As I have quoted Boardmaster ipsedixit on a number of occasions, those of you who complain how you have to drive all the way to San Gabriel to get the best Chinese food will fondly look back at those days because the locus of Chinese food in the Los Angeles is moving much further to the east. (ipsedixit’s statement was not a prediction–it was a statement of fact, as he has inside information.)
With the opening of XLB Dumpling Bar in Walnut I think maybe that perhaps the future is now. XLB Dumpling Bar is a fast casual restaurant (order at the counter, then take your food to communal tables) that opened a few weeks ago and is still in soft opening with a limited menu. However one thing is already perfectly clear–the restaurant size is much too small for the business they’re generating, with every seat taken before noontime on a Sunday and a long line of customers waiting to order. And this is in Walnut (look that up on your map if you don’t where that is), not particularly close to any freeway.
Signature dish is the xiaolongbao and the version here is excellent. Probably wouldn’t win a blind taste test against Din Tai Fung, but it is totally juicy.
This is the Dan Dan noodles in a spicy peanut sauce.
Pork and shrimp dumplings with bean sprouts and cabbage on the side.
Braised chicken noodles was a nonspicy contrast to the Dan Dan noodles.
The big disappointment was the fact that they were out of their cheeseburger bao. Even though we arrived 20 minutes after opening, all 38 orders had been sold. They felt sorry for us when I told them we had driven 35 miles just to try their restaurant, some they comped us a small appetizer and three soy drinks. (We didn’t try any of their prepared drinks but the staff highly recommended their Grapefruit Galaxy.) Interestingly from this internet photo, the cheeseburger bao looks surprisingly ordinary from the outside.
XLB Dumpling Bar was a total madhouse with every seat taken and people streaming in and out. Service was slow, probably taking 10 to 15 minutes for each order to be prepared, compounding what looks like an undersized restaurant. But they’re clearly onto something here. As I have written in the past, Chinese food continues to evolve with new and better dishes arising all the time, and generally is introduced by new entrants to the market. Those who follow the opening of new Chinese restaurants know that most of the new action these days is in what has been called the East San Gabriel Valley (Rowland Heights, Industry, Hacienda Heights, though I don’t know if these communities are actually part of the San Gabriel Valley). And now things are moving even further away to places like Walnut, Diamond Bar and Chino Hills, so even people who live in the West San Gabriel Valley may have to start driving out for the best Chinese food.
Rowland Heights, City of Industry and Hacienda Heights are considered part of the San Gabriel Valley mainly for metro purposes, though they are techincally in a branch valley. Walnut and Diamond Bar are considered SGV along the same lines, but that is pushing it. Chino Hills is in San Bernardino County, over the hills, so it is not. It’s in the Pomona Valley.
In case anyone would wonder a literal definition, it would be based on the valley created by the San Gabriel River.
Talk about going eastward, there is a plaza with 99 Ranch Market, a Sichuanese restaurant, an XLB dumpling place, and an HK style cafe place out in Rancho Cucamonga. Sichuanese food was pretty solid.
As for the cheeseburger buns…I think the Cheeseburger Potstickers at Shirley Chung’s Ms. Chi in Culver City would be a better bite. There’s also a new food court out in Chino Hills, where one of the eateries is offering a cheeseburger dumpling as well…
99 Ranch Market has been in Rancho Cucamonga for quite a while (I’m guessing 12 to 15 years). Originally there was little in the way appurtenant of Chinese businesses but that has changed with the recent surge of Chinese homebuyers in that community. Still I wonder where the Chinese in Rancho Cucamonga go for their Chinese food, as there aren’t that many places in and around 99 Ranch Market to service them all.
I’m aware of Ms Chi’s cheeseburger dumplings, which is reasonably convenient geographically for me. However, having been unimpressed with a number of offerings at their Culver City location, I haven’t been inclined to give it another round.
There’s also the Philly cheesesteak wrap at the Bao Shoppe in Manhattan Chinatown, which essentially is a beef roll with cheese thrown in. Historically I guess these are all descendants of the Philly Cheesesteak egg roll invented a number of years ago in Philadelphia.
To be fair, I’m not sure the observation of the “shift” originated with any one person, but rather is obvious to anyone who cares to gives the SGV more than a cursory look. I do recall at one point many years ago the late Jonathan Gold discussing how the East SGV scene as being more intensely Chinese and the harbinger of things to come elsewhere in the SGV. I’m not saying he originated the idea, only that the evidence is out there for all to see.
By the way I’m coming back for a visit 19-26 Dec and I’m checking in to see what changes have happened since I left (in 2015-- how the time flies). I wonder if XLB Dumpling Bar is worth a visit? (By the way, is it XLB and Dumplings?
XLB Dumpling Bar is probably too far out of the way for you to go by, particularly given everything that’s happened the last 3 years. I would highlight newer restaurant openings, particularly Mainland China chains that have opened up branches such as Bistro Na’s, as well as perhaps the new leader in dim sum, Longo Seafood