Luk Yue is the quintessential Cantonese greasy spoon, all hanging ducks, surging crowds and giant bowls of rice porridge, tucked alongside a Cantonese supermarket in the heart of Cantonese Monterey Park, packed until 3 a.m. If you’re into Chinese food, it could be the perfect place to eat after anything from the Long Beach Opera to a punk show at the Hollywood Palladium. (Late at night, Monterey Park seems to be about 15 minutes from just about anywhere.)
Luk Yue is the Cantonese equivalent of Denny’s or Carrow’s--fast, informal, and extremely cheap--and I would not be surprised to hear that the small, bright-lit restaurant turns over 500 meals a day. The waiters are always too busy to translate the specials that are posted on the walls.
Luk Yue is not the fanciest place: as soon as people sit down, they instinctively wipe their spoons and teacups dry of detergent-scented droplets; five minutes after their food arrives, it seems, they have already eaten and gone.
Of course, the Chinese idea of what might be acceptable to eat, even at 2 in the morning, is very different from what a Denny’s customer expects, so instead of patty melts you find dried squid with pig skin, instead of French fries, great, crunchy piles of Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, instead of chili, bowls of anise-scented Cantonese beef stew with turnip.
If you’re broke, a single order of the extraordinary pan-fried chow mein noodles with spare ribs and black-bean gravy, or skinny rice noodles fried with hunks of duck and bits of salty preserved greens, or curry-tinged Singapore vermicelli will amply feed two for less than five bucks. (Stick with the pan-fried noodles here--the noodle soups tend to be ordinary.)
Everybody seems to start with golden wedges of fried stuffed bean curd, crunchy outsides giving way to steamy, almost liquid centers, that you dunk in bowls of soy-based sauce and eat while they’re still hot enough to blister your tongue, and which are better than any combination of onion rings and catsup that you could name.
Within the Chinese community, Luk Yue is probably most famous for its excellent Cantonese barbecue: soy sauce chicken, pork hock, crispy roast duck, served both straight up and over rice. The roast pig is essentially an excuse to eat the crunchy strips of pigskin, tasty nutritional nightmares that come with a quarter-inch of melting pork fat still attached, and which are almost too rich to eat without a dab of hoisin to cut the grease.
Assorted-barbecue-rice is served in a superheated clay pot, the juices from the roasted sausages, pork hock and Chinese slab bacon flavoring the rice, a soup bowl of salty barbecue juices served on the side to moisten the rice further into sort of a Chinese risotto. The spare-ribs-with-black-bean-sauce clay pot rice is even better, powerfully scented with ginger, the kind of rank, powerful, utterly delicious Cantonese soul food that never makes it farther than the staff meal at Chinese restaurants any swankier than this.
* Luk Yue Restaurant
123 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, (818) 280-2888. Open daily, 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. No alcohol. Guarded lot parking. Cash only. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7-$12.