A lot of people say that there is no good Chinese food in Los Angeles. Technically this is true. All the truly amazing Chinese restaurants are in the 626… not LA. Namely towns such as Alhambra, Altadena, Arcadia and San Gabriel etc. This is where all the good gems are hiding…
The Chinese Cuisine Festival (Think DineLA for Chinese food) rightly celebrates 13 such restaurants for about from March 7th to March 16th and encourages us
lazy busy Angelenos to take the long drive (it’s not so bad!) to the 626 to try secret and special dishes.
One pretty legit place is Chengdu Taste in Alhambra. Yelp reviewers complain about the long wait times (45 min-2 hours during peak hours). But locals know it’s worth the wait, and the vibe is just different out here. It’s classic Szechuan, so just assume everything on the menu has the word “spicy” preceding it’s name. If you are the type of person who likes to leave a restaurant with a fire on your face (and in your pants), you will love it here.
Luckily, I came with my SGV food-smarty-pal, Michael Lin of the S.O.F.A.T Blog who knew just how to roll. He ordered us a good variety off the menu and some items they were known for like their spicy mapo tofu and red chili wontons with pork.
When you’re here, you can get weird and order dishes like ox tripe or pig kidney for the full experience. Or if you want to play it safe, I suggest a familiar dish – I loved the Kung Pao Chicken. It was spicy and as it was the least face-on-fire dish. You could really taste the flavors. The peanuts added a nice crunch to each bite.
Also, the double cooked pork fried rice was simple, yet really great too. I could just eat this as a stand alone. Not too oily, fried just right and the pork was very tasty.
Tip: Rice is a MUST 1) because it tastes really good 2) to balance the spicy dishes and fire dance happening in your mouth
Some tips that I learned from my friend: Always have some rice on one side of your bowl so that you can have it readily to mix and cut the spice as you eat. And NEVER leave your chopsticks sticking up in your bowl. This symbolizes death. And is also impolite.
It’s also good practice to pour tea for your meal mates but don’t pour your own. My friend Celeste of the EmpressLA Blog said, “If you pour your own tea, nobody loves you!”
The most spicy dish was a traditional one, dan dan noodles (“tan tan” on the menu).
Once mixed, it was friendly fire in a bowl. It was a tasty-hot mixture of sesame, garlic green onions, peppercorns and peanut sauce. My only qualm was that it didn’t keep for long on our table. Though it had a nice spice that radiated up to the top of your head, the noodles got sticky and soggy quickly. Eat it fast.
A few popular dishes are the spicy eggplant and toothpick lamb in cumin – which we didn’t order this time around. However, we did get the chili poached fish aka water cooked fish which was insanely tender and very good. Tip: Don’t drink the broth, just eat the fish and veggies over rice.
Behold our Szechuan Feast!
The clientele is a good mixture of young and old. The inside of the restaurant is nicely decorated, clean with fresh bright colors and has comfortably spaced seating. Just be prepared to wait for your table when it’s lunch or dinner time. The reservation system leaves much to be desired, but I suppose that’s part of the allure.