Drive a few miles east of Downtown on the 10 Freeway and you’ll hit the south San Gabriel Valley, which Taiwanese and Hong Kong venture capital has turned into the largest, splashiest suburban Chinatown in North America. Monterey Park was the first enclave, but as the Chinese population has escalated, this new-era Chinatown has spread like peanut butter into Alhambra, San Gabriel, Arcadia and Rowland Heights and with the spread the larges agglomeration of Regional Chinese Restaurants outside the motherland.
How to find your way around? Simply imagine a grid. The two main drags run east and west, parallel to the 10 Freeway, Valley Boulevard to its north and Garvey Avenue to the south. Several north-south commercial streets intersect these thoroughfares. Moving from west to east there’s Atlantic Boulevard, then Garfield Avenue and then San Gabriel and Rosemead boulevards. The multi-level Focus Plaza at Valley and Del Mar Avenue in San Gabriel, nicknamed the Great Mall of China, is a microcosm of the San Gabriel Valley’s bounty of regional Chinese restaurants along with the lavish 99 Ranch supermarket. The collection of eateries includes a branch of the regional Guilin Rice Noodles and Ay-Chung, serving Taiwanese snacks, fruit slushies, milk teas and juices. NEW CAPITAL SEAFOOD, on the 4th floor, is a favorite for its reasonably priced traditional dim sum. Its neighbor DONG TING SPRING, an excellent Hunanese spot, serves dishes incorporating grand quantities of chiles and funky condiments. Must haves: Wild chile stir-fried with beef and the Hunan style stir-fried frog. At the north end of the complex, GOURMET VEGETARIAN may have the most sophisticated food of all, with dishes like fried rice noodles tossed with shredded pumpkin, Sichuan tofu, radish and egg pancake, or eggplant with basil. And finally there’s the northern-style LITTLE SHEEP, where a hot-pot meal will reveal just how diverse Chinese cuisine can be. Shabu shabu–style dining is taken to new and extraordinarily spicy heights. Lamb comes in many styles: dumplings, pancakes, meatballs and slices for the pot.
Further west on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra is SAVOY KITCHEN, a tiny corner cafe with a sidewalk patio and a constant crowd of people waiting for a chance to order the Malaysian-style Hainan chicken. It doesn’t look like much—plain-looking poached chicken with stock-infused rice and a trio of sauces—but it’s richly flavorful and rewarding; cough up the extra two bucks for the dark meat. A little further west, at 101 NOODLE EXPRESS, it’s the Shandong-style beef roll, miraculously spiced beef wrapped in lightly crisped Chinese pancakes, that people drive across town to eat.
Now head south on Atlantic Boulevard, and you’ll find a row of restaurant-laden malls. In the Mar Center is OCEAN STAR, one of the best traditional live seafood and dim sum halls. The cavernous room with ladies steering burnished dumpling carts is preferable after noon, when they roll out the more exotic items. Further south is Kathryn Fang’s DUCK HOUSE, considered to have the best Peking duck in the Valley. For fancier, more au courant dim sum ordered from a menu, ELITE RESTAURANT further south will serve you Thai-style papaya salad garnished with goose tendons, and luscious steamed live shrimp with their roe.
Traveling east on Garvey you come to SEAFOOD VILLAGE, a Chiu Chow spot serving ethereally flavored dishes like duck soup with pickled lemon. Meals can be made of the appetizer plates: crisp-fried shrimp balls, oyster omelet, whole cold crab. Keep heading east to MAMA’S LU dumpling house, where the xiao long bao—dumplings with soup inside—and the won tons are as good as anything you will find in Hong Kong. Still further east is the not-to-be-missed CHINA ISLAMIC restaurant, with its multi-layered sesame breads, spectacular lamb hot pots and hand-shaved noodle dishes of the north.
Continue east to Del Mar Ave. and go north to Las Tunas, a once-sleepy street that’s starting to rival Valley Blvd. The famous lobster specialty palace, NEWPORT SEAFOOD, is there, and don’t miss LUSCIOUS DUMPLINGS. After Las Tunas becomes Main Street, you’ll find KING HUA, a new contender for some of the best dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley.
101 Noodle Express
1408 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, 626.300.8654
China Islamic Restaurant
7727 E. Garvey Ave., Rosemead, 626.288.2426
1000 S. San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, 626.286.0298
Dong Ting Spring Hunan Restaurant
Focus Plaza, 140 W. Valley Blvd., 2nd floor, San Gabriel, 626.288.5918
700 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, 626.282.9998
140 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, 626.280.5998
2000 W. Main St., Alhambra, 626.282.8833
140 W. Valley Blvd., Ste. 213, San Gabriel, 626.307.1901
704 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, 626.282.8695
Mama’s Lu Dumpling House
153 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park, 626.307.5700
New Capital Seafood
Focus Plaza, 140 W. Valley Blvd., 4th floor, San Gabriel, 626.288.1899
145 N. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park, 626.308.2128
138 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, 626.308.9535
684 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park, 626.289.0088