Review

Jonathan Gold: Delicious Food Corner is the most Hong Kong place in the San Gabriel Valley

The next time you visit Delicious Food Corner, try not to forget your phone. I know that it’s OK to leave your phone in your car most of the time, a chance to talk to your kids over breakfast rather than check the Clippers score on ESPN, but the lines in the morning are long, and by the time you have passed the 25-minute mark of staring at Chinese soap operas on the restaurant’s flat-screen and flipped through the untranslated tabloids in the news racks, you may come to the conclusion that excellent Wi-Fi is more or less the point of the place  — even the toddlers seem to be staring at “Dora the Explorer” on their iPads. You would like to share this thought with your son, but the Neil deGrasse Tyson podcast blaring from his earbuds makes speech impossible, and at any rate the number scrawled on the tiny Post-it stuck to your palm has just been called.

Delicious Food Corner is a breakfast place down on Garfield just north of the Pomona Freeway in a corner of Monterey Park that feels more like Montebello. The ancient grill-your-own-steaks bar called the Venice Room is across the street and the old-school J&S, known for its bean-and-cheese burritos, is down the street. The Neapolitan pizzas at Ravello Osteria, successor to the legendary Bollini’s, is a few steps away. The Hawaiian plate lunches at Shakas are up the block. But I have called Delicious Food Corner the most Hong Kong place in the San Gabriel Valley, and even after its expansion it still feels like that. Dim sum is for tourists, but congee, homely rice porridge, means home.

It is difficult to conceive a morning at the restaurant without a Hong Kong-style bun, a sugar-crusted roll sometimes called a pineapple bun for its bumpy, golden appearance. The bun comes to the table sliced nearly in two, with a fat pat of salted butter stuffed between the halves — it is simultaneously too much and not quite enough, because by the time you finish one, you mysteriously want another. There are fresh, hot youtiao, unsweetened Chinese crullers, either plain or wrapped in sticky rice noodles. You see Spam and egg sandwiches at most of the tables, and thick toast smeared with condensed milk, and mountains of rice surrounded by moats of minced pork and crowned with runny fried eggs. If you are watching your carbs, Delicious Food Corner may not be your jam.

But you are going to want congee with your youtiao and buns. And Delicious Food Corner’s congee isn’t the elegant, expensive porridge you find bathing lobster and live scallops at the posh Hong Kong places — it’s the rough and tasty kind: semi-fluid, nicely seasoned, scattered with chopped green onions and crispy snips of fried dough. I like the congee with meatballs, which are small and bouncy, nicely emulsified, with a slight but definite smack of offal stink. There is congee with beautifully loose fishcake and wilted greens, one with bone-in chicken that for some reason tastes better than the bland boneless chicken, and one with a handful of velvet-soft beef. If you get the congee with fish, the raw fillets cook in the hot porridge.

You’re probably going to dose the porridge with white pepper, which isn’t the delicate stuff you see in fine French restaurants but a funky, extra-fermented pepper that might give a chef like Joel Robuchon fits —  I like it a lot. If you forget to shake a little on, the people sitting next to you at one of the shared tables might tell you so.

And if you manage to get a seat before the 11:30  cutoff, the congee comes with a smallish plate of fried noodles — not beef noodles or shrimp noodles but plain fried Chinese egg vermicelli, leavened with a bean sprout or two but basically unadorned, and smelling of hot, clean oil. Or you can get steamed rice-flour noodles instead, rolled up and stacked into a heap, either plain or scattered with a few tiny dried shrimps, and moistened with sweet bean sauce. It’s kind of fun to supplement all the starch with a plate of crisp chicken wings, fried with garlic, minced chiles and spiced salt in the Chiu Chow style, or fish balls in tasty if generic Hong Kong curry sauce, or what the menu accurately describes as Japanese-style cheesy instant noodle with pork chop.

Starch and starch with a side of Hong Kong milk tea. You’re ready to face the rest of the day.

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Delicious Food Corner

Hong Kong-style breakfast food in Monterey Park

LOCATION

2329 Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, (323) 726-0788, www.deliciousfoodcorner.com.

PRICES

Congee special (including noodles) $6.75-$10.75; $3.95-$9.25 a la carte after 11:30 a.m. Breakfast side orders $3-$8.95. Noodle soup $7.50-$8.50; house entrees $9.50-$14.95; grilled meat and seafood $9.50-$14.95. 

DETAILS

8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mon.; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wed.-Sun. No alcohol. Lot parking. Cash only; ATM on premises. 

RECOMMENDED DISHES

H.K.-style bun with butter; Chinese doughnut; fish paste and lettuce congee; fried chicken wings with spicy salt.

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