Thanks to the excellent sleuthing from @strongoxman, it looks like the chef from Best Noodle House indeed did leave and opened up his own place in Chong Qing Special Noodles. We figured it was time to try both places and see how they compared.
Initially you would think, if the actual chef left a restaurant, then the restaurant they left would probably be done / not worth going to again. Except it's not necessarily the case as we found out over these last 5 trips to the SGV.
Chong Qing Special Noodles (New Shop)
On our 1st visit, we invited one of our friends who spoke Chinese to see if we could confirm if the chef really was from Best Noodle House and just find out more details about the new restaurant.
When we walked in, we were the only table. But it was as @strongoxman said: We noticed there were 2 tables piled high with dirty plates / left over food, etc. Basically the tables weren't bussed, and one fellow was sitting, relaxed in a booth, but stood up to greet us.
It turned out he was the chef, and he indeed left Best Noodle House. Our friend helped us ask, but essentially the chef said he saw the owner of Best Noodle House being able to run a restaurant while he cooked in the back, and felt that he could do the same, with his wife and son. But he admitted this was the first time trying by himself. Uh oh.
Seeing the unbussed tables (even though no one else was in the restaurant besides us) showed that they had no idea about timeliness or maintaining a clean, enjoyable environment for customers. But the proof was in the food...
First off, from the font, layout, everything on the menu, it looked like the former chef just copied everything from the old restaurant menu, except he added a bunch of new dishes.
Pig Ear with Chili Oil:
This tasted exactly the same as before at Best Noodle House: Fragrant Chili Oil, clean chilled Pig Ears. Delicious.
This was crisp, garlicky and tasted fine.
Cold Steamed Chicken with Hot Sauce ("Mouth Water Chicken"):
This is as @blimpbinge had as well: Their Mouth Water Chicken is indeed the same flavors as it was at Best Noodle House. Complex, layered spices, numbing, sweet, nice heat and savory.
Wonton with Spicy Sauce:
The Wontons with Spicy Sauce was the start of a strange trend that @strongoxman noted earlier: It looks like all of the Wontons, Noodles, etc. are huge portions, as if the chef felt like he had to compensate or give "more value" for the customers. The Wontons here are about 150% of the portion at Best Noodle House when he was there.
The actual taste was very numbing and tasted just like it was at Best Noodle House back in the day.
No pictures, because...
We showed up at normal dinner time (6:30 p.m. or so). As we walked in, we saw 5 open tables, the rest were taken, so it was about half full.
The problem was the 4 of the 5 open tables were piled high with dirty dishes, cups and leftover food. Unbussed tables. It was filthy! And it made the whole restaurant feel gross. (The 5th table had either the kid's or someone's iPad and bag occupying it.)
So we stood around and waited. The wife saw us, looked around the restaurant and realized the tables were uncleaned, mumbled something to the son, and went back into the kitchen.
We stood for another 5 minutes before the son, who was just sitting there looking bored / frustrated, decided to stand up and he literally slowly shuffled to the kitchen. Then slowly shuffled back out with a large plastic container (for bussing tables / plates). He slowly walked over to one of the 4 unclean tables and dropped the dirty looking container onto one of the chairs (where customers would sit), and then slowly shuffled back to a chair behind the steam table counter.
He then checked his cell phone for a few minutes. Then got up, shuffled slowly to the table and literally picked up one dirty plate and loudly dropped it into the large plastic container. And STOPPED. And shuffled back behind the counter, checked his cell phone again.
I'm not even a professional server, but I bet any of us standing there could've bussed ALL of the tables in the time it took this kid to slowly pick up 1 measly dirty plate.
By now it had been nearly 15 minutes, and they literally cleared 1 dirty plate from the 4 dirty tables.
We showed up for a lunch attempt on the weekend. This time there were only 2 tables inside already eating, and "surprise," 2 dirty tables (piled with dirt plates and cups). The husband and wife and son were there. The wife and son were just sitting around (no dishes needed to be served), yet they made no effort to clean off the dirty tables. It just felt gross.
Chongqing Dan Dan Noodles:
When we placed our order, it was very slow (even with just 2 tables). The Dan Dan Noodles arrived, and the Noodles themselves were overcooked (very soft, bordering on mushy).
The flavors from the Dan Dan Sauce was spot-on, though! It was just like it tasted from Best Noodle House before he left. Fragrant, spicy and different from the Mouth Water Chicken.
Gele Mountain Style Fried Chicken:
The Gele Mountain Fried Chicken Cubes were delicious! They were just as good as before, crisped, slightly crunchy and fragrant.
Special Pig Feet:
One of the new dishes on the menu, the chef came out to say this was a specialty of theirs. Before this dish came out, we heard the dreaded plastic snap of a microwave door and the beeping! WTH? He used the microwave to heat this dish, probably leftovers from the previous night (or frozen / refrigerated in a large pot).
The flavors tasted OK, but yah, some of the bones were slightly cool, some were hot and it tasted like the uneven heating of a microwave.
#22: "Style Handmade Noodles" (a.k.a., Youpo Noodles):
Our friend said the Chinese menu listed #22 as "Youpo Mian" (Noodles), but the English name at this new restaurant is the oddly translated "Style Handmade Noodles."
