Xiang La Hui (Sichuan, Alhambra)

Warrior: This restaurant has been mentioned before, but I believe it deserves its own thread. After trying just two dishes, I am about ready to declare that this is the best Sichuan restaurant in the LA area, out of many great options. The cold eggplant dish was exquisite. How they made this dish so delicious using such simple ingredients, I don’t know. The spice and salt balance was perfect. I think they used the technique of pouring sizzling oil over the aromatic seasonings atop the eggplant. The Mandarin name for the dish was “hand torn eggplant,” so perhaps hand tearing played some role. Anyway, simply delicious. Maybe the best liang cai I’ve ever had. Also excellent was the house speciality of whole fish in a red, oily mala sauce. They have two versions, one that is more numbing than the other, I believe due to the use of green Sichuan peppercorns (but the more numbing one is still red and oily, unlike the well-known green Sichuan peppercorn dish at Chengdu Taste). This dish literally brought tears to me eyes, and I even felt a tear drop onto my plate, it was so spicy. The best part of this dish IMO was the additional items that you can select to add (e.g., lotus roots, enoki mushrooms, tofu, etc,). Service was excellent, and the interior was among the nicest and most modern in the SGV.

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I think David Chang was talking about this restaurant in a recent podcast

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Emoji mushrooms??? LOL!!! :mushroom:

I agree, though, the food is wonderful.

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Haha — corrected. :smile_cat:

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How is the basic bitch Sichuan stuff like mapo tofu, fish fragrant eggplant or pork, kung pao chicken, dan dan noodles, wontons in red oil, hot and sour soup, green beans, etc.?

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Appreciate the detailed post (and all your posts really!) @PeonyWarrior, but to be that guy, I’m not a huge fan of Xiang La Hui and kinda flabbergasted by the media coverage.

To your question @JeetKuneBao I much prefer the twice cooked pork, la zi ji, toothpick lamb and water boiled fish at both Sichuan Impression and Chengdu Taste. To be fair, I came up on both of those places, not to mention the dearly departed Chung King, so maybe I’m biased. But both times (pre and post pandemic) Xiang La Hiu was pretty empty so…

Maybe some others can weigh in?

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Warrior: I appreciate your kind politeness! I also came up on Chung King, Chengdu Taste, and Sichuan Impression. I feel like the fish dish I ordered at Xiang La Hui was quite similar to the “hot pot” at Chengdu Taste, but with a whole fish added. I will return and report on a second visit without bias. Our Sichuan friend also plans to go, and we will let you know what she thinks.

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I’ve had their mapo tofu. It was very good but not especially different from Sichuan Impression.

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We are with PeonyWarrior - we love it.

I think it is my favorite Sichuan in SGV right now, based on multiple visits (pre-, intra- and post-lockdowns). We took a Chinese born 9 months pregnant friend who believed the MaLa would push the baby out (it didn’t, but we all loved the meal).

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Warrior: I went back and tried three dishes. Kung pao shrimp was near perfect to my tastes. I find that other SGV restaurants make this dish a little too sweet for my tastes, but Xiang La Hui’s preparation is nicely balanced. I was less fond of the cold pea shoots and cold noodles with shredded chicken. These dishes both had the same sauce—roughly, ma la spices, sesame seeds, garlic, and black vinegar). I don’t love the flavor of this sauce, though it is similar to a sauce at Chengdu Taste. I prefer sauces with more oil and/or sesame paste and less vinegar.

Our friend from Sichuan and two others from northern China tried all of these dishes. Everyone loved the cold eggplant, which is definitely still my favorite of the five dishes I tried there. As for the cold noodles, our Sichuan friend preferred the version at Sichuan Impression, while the Northerners preferred the version at Xiang La Hui. Our Sichuan friend explained that she prefers noodles with a more al dente texture. Surprisingly, she commented that Xiang La Hui’s house special whole fish (烤鱼) was too spicy for her tastes and had too much sauce.

Honestly, I think a lot of this—for native Chinese and Westerners alike—comes down to personal preferences. That said, I do think that the quality of the cooking at Xiang La Hui is objectively high.



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it’s my take that most people’s grasp of ‘authentic’ sichuan cuisine is like that on what they consider to be ‘authentic’ thai food - which is why ricker’s place in chinatown failed; most folks who ate at pok pok LA expected the over-the-top seasoning they’d come to associate with restaurants like jitlada, etc. a lot of thai food is spicy but a lot of dishes are not - and angelenos they didn’t understand they were supposed to season the ‘bland’ dishes to taste. jonathan gold tried to put that out there in his review without offending the readers by pointing out their ignorance but the point went over most people’s heads.

asides from over the top spicy, szechuan cuisine features over twenty other specific flavor combinations as codified by fuchsia dunlop in ‘land of plenty’. dunlop noted:

."…the key to quality sichuan cooking is not to drown out the dish’s essential xian (freshness) with red chile oil, ginger, garlic, pickled chiles or any other pungent ingredient…"

the strength of xiang la hui are IMO these types of dishes on their menu that aren’t mala-crazy the way most westerners expect them to be. don’t rate them solely on the dishes offered by other sichuan places. try the other dishes. there’s some serious nuance going on there.

