San Gabriel Valley recommendations

Hello all! I was a regular poster on the SF Bay Area Chowhound board. This is my first post at FTC (I mainly post at the SF Bay Hungry Onion board).

My SO has a work meeting in Pasadena next week and I was hoping to explore the area between about Monterey Park and Monrovia (I’ll probably have two lunches on my own and we’ll have two dinners together). Where should I not miss? We eat everything and are fine with hole-in-the-wall atmosphere as long as the food is great/interesting. (My SO speaks Hokkien and Cantonese and a very little bit of Mandarin - noting this in case there are some spots where being able to order in these languages would be a plus.)

Also, are there any good bets for food between the Burbank airport and Pasadena that are open late on weekdays? We get into BUR around 10 PM on Wednesday and will probably want to grab a bite before crashing.

My favorite hole in the wall is “Szechwan”, which online is called “Cui Hua Lou”. Never seen tourists there, feels like i’m out of the place and outside the country in a good way. Sichuan food on the less oily side. It’s on Garvey in Monterey Park.

I would get lamb, chicken knee, and heart skewers. They cooked over gas, based on the taste, are covered with a little bit of oil and a good bit of cumin and chili flakes. The deep fried chicken knee bones are excellent as well with fantastic yellow-knee joint cartilage crunch. I like there lamb noodle soup a lot, because they used fresh salted water and also the noodles had great spring. . . but mostly it’s a place that had the kind of food that I personally like, and it’s not super busy. Lamb organ and vertebrae hot pot is alright, eggplant is ok, thin sliced pork belly with garlic is fun, spicy squid on hot iron plate is fun but taste is somewhat generic, hot spicy cold glass noodles are fun, cucumber peanut salad is kinda of a weird taste for me.

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That whole area is mostly Chinese food, with some Vietnamese, and a few others like Burmese and Borneo restaurants. I’m not super familiar with what is available in SF, is there something specific you’d like to try?

That being said, my friend who used to live in SF always wanted to go to Newport Seafood. You could order the set meal for two and the special lobster. Another option would be Seafood Palace in Temple City and get the house special crab, you could go by yourself and just order that. And then he always wanted to go to some sort of Sichuan food, I think Mian would be a good option if you are dining alone, you could get the spicy wontons and some noodles. I feel a lot of the restaurants are hard to do with with one or two people.

Somebody else will probably have better ideas about late night between Burbank and Pasadena. Poquito Mas in Burbank is decent, and relatively quick. I’ve heard good things about Crawford’s Pass and their hot chicken though I’ve never tried it personally. Also, at that hour of night there’s no traffic, not sure if you want to expand your radius or if you’ll just be tired from the flight.

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Pablitos Tacos, In n Out, Del Taco, The Ramp.

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Not quite in the area you’ve specified, but I would consider the gelato at Bulgarini Gelato to be a not-miss if you’re that close by…

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Bistro Na’s in Temple City. Make a reservation and at a minimum order the crispy shrimp and the crispy lamb brisket even if you’re by yourself.

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Really great Malaysian and Indonesian food is hard to come by here; I had read a bit about Borneo Kalimantan on Eater’s SGV list earlier and thought it could be interesting.

SF has pretty good coverage in terms of food from east and south Asia, but sometimes the depth, quality, and distribution of the options isn’t ideal. For example, there are tons of great Taiwanese restaurants - if you want to drive the 40 miles from SF to Cupertino. If you don’t want to do that then you’ll have to settle for something merely decent rather than great. Similarly, we have plenty of Vietnamese restaurants but in SF itself they tend to skew more Chinese-Vietnamese, since much of SF’s original immigrant community from Vietnam was ethnically Chinese (in San Jose, the composition of the Vietnamese community is very different, and the Vietnamese cuisine more diverse). We have much less regionally specialized Mexican food, much less Persian food in general, and virtually zero places making Armenian food, so I would be totally willing to try a great example of any of those if there was one within an easy drive! But from what I gather the SGV is the wrong part of southern California for these.

