Where to find the best Chinese doughnuts in Los Angeles
The old adage “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” can easily be applied to Chinese doughnuts. The savory pastry — two golden strips of lightly salted fried dough, attached at the hip — goes by many monikers: you tiao in Mandarin, pathongko in Thai and dầu cháo quẩy in Vietnamese.
With origins dating to the 12th century in China, this doughnut’s reach has grown to become a breakfast staple throughout East and Southeast Asia. In its simplest form, it’s ripped in two and eaten alone as a snack. But the cruller also can be a vehicle to sop up flavors of other dishes. In Vietnam, it’s dunked in sweetened coffee and savory rice porridge. At Taiwanese joints, the doughnut accompanies warm soy milk and serves as the centerpiece of the rice-coated fan tuan.
Golden crullers, dipped in soy or served with rice porridge, are more than breakfast — they’re a symbol of resilience
As simple as the Chinese doughnut is, it requires skill to make it correctly. A high-quality you tiao should be crispy on the outside, with light and airy pockets inside. Timing is everything. Underproof the dough and there’s no fluff to the bread; if the oil isn’t hot enough, you get overly greasy crullers.
I grew up with the good fortune of having parents who are experts at making Chinese doughnuts and had the chance to eat hundreds of freshly fried sticks throughout my lifetime. As I explored 20 restaurants around Los Angeles County, I found that not all you tiao are alike — and some are much better than others.
I whittled my favorites to 10, with the focus of this list to be a starting point for others to enjoy different ways of consuming these doughnuts. Many of the best ones happen to be in the San Gabriel Valley and enjoyed with other dishes. It’s time to get your carbs on.
Pine & Crane
The wait is over. Ku opened a second Pine & Crane in downtown L.A. in June. It’s an airy, modern-industrial addition to her family of Taiwanese restaurants (the first is in Silver Lake, and she has a sister restaurant, Joy on York, in Highland Park), with an expansive patio surrounded by trees. It’s also her only location that offers breakfast, from 8 to 11 a.m.
One of the best grab-and-go dishes is Ku’s fan tuan. A roll of sticky rice (swap in the purple variety for an extra buck) wraps around a still-crunchy cruller that’s bundled with pork floss, soy-braised egg and preserved vegetables.
You tiao also steals the show in Pine & Crane’s savory soy milk. Slices of the crispy doughnut are showered over a bowl of soy milk punctuated by pork floss, preserved vegetables, vinegar and chile oil.
Here, the Chinese doughnut is served simply with a side of sweetened condensed milk. Instead of being a forearm’s length like its counterparts, Siam Sunset’s version is 2-inch pillows. Think of it as an appetizer to some of the restaurant’s other robust morning offerings, such as a variety of rice porridges and pork blood soup.
The crullers are made fresh daily, and although breakfast is served all day, you might want to get there early enough before the doughnuts sell out.
A riff on Chinese stir-fried clams, Tjahyadi’s iteration swims in a buttery black pepper sauce with scallions and Thai basil, lit up by Fresno chiles. Its accompanying Chinese doughnut is meant to be dipped into the umami-laden broth. Think of it as the scarpetta of Southeast Asian food.
Kim Kee Noodle Cafe
It’s hard to make a choice with Kim Kee’s noodles because there are so many options, many with subtle variants. Choose rice or egg noodles to go in the restaurant’s flavorful broths simmering with a variety of meatballs (from beef to fish), shrimp and shredded chicken. Order a side of you tiao — even if you don’t see it on the menu — and trust that they have it. It comes out presliced, crispy and hot, perfect for dipping into the broth.
Part of the charm of Kim Kee is how busy this place gets, especially in the mornings when customers begin trickling in at 7 a.m. You won’t feel out of place dining solo because: Are you really alone if you’re eating over a placemat emblazoned with a picture of attorney James Wang?
Delicious Food Corner
For the you tiao aficionado, this place delivers: The doughnuts come out light, airy and crispy. Pair them with Hong Kong-style milk tea (black tea with sweetened condensed milk) or the cafe’s myriad congee rice porridges. The cafe also is known for its steamed flour rolls wrapped around still-crispy crullers and covered in a creamy sesame-and-soy sauce.
The Chinese doughnut is one of them: Crispy, light and chewy, it’s best dunked into a cup of Vietnamese coffee and a massive bowl of bún riêu. The cruller soaks in much of the flavorful, tomato-based noodle soup that’s fortified with ground shrimp and egg. The restaurant’s rice porridges, from chicken to blood pudding, automatically come with a cruller.
99 Ranch (San Gabriel)
The Asian Gourmet Kitchen food stall is tucked in a corner of the San Gabriel market. It’s where you can find roast duck hanging behind a glass case, as well as pork buns and Taiwanese bento boxes. At the counter is a stack of Chinese doughnuts that are lightly golden and kept warm inside a case.
Lunasia Dim Sum House
One of Lunasia’s star items is its rice noodle rolls stuffed with crisp Chinese doughnuts and shrimp paste, served alongside a sweet soy sauce.
It’s also the only time (from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) you can get chef-owner Tin Vuong’s comforting bowls of cháo, Vietnamese rice porridge, which come with a flaky Chinese cruller. Here, you can dip the doughnuts into cháo options like poached chicken with mushroom and chive covered in cilantro and fried shallots. Save a little doughnut for dunking into the restaurant’s Vietnamese coffee.
Huge Tree Pastry
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