These looked like the Youpo Noodles from Best Noodle House, except they tasted off: I agree with @strongoxman, these are not as good as Best Noodle House. The once former glorious Youpo Noodles were totally overcooked and lacked the texture and mouthfeel of the great version at Best Noodle House.
The flavors were also off, just not as bright. Very strange.
One last note: I accidentally dropped my napkin, so I wanted to pick it up. And that's when I looked at the floor under the table...
It was filthy! Chopsticks, old food, trash...
Chong Qing Special Noodles is the home of the former Best Noodle House chef, except he and his family have zero experience running a restaurant and it shows. While some of the dishes are exactly like they were before (and excellent), like the Mouth Water Chicken, Pig Ears and Dan Dan Noodle Sauce, and Gele Mountain Fried Chicken, the entire experience is completely undermined by the incompetence in running a business.
Note, we've been to plenty of hole-in-the-wall restaurants in the SGV, Little Saigon and K-Town. This isn't a complaint about expecting American-style service or cleanliness. We've been to the OG Sam Woo locations throughout the SGV years ago and as recent as last year, and their waiters and waitresses are a model of efficiency, cleaning off tables in seconds, bussing, going back and bringing out the check, or then quickly pivoting to other tasks, all quickly. Sam Woo (or any of a bunch of hole-in-the-wall places) are far cleaner and far more efficient than Chong Qing Special Noodles.
Add in the filthy, unclean tables on every single visit, the science experiment growing underneath the tables, and zero understanding of how to run a restaurant, let alone serve any customer with the most basic, minimal needs, and we have no desire to go back.
Chong Qing Special Noodles
708 E. Las Tunas Dr.
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Tel: (626) 374-1849
Best Noodle House (Revisited - Post Chef Move)
So in light of the 3 visits to Chong Qing Special Noodles, we headed over to Best Noodle House to see how it was after the chef left. We were expecting a disaster, but @strongoxman and others had mentioned the original owner was still there.
As we walked in, our Chinese friend confirmed (and we saw) the original owner of Best Noodle House still there, and she came out to greet us. In our 2 visits, we also saw her in the kitchen, cooking. So clearly she's not just the "money," but also knows how to cook.
Glancing at the menu, they have removed all of the family-style cooked dishes (like the Gele Mountain Fried Chicken), but they expanded with more Noodles, Dumplings and Cold Appetizers.
This tasted just as good as before, chilled Cucumbers, marinated with Garlic and Sesame Oil. Refreshing.
Oh, and it should be noted, not a single dirty table in our 2 subsequent visits! As soon as customers left (or even while they were eating), they would promptly remove finished plates and bus tables quickly. The original owner looks like she hired 2-3 new staff and they were all attentive and quick about keeping things in order. It was nice.
Cold Steamed Chicken with Hot Sauce ("Mouth Water Chicken"):
As soon as this arrived we knew it was different. Visually it looked totally different, but taste-wise as well. First, it's not a "bad" dish at all: The Poached Chicken tasted very fresh, moist and juicy. But the Sauce lacked the nuanced depth and complexity of the original Best Noodle House dish. This wasn't the celebrated version that @ipsedixit showed us a while back.
Clearly the chef who left took his recipe with him on this one. It was OK overall, but just not sublime, like before.
Chungking Dan Dan Noodle:
But then the Chungking Dan Dan Noodles arrived. And after a good mix (make sure you thoroughly mix all the ingredients together), I took a bite: Delicious! It had the same layered, depth of flavor, multiple types of Chilies and Spices, slightly numbing, fragrant and fantastic!
It's just as delicious as before.
And unlike Chong Qing Special Noodle, the Noodles here weren't overcooked on this dish.
Then the Youpo Noodles arrived. After mixing these up thoroughly as well (make sure you do it immediately), wow! These were just as good as before!
Garlicky, fragrant, truly crave-worthy, slightly piquant, but savory, and brightness of the Green Onions and the Chili and OIl! And, the Handmade Noodles were al dente, and toothsome! Perfectly cooked.
These were just as good as before, and better than Chong Qing Special Noodles. Definitely. (And they are still Vegan.)
Our friend chatted up the owner a bit, and we found out some interesting things: It seems the Youpo Noodles and Dan Dan Noodles were dishes the owner had from previous restaurants she used to own and cook at. Aha!
So that probably explains why the Handmade Youpo Noodles and Dan Dan Noodles taste just as good as before: They were probably her recipes (not the chef that left). And why those dishes at Chong Qing Special Noodles aren't as good.
But then the Mouth Water Chicken, Gele Mountain Fried Chicken and the Wontons in Spicy Sauce are probably the chef's recipes which he took with him.
At this point, we have a sad and fragmented situation: If you're feeling like the outstanding Mouth Water Chicken, or the nuanced Wontons in Spicy Sauce, or Gele Mountain Fried Chicken, and want to put up with the most horrendous service you've ever experienced (and sit amongst dirty, unbussed tables), then go to the new shop, Chong Qing Special Noodles.
If you want the fantastic, Handmade Youpo Noodles (so toothsome! so interesting), great Chungking Dan Dan Noodles that we loved at the original Best Noodle House, all in a clean, efficient setting, then stick with Best Noodle House. It took a step back on some dishes, but still delivers greatness with others.
Best Noodle House
9329 Valley Blvd.
Rosemead, CA 91770
Tel: (626) 782-7432