What I have heard (which could be wrong) is that SF has more and better Burmese restaurants than southern California, but the SGV outclasses us in Chinese food, especially non-Cantonese cooking. There are also a fair number of solid Laotian restaurants here, especially in the East Bay. But if there is a really outstanding Cantonese or Lao or Burmese place I shouldn’t miss, by all means recommend it!

So, apologies if all of this ended up being super vague, but my bottom line is that if it’s 1) great and 2) not too much of a schlep from Pasadena, I’m down to try it irrespective of what the cuisine is - though if it’s one that’s 3) hard to find outside Southern California, that would be extra awesome!

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Lao:
Isaan Station in Ktown is probably has the best Gai Yang in Southern Californoa. Be sure to get the sticky rice and som tom.

Canto:
Ruby’s BBQ has the best siu yuk. I don’t think Ming Kee makes siu yuk so it might be worth a stop if you have the craving.

You’re probably right about Burmese. No reason to try it out here. What’s your favorite btw in SF?

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I have been looking for a new favorite since the two places I really liked (Little Yangon and Beyond Burma, which was more of a pop-up) closed. I have heard from a Burmese friend whose opinions on food I trust that Mahar Yangon (which took over Little Yangon’s space, just over the Daly City line from SF) is great - but I haven’t had a chance to try it for myself yet.

I’ve had pretty good meals at Burmese Kitchen and Mandalay. Went to Burma Super Star once years ago and thought the flavors were dumbed down, so haven’t been back to any of the locations in their aggressively expanding restaurant empire.

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Highland Park isn’t too far, you could get some huaraches at El Huarache Azteca and then head over to Mariscos El Faro after.

Also, depending on traffic, I feel like fried shrimp tacos at Mariscos Jalisco are not to miss.

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  1. there is little to recommend in burbank regardless of the time of day. glendale lies in between burbank & pasadena and is home to the largest armenian population outside armenia. if you could get to raffi’s (persian/armenian) before 10 that could fit the bill. eagle rock lies between glendale & pasadena and is home to the largest concentration of filpinos outside the philippines. but the best filipino food is made by grandma. who cooks for every family holiday; not many good f’lip places. finally, pasadena: the sidewalks roll up by 10pm for the most part. your best bet might be a taco truck.
  1. parts of the west SGV convenient to pasadena will be along the 210 but are primarily taiwanese. if you have no shanxi places up there. i recommend lao xi noodle house in arcadia. for shaanxi, xi’an tasty in monterey park would be good, or liang’s kitchen also in monterey park. we used to have 3 ennui, er, anhui places, but i found their cuisine underwhelming. so did everyone else, apparently. they all closed. if you want to try shanghaiese, you might try jian nan spring (alhambra) & call 24 hours ahead for the beggar’s chicken. for hunan maybe xiang or yunnan (both in MP). chengdu taste for sichuan i suppose though i’m partial (and in the apparent minority in this regard) to chong qing in san gabriel. for dongbei i liked shenyang but they were replaced by guan dong da yuan. maybe chef geng (rosemead).? tianjian bistro for tianjian. beijing pie house. dolan’s or omar for uighur.
    for indonesian there’s also banana leaf in temple city, top & also QQ kopitam in pasadena. singkawang is next to the LA badminton club in elmonte. and another 2-3 places next to each other in a food court in west covina.

i imagine i’ve missed a few.

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Good SGV rundown secretasianman. A few corrections, there was 1 Anhui place and there are multiple Wuhan places (I recall that you were underwhelmed with both). The Anhui place closed, as did one Wuhan place, but there are still at least 2-3 of the latter.

