In last week’s column, I alluded to the flood of San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurants with the word “Tasty’” tucked somewhere into their English-language names. Depending on whether you count doughnut shops, burger stands or branches of the same restaurant as Tasty, Not-Tasty or Tasty in their own right – well, there are a lot of them. Here are five of the tastiest.
Do you have a favorite place for Wuhan-style bullfrog dry pot? Then Tasty Dining may become your new favorite place. The dry pot is certainly commodious enough, there are oceans of sweetened herb tea to drink if you order it extra-spicy, and the chewy rice noodles and lozenges of freeze-dried tofu are brilliant at soaking up the oil. The frog itself, needless to say, tastes like chicken. The menu is pretty limited, but you are probably also going to want the siu mai stuffed with sticky rice, and an order of the sesame noodles called re gan mian. 301 W. Valley Blvd., Suite 101, San Gabriel, (626) 570-1234.
We have heard rumors that dinners at China Tasty have included frogs seethed in herbal broth, a knockout dish of eggplant mashed with peppers, and a kind of shaggy pancake you may not have seen seen since Great Taste closed a million years ago. Or maybe that’s just the stuff they serve at special Chihuo dinners. But as a consolation, China Tasty may be the only place in the west SGV to serve real Lanzhou-style noodles - chewy, pully things hand-thrown to order by a chef whose talents are displayed in a glassed-in kitchen - which you can get stir-fried with meat and vegetables or served in an intense broth of beef or lamb. Even the big plate chicken comes with dense hand-shaved noodles. This is more than anyone has a right to expect from a bowling-alley restaurant, even one in the San Gabriel Valley. And it is a reliable source of scallion pancakes, dumplings, and passable beef rolls when the lines at 101 Noodle Express in the same complex are too long. 1308 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 457-8483.
Tasty Noodle House
Tasty Noodle House specializes in the clean, subtle seafood preparations of the northern port city Dalian, which sometimes means that you will find sea cucumber where you don’t expect to find sea cucumber, and both the vinegar-marinated pork and the braised jellyfish head are really fine. You would not be unhappy with slow-cooked whole fish with tofu or with the snappy fresh-oyster soup. But if you want to treat Tasty Noodle House as a great strip-mall noodleshop, nobody there will stop you, and the pan-fried pork buns, the super-crisp scallion pancakes and the beef stew noodles are all kind of great. 827 W. Las Tunas Ave., San Gabriel. (626) 284-8898.
When you walk into Tasty Duck, you will find plastic-wrapped plates of slivered green onions and cucumbers already on the table and a pot of bean sauce ready to go. Because in this faded strip-mall restaurant, directly beneath the pounding wedding-party karaoke of Golden Soup on the second level, you are here for one thing: Beijing duck, wispy squares of crisp skin arranged around a pile of sliced meat and served with tissue-thin pancakes to wrap them in. A platter will find its way to your table before you’ve decided what kind of tea you want to drink. For an extra few bucks, you’ll get the traditional milky duck-bone soup and a plate of bean sprouts stir-fried with duck leavings and sesame oil. Does Tasty Duck serve only the second-best Beijing duck in the San Gabriel Valley? I’m afraid so. At Monterey Park’s Duck House, which began its life as Lu Din Gee in this very mall, the skin is perhaps more delicate, and the odd Taiwanese side dishes, notably eel with sticky rice, more skillfully prepared. But number two is still pretty good. And you can stop by Tasty Duck on a whim – at Duck House you need to call to reserve your duck at least a couple of hours ahead. 1039 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 572-3885.
Would it be wrong to describe Tasty Garden as the Hong Kong-American equivalent of Coco’s? Because it kind of is, at least if you take into account the enormous menu, the weirdly broad range of dishes, and the number of multi-generational families who squeeze around the huge tables and the purple velvet booths, because it is the only restaurant everybody can agree on. And the one dish almost everybody can agree on is the pork chop, which you can get with both rice and spaghetti if you are so inclined, although some outliers may incline toward the fried tofu with spicy salt, the chow fun noodles in a goopy black pepper sauce, the string beans tossed with preserved vegetables, or the odd geometry of the crisp Hong Kong waffles, which look like a retro-futurist wall treatment taken from “Clockwork Orange” and realized in the medium of flour, sugar and egg. Boba tea, Hong Kong milk tea, or pu er realized in a candle-heated pot you could swear your grandmother used to have? Tasty! 1212 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, (626) 445-9388. Also in Alhambra, Irvine and Monterey Park.