Finding Luyixian on a first visit can be too precise a task to rely on GPS. Look for the restaurant’s entrance in the far corner of a small parking lot behind a sprawling building in Alhambra at the intersection of South Garfield Avenue and Valley Boulevard. Signs in the lot warn the parking is only for 30 minutes. I have pushed my luck with meals at least twice as long with no repercussions so far.
Walk into the tiny space and owner Chun Hua Tao will wave you toward a table; there’s also a spillover space through a nondescript door for when the main dining room is full, which has increasingly become the case since she and her chef husband, Yao Ye, opened the restaurant in August. The reason: His excellent home-style cooking strikes universal chords of warmth and goodness.
Flip through the menu booklet and the dishes leap through regions: Sichuan-style cold meats and boiled fish in scarlet broth; spicy beef noodle soup reminiscent of the version beloved in Taiwan; vegetables like garlic water spinach tinged with fermented tofu that remind a Cantonese friend of home; and ubiquitous renditions of dumplings and fried rice.
From East Coast-style delis to Israeli-inspired sabich, L.A.’s rising sandwich scene reflects global influences and makes good use of seasonal produce.
Tao and Ye both grew up in Zhejiang province, a coastal stretch in east China south of Shanghai. The couple operated restaurants in the area for more than 20 years, and regional signatures braid through the menu. Stir-fried rice cakes with greens and squiggly bits of pork deliver satisfying chewy-crispness. “House Special Ever-Fresh Soup” is an English rephrasing of yan du xian, a generous mix of salt pork, uncured pork belly, bamboo shoots and ribbons of tofu skin tied into slipknots; they arrive boiling in a cloudy broth churning like stormy skies. Ye’s version competes with comparable variations at Jiang Nan Spring and WangJia, two nearby standout Shanghainese restaurants.
To best understand the couple’s culinary approach, it helps to break down the name of the restaurant. In both Mandarin and Cantonese, “lu” is the phonetic word for braising, broadly referring to the technique of simmering foods in highly seasoned, soy-based liquid. Food writer pal Lee F. Man kindly translated the rest of the name for me from written Chinese: “The middle character, ‘yi,’ means ‘100 million.’ The last character is ‘xin,’ which is ‘cuisine’ or ‘food.’ So it comes together as a restaurant serving a wide variety of lu dishes.”
It makes sense, then, why “braised” appears more on the pages of English descriptions than any other word. Ye says that even with the regional overlap, his flavor profiles hark back to his Zhejiang roots. Customers gravitate to the specialties innately: Most every group in the restaurant shares at least one plate of braised meat over rice.
The fundamental version — #44 — is a soothing collage presented on an oblong platter. A mound of white rice, presauced with a spoonful or two of braising gravy, sidles up to a heap of browned, glazed pork belly chopped into bite-size squares. Condiments flank them: a small pile of snipped and pickled long beans, some plain braised cabbage, a spoonful of minced red chile and a soy-braised egg cleaved in half.
Two brothers create a totally unique Syrian-Circassian culinary experience at Nawal, their weekend backyard pop-up
Tao encourages you to stir all the elements together. I always want to start by tasting the pork on its own. Its striations of meat and fat remain momentarily distinct on the tongue but meld instantly into a soft, pleasing uniformity. The flavors sway between sweet and salty, like two weight scales balancing into equilibrium. Ye is an obvious master of the medium. Then I mingle everything, so the pickles and chiles can cast their light spells and the rice coalesces all the tastes and textures.
“Lu rou fan?” I asked Ye the first time he brought the plate to the table. He smiled and nodded. The phrase is most closely associated with the dish of braised minced or ground pork served over rice that is a comfort-food staple in Taiwan. Vivian Ku’s wonderful lu rou fan at her two restaurants, Pine & Crane and Joy, is but one expression among the range of Taiwanese restaurants across Los Angeles. Tao and Ye readily acknowledge its popularity; theirs is a variation built on a family recipe for braised pork.
Ye also composes other variations of the rice plate, swapping in different cuts of pork, beef and chicken. I tend to stick with the pig — there’s one using braised boneless “pork elbow” (which is to say, shank) that includes velvety slices of meat and thin, delicious slivers of skin.
Many customers fog their glasses while hovering over bowls of beef noodle soup, the broth of which seems to vary a little each time I order it. A heady hit of ginger or star anise may come through faintly or more pronounced; the weight of the stock can be lighter or richer. It’s always pleasant. I ask for the soup spicy so it tingles with a subtle voltage of Sichuan peppercorns.
Though it’s listed among the cold Sichuan meats, the mellow, soy-deep savor of the braised duck served chilled arguably hews more to Zhejiang province, where the dish is also traditional. The same can be said of the lightly sweet smoked fish rife with crisp edges. If you’re after truer Sichuan nuance and heat, ask for the chile-slicked “couple’s sliced beef” — a classic of the genre often made with lung at the source and in the U.S. with tripe and brisket, which is the case here — and the boiled fish filet in red oil that can really burn if you stir in a side of chopped red chiles.
To round out the meal, consider a cucumber salad, juicy and garlicky, and the excellent water spinach with the fermented tofu that adds nothing more than a ripple of umami. If you’re skipping beef noodle soup and yan du xian, order the shepherd’s purse wontons filled with pork and greens that drift silkily in clear broth.
Fried rice? Kung pao chicken? Dan dan noodles? Those options don’t really show off the kitchen’s strengths. Come for the braised pork over rice. And show up day or night. For their first restaurant in the United States, Tao and Ye are logging some serious hours. Luyixian is open from 11 a.m. to midnight daily. I worry about burnout for them, but I’m also grateful to have a stellar new late-night dining option — when, even in the wee hours, Tao once again encourages me to combine the ingredients and appreciate their harmonies.
2 E. Valley Blvd., Suite #1E, Alhambra, (626) 766-1568, luyixianalhambra.com
Prices: Appetizers and dumplings $6.99-$12.99, braised meat and rice dishes $14.99-$15.99, other entrees $14.99-$22.99
Details: Open daily 11 a.m. to midnight. No alcohol. Lot and street parking.
Recommended dishes: Braised pork with rice (with or without chopped chiles), spicy beef noodle soup, garlicky water spinach, shepherd’s purse dumplings
It's a date
Get our L.A. Goes Out newsletter, with the week's best events, to help you explore and experience our city.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.