled lotus leaves that each contain a single rib. Chang packs spare ribs in glutinous rice that's chile-flecked and absorbs pork jus. The ribs grow aromatic and chopstick-tender during the steaming process. Unfurl the lotus leaves to enjoy the savory, tongue tingling results. 627 W. Duarte Road, Arcadia, 626-445-0606

Luscious Dumplings: Pan-Fried Pork Dumplings

The Lam family has commanded lines since 2001 due to their deft skill with dumplings. Boiled dumplings are popular, but no matter the filling, they can't compete with pan-fried pork dumplings, which sport thin skins that caramelize a mix of cooking oil and pork jus. Each filling features a juicy oval of ground pork that bleeds pork juice, preferably into your mouth. 704 West Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, 626-282-8695

Newport Seafood: Lobster

This popular Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant from Ly Lee occupies the former home of Marie Callender's, but there's no pie in sight, just seafood. Huge tanks are front and center. Choose from gargantuan Alaskan King crab, abalone, fish, and if you're smart, lobster. Chefs dismember the armored beasts, which often run north of 5 pounds. From there, they cook in a wok with a savory, spicy sauce crafted from ingredients like garlic, scallions, black pepper, which serves as a great complement to the sweet, tender lobster meat. If you're lucky, the lobster will carry clusters of red roe, which boost flavor even further. 518 West Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, 626-289-5998, newportseafood.com

Seafood Village: Snow Fish in Garlic Sauce

Visual overload is easy at this Chiu Chow style restaurant in a Monterey Park strip mall. The fluorescent heights are on high, everywhere you look, there's a photo of a different tantalizing dish, and a bank of fish tanks only complicates the ordering process. Sure, the wok-fried lobster's good, but the most essential dish is snow fish in garlic sauce. The flaky, skin-on fillets of what could be sablefish (we're still not sure) soak up the sauce to great effect and sport winning sears. Hit the fish with a squeeze of lemon before eating to temper the richness. 684 West Garvey Avenue, Monterey Park, 626-289-0088

Dai Ho Kitchen: Beef Stew Soup Noodles

Every Taiwanese beef noodle soup specialist employs a proprietary blend of spices to deliver a unique nou rou mien experience. Dai Ho Kitchen is no exception. May Ku and husband Jim cook beef chunks in sesame oil, hot sauce, soy sauce, sugar and house-made chile sauce to coax peak tenderness. Firm egg noodles and raw spinach leaves join the beef in a rich, murky mystery bath that builds in flavor with each slurp. 9148 Las Tunas Drive, Temple City, 626-291-2295

Shaanxi Gourmet: Pita Bread Soaked in Lamb Soup

Terra cotta warriors, the historic symbols of China's Xi'an province, frame this surprisingly modern restaurant in a Rosemead strip mall, which features LCD screens menus and tabletop buttons to call for your server or bill. Their best soup features rosy sliced lamb, glass noodles, crunchy Chinese celery and firm cubes of jus that soak up the lamb juice. Add cilantro, chile sauce or crunchy pickled garlic to maximize matters. 8518 East Valley Boulevard, Rosemead, 626-288-9886, sxgus.com

Wong Java House: Ayam Penyet

Ade Kuniawan features a very different fried chicken at his Indonesian restaurant in a fairly industrial area of Alhambra. For ayam penyet, he marinates chicken in a fragrant blend of galangal, turmeric, lemongrass and candlenut. The batter-free bird hits the table in a stone bowl along with a crispy thatch of the aforementioned spices, plus pungent, spicy sambal made using red jalapenos, Thai chiles and dried shrimp. 1936 West Valley Boulevard, Alhambra, 626-289-2717

Yunnan Garden: Two Items Boiled Dishes

The Yin family has built a mini empire in the San Gabriel Valley with cuisine from China's Yunnan Province. One of the most ferocious options is their boiled dishes, which are available in a combo that could be as simple as chicken and beef. However, we prefer the combination of fish fillets and firm cubes of congealed pork blood, which join minced garlic, chile flakes, ginger and scallions in a powerful, fire-red broth. 545 West Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, 626-308-1896

Joshua Lurie is the L.A.based founder of Food GPS.

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