Lao Xi Noodle House is a great little place, Shanxi-style vs. Shaanxi-style (I concur with your Shaanxi picks as well), Xiang Cuisine has really plummeted since your visit, with many of the more interesting dishes dropped from the menu. I’d still go with Hunan Mao/Mao Jia or Hunan Chili King for Hunan, though Hunan Mao (now Mao Jia) has changed hands too. Tianjin Bistro has closed too, leaving no dedicated Tianjin places aside from breakfast joints. For Dongbei, Shenyang Tasty (the former Shenyang) on San Gabriel as well.

Over the past several months, the SGV has also seen a Fujian place come and go and has lost the only dedicated Guizhou restaurant, along with the one place that served a few Hangzhou-style items. On the plus side, there is a place with some Wenzhou-style items and a new Qingdao-style place.

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Speaking of Fujian or Taiwan…

Will the SGV ever get PEPPER BUNS? Like Raohe Night Market.

I wouldn’t mind some Taiwanese Hakka Farm/Grandma food too

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thanks. i knew i’d forgotten something - wuhan. bullfrog hot pot IIRC. meh.

shenyang tasty the former shenyang??? the cumin chicken bones and korean style naengmyun are my favorites there.

xiang was ambitious to rent such a large space to start.

the fujian place in arcadia shuttered?

Shenyang Tasty is the former Shen Yang on San Gabriel (they literally moved one plaza up), not the unrelated Shen Yang that was on Garvey. Those two were my favorite Dongbei places.

Yep, Fuzhou Cuisine in Arcadia shuttered.

It sure seems to me that the whole of western SGV has been skidding downhill for a decade or so.
There used to be so many great options in Canto, Siichuan, Hunan, Beijing, Shanghai but most have gone out of business. Focus Plaza seems moribound these days. I still have lots that I love to eat there (Beijiing Pie House, 山城辣妹子 Shancheng Lameizie pop into my head right now) but the cornucopia of the past is gone.

Looking forward to trying some of Jim’s recent recs for whole pan-roasted fish!

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Welcome. It’s been awhile, but the Smokehouse in Burbank has the best garlic bread around. The steaks are great too. They’re close to Warner Brothers Studio. Very old school. You’d swear Bob Hope was sitting at the next table. :slight_smile: Never disappointed.
https://www.smokehouse1946.com/dinner-menu

i started checking out the SGV in 2013 and what i did with my group each week was select four places to try and let the ones who could make it that week vote. now it’s a LOT harder to find four places i want to try any given week. more than a few shuttered before i could get a quorum to try the place. and i lament the passing of places such as:

  • bamboo creek;
  • any place the original owners of wang jia opened, including old shanghai kitchen & shanghai bistro;
  • mama’s kitchen (though mama carries on with a food buffet table in arcadia);
  • dean sin world (again, mama carries on in a way that’s hard to watch);
  • embassy kitchen (i was there 12/31/18);
  • old country cafe;
  • shenyang;
  • ha tien quan (really funky broth);
  • ah may myanmar;
  • m delivery;
  • ocean star (for what i call the social experience);
  • red hot bus;
  • mei long village (XLB before DTF);
  • battambang (cambodian);
  • A&J kitchen (laotian);
  • pearl’s (not as good as OCC, but for their longevity);
  • the kimbap stand at GW (formerly ‘the square’ supermarket) in rosemed;
  • big mama’s rib shack (more for the live blues on saturday nights in pasadena than the food);
  • tasty food (HCR);
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Ciao Bob, sadly that kind of sums up my feelings as well. While there always were limited options with some specific regional cuisines, there was a depth that seems lacking now. First there was the Sichuan rage, then hot pot, now chains. Still plenty of gems, but really seems like a drop-off. There are several factors, but two have to be escalating rents and simply the aging of the restaurants owners/operators. When I first started going to the SGV, there were so many mom & pop restaurants, or restaurants with mama or nainai cooking…

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That really drives home the point, and typifies what’s been happening. A mix of long-time places that closed (Mei Long, Old Country, Dean Sin World), and others that were standouts that weren’t around long (AJ Kitchen, Ah May, Ha Tien Quan).