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I hear what you’re saying and appreciate the info. I try to avoid the authenticity trap, especially when it’s food I’m not super knowledgeable about, but maybe was subconsciously falling into it. And felt this nuance/explanation was missing from most of the reviews of Xiang La Hui. What do you recommend specifically?

And I get the analogy but kinda disagree re: Pok Pok (not that it matters lol). I really loved the food at Pok Pok but for me the experience was condescending and haughty, and I find that true across all his restaurants, whether in New York, Portland, or here. And think he had a savior thing going, when LA has places like Pailin, Jitlada, Night Market, Spicy BBQ, Siam Sunset etc. But I digress.

Anyway, if there are some can’t miss things at Xiang La Hui, let me know!

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OK, now THIS finally makes me want to try this place. The delicacy and nuance is what I love about Chef Yu Bo’s cooking - the spice is supposed to work (and just enough so) in accentuating the freshness of the ingredients in the dish.

By the way, let’s remind all the readers out there that there are two different restaurants out there, yet BOTH are located in Alhambra, BOTH are Sichuan in focus, and BOTH contain the character Xiang ( 香, which means fragrant or fresh) in their names: You’ve got Xiang La Hui ( 香辣汇 ), and then you’ve got Zui Xiang Yuan ( 嘴香缘 )…

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alas, i haven’t been there since before the pandemic, so i have to go back through my pics and notes to recall exactly what it was we’d ordered… turns out my last time there was the last outing of 2019. ok, i recall a chicken dish that tasted… like chicken - with an even better rendition of the mouth watering chicken sauce made by chong qing special noodles. it’s serious when this toisan boy says he’d rather PAY for this version than get a free order with a $25+ order at chong qing.

and this, but i can’t tell you what it was on the menu. that’s a regular sized ladle, BTW; i recall being intrigued by the description, and it being $20-25 when we ordered it and subsequently being gratified by the size of order. it was spicy, but not overwhelmingly so.


and since i’m reviewing pics arranged alphabetically…

as it turns out, i went to xiang near the end of 2018. huge space, and we were the only patrons in the place, and it was weirder because you had to come in and walk at least 50 feet and turn the corner before you even saw any wait staff.

there’s a fine line between subtle and meh. the dishes we ordered really didn’t help illustrate the distinction. it wasn’t bad, but it didn’t leave the same kind of impression left by xiang la hui. and the place has since shuttered.


and since i’m looking through this pic directory…

zi xiang yuan aka the original flavor garden was great when it opened, become a personal favorite (IIRC we ate there with a couple of the CH staff a lifetime ago & JL even donated $5 to the cause), went through some uneven times. i haven’t been there since the pandemic, but i’d still rather eat their beef roll vs. 101 noodle express’ across the street. however, i might prefer you kitchen’s dumplings now over ZXY (who made some great fish dumplings, might have been as good as qing dao bread food’s…) don’t know if they still offer the steamed pork with rice powder.

their chive buns were killer:

and their shrimp dumplings each had a giant piece of shrimp in each one

and of course, their wonderful rendition of the beef roll:

and thus ends the walk down memory lane.

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Very different places - big fan of both for very different reasons. FWIW, I don’t consider Zui Xiang Yuan Sichuan at all.

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Warrior: It is not just ignorant Westerners who hold the belief that Sichuan cuisine is defined by ma la. People throughout China think the same way. This thinking is pervasive in Sichuan itself. There was an interesting article about it here:

Here in LA, we have met several Sichuan people who preferred Chengdu Taste to Sichuan Impression because the latter is not ma la enough (though I think Chengdu Taste used to be more ma la than it is today).

Personally, I think some cuisines are at their best when they overwhelm the senses. I would put Sichuan in that category. If I want subtle flavors, I will go to a Cantonese or Shanghainese restaurant.

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OT, but… preach. I think I understand Spike Lee a little more nowadays.

Back to the topic. :slight_smile:

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nor do i; very taiwanese - though i’d be hard pressed to quantify it since they adopted things from various regions when the nationalists usurped the native formosans. if i follow J_L’s train of thought, it was more about the inclusion of the character “xiang” which is ironic, since i understand that zui xiang yuan is the chinese translation of “flavor garden” - it was a requirement of the mall that they use a chinese name.

i note that some idiot on yelp classified certain chinese restaurants as being sichuan. i notified yelp on a few of the more egregious ones, and they’ve been corrected. one of the worst was for dolans’ (which is another name for the uighurs - which i pointed out in my notification).

Huh?

so if i understand you correctly, you’re either defending ignorance or using ignorance to defend your position.