Name of the restaurant: Happy Tasty, a Chinese restaurant that specializes in the cuisine of Wuhan. On Valley Boulevard in the San Gabriel Valley, it has been open since October.
Concept: Like many Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, Happy Tasty's chef specializes in a specific region, but the menu also has general Chinese food options (such as fried rice) to appeal to people who want some comfort food. It's got Wuhan appetizers, choose-your-own-adventure-style hot pots, smaller pots of bubbling ingredients, dishes called "hanging pots" -- what they call the dishes they serve in a small cauldron, since the cauldron has a little handle to hang by -- stinky tofu, and lunch specials. Don't let the images of hot peppers on the menu scare you away if you prefer a milder meal, as the restaurant offers plenty of less heat-intensive dishes for the faint of tongue.
Which dishes represent the restaurant and why: For the adventurous, there's the dry pot, which is a cross between a stir fry and a hot pot. It's on the menu in the spicy hot pot section. The dry pot comes with a base of mixed vegetables: potato, cauliflower, celery, wood ear mushroom and lotus root. To this, diners must select two main ingredients that include ingredients such as lamb, beef and slices of fish. If you want something more exciting, luncheon meat, bullfrog, tripe and pig's feet are also options. Flavoring all of these ingredients is of course, plenty of hot peppers and chili oil.
If that flavor adventure isn't enough, there's also a stinky tofu section. You can't go wrong with the mapo stinky tofu. Unlike the milder, deep-fried stinky tofu, this tofu is gently tossed with chili oil, bits of chili and a sprinkling of ground Szechuan peppercorn. It's not as numbing as the mapo tofu from Szechuan restaurants, but it does leave a pleasantly tingling aftertaste. The tofu is flavorful and odiferous, so please warn your dining companions, so there are no nasty surprises.
Don't leave without ordering the mian wo, which looks like an old fashioned doughnut, from the appetizers and soups section. A batter of soy milk, rice milk and flour is mixed with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and scallions, shaped into a ring and then deep fried. The crunchy outside gives way to a savory, slightly sweet, chewy dough inside.
Who's at the next table: A young Chinese family coming in for a quick lunch ordered a smaller version of the dry pot from the dried/hanging pot section of the menu. An older lady on her way back from grocery shopping ordered a couple of dishes for take-out, while two young ladies at a table caught up while sharing a small dry pot.
Appropriate for: Large groups are perfect to tackle the full-sized dry pot and share a variety of appetizers. Smaller groups can go for the small hanging pots. The appetizers and lunch specials section has mild, but still tasty, dishes to order for less intrepid diners.
Service: The waitress is happy to answer questions and recommend dishes off the menu, as long as it's in Chinese. Luckily, the menu has English, and there are plenty of pictures of the restaurant's specialty dishes.
Pro tip: If you happen to order both the mian wo and mapo tofu, the mian wo makes a great vessel for a spoonful of mapo tofu and its spicy sauce. It's like a Wuhan take on a sope.