Showing posts with label SGV. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SGV. Show all posts

Eat Drink Style Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park - Thai Soup Noodles in SGV

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park

Little China, or as most people know it, San Gabriel Valley, welcomes a new restaurant to an otherwise homogenous land of Chinese restaurants ranging from Hong Kong/Cantonese, the mainland including Yunnan, Hunan, Sichuan and Chiu Chow. Instead of being greeted by someone saying "ni hao" or "how meh-nee peepo!" on an old Aiwa stereo-turned-PA-system, you'll hear "so waat dii", which is Thai for "hello". Thai restaurants are not a new thing in San Gabriel Valley but from many experiences, most seem to offer the usual suspects during lunch special and sport purple tablecloths and Buddha paintings. Over the last two decades, Thai has become the new "Chinese" and offer the same old pad thai, tom yum soup and papaya salad – not many of them feature soup noodles. Although this place is nearly hidden in an ugly grey shopping center, this place actually sticks out like a sore thumb.

You may know of Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, formerly as Ord on Hollywood Blvd. It was at Ord that Lawan Bhanduram established her noodle empire and then branched off to Panorama City to launch Ord 2. She sold Ord on Hollywood to a nice, hardworking family led by Bell Morawong. The food didn't taste exactly the same but it was still a favorite amongst noodle whores of all shapes and sizes. But much to their surprise, Bhanduram made an unexpected return to Thai Town a few months later. As much as I love Bhanduram's Pa Ord, it was a bit too close to the original Ord if you ask me. Now Morawong has expanded her business down into a new territory and I'm hoping they get some decent attention for some otherwise "different" soup noodles in Little China.

If you've been to Dean Sin World, which I believe just changed its name to something else weird, for their dumplings, then you've seen this ugly shopping center. For years I've wondered when exactly tumbleweeds would roll through there. But with the addition of Dean Sin World and Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, this shopping center seems to be slowly regaining a pulse. Since they've only been opened for 2 weeks, they don't have a sign, so look for the homemade sign with Thai writing on it. It looks squigglier than Chinese and drawn with Crayola markers.

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park

I took a seat and one look at the interior, knew that this was a Chinese restaurant in the previous life. Well I got a hint, the booth seats actually had Chinese embroidery. My dad, Noodle Whore Senior, told me about this place and we weren't sure if this was in fact Morawong's new project or a newcomer also offering the favored Hoy Kha Tom Yum soup noodles. I recognized the condiments and containers used here... especially the tin box containing the chopsticks and metal spoon and knew this was place was opened up by one of the Ord owners. Hoy kha means 'dangling feet noodles'. Don't worry, the cooks weren't soaking their feet in your broth, it's a reference to the bench seating at this particular noodle shop along the rivers in Thailand. The seating along the edges of this outdoor restaurant don't have any flooring so you have to sit on the floor and drop your legs through, and eat off the table that's built into the side railing. Next time you're at Hoy Kha Thai Noodles in Hollywood, look at the photos of the dangling feet and you'll understand.

With the Thai soup noodle places, it's important to know that you can choose between many types of noodles, five to be exact. You can also order this sans soup. In Chinese/Chiu Chow places, you'll also have the option of wide, egg noodles. Like Italian pasta, some shapes hold better than others.

(A) Big, flat rice noodles
(B) Rice noodles used in pho or pad thai
(C) Thin, egg noodles
(D) Vermicelli (common in the pink-colored Yen Ta Fo)
(E) Glass noodles (bean threads)
(F) Square rice noodles/rolled cylinders (used only for Kuay Jup soup noodles)

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park

Hoy Kha Tom Yum Noodles
I tried the namesake noodle dish first. This is based off a Chinese/Chiu Chow soup noodle dish which is basically a soupy version of chop suey and noodles. Like most peasant food and for people on the go, this was a mix of either leftovers or unwanted animal parts plus your choice of noodles. In this Thai version, you have Chinese BBQ pork (cha shu), ground chicken, pork balls, pork liver, fishcake and dried shrimp. The soup tasted exactly as I remembered from the first location. The soup is light, slightly sweet and just tart enough. It was good. But my only problem with this dish and most of the places that offer the mini/large bowl soup noodles is that they throw in too many raw ingredients like bean sprouts and lettuce, which bring down the soup temperature. Booooooo. So try asking for steamed bean sprouts as some people do with Vietnamese pho.

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park

Kuay Tiao Luh Thai Boat Noodles
I fell in love with Thai Boat noodles at a place you wouldn't expect. It was sometime in the early 90s, when Noodle Planet/World was the "hot spot" for SGV denizens. A brilliant idea run by a young man of Thai and Caucasian decent, this was a place where you could order soup noodles from "around the globe". And they happened to offer Thai Boat Noodles. One look at my dad, who was sweating bullets while finishing the last spoonful of soup, I could tell this was a good bowl of soup noodles. But like Chinese beef noodle soup, there are so many interpretations. People love Sapp Coffee Shop, which we used to frequent back in the 90s, for their daring, more vulgar broth that gave off salty, bloody, spiceful and sour tones. My recent favorite is Pa Ord's, which has a nice thickness to the soup that isn't as rich as Sapp's, yet has a balance that I prefer. But here at Hoy Kha's, it's a good thing they didn't name the place after this dish because it's definitely not the main event. The soup had the five-spice action, but there was no punch. I added vinegar from the green chili relish to make it work.

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park

Another thing was there was only braised beef shank, which tastes good, but I was really craving some pork blood cubes and rare beef. I was hoping for more out of this but I'll definitely try it again next time I come. Why not, it's only $3.50.

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park

Crispy Pork & Holy Basil Rice with Fried Egg
Yes, I know, I always order this with my diminutive noodle bowls, but this dish is for me a way to gauge a Thai restaurant. A pho restaurant that can't do a decent bowl of pho... a taco truck that can't do a carne asada taco right? I never eat pad thai, even if it's offered in gigantic dumpster trays at office meetings... I just have no interest. But this dish, this is what you'll most likely see the employees of a Thai restaurant eating on their lunch break. Crispy pork that is wok-fried again before service, crunchy long beans, basil and a sloppy fried egg. Man.

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park


Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park

Look at that. Magic happens once you crack that egg. Make sure you ask for it over-easy, runny yolk. It's as beautiful as cracking a beautifully poached egg into your bowl of tonkotsu ramen. Pa Ord's is still my favorite, but I have to say that this tasted better than the original location.

For those that can't venture into Thai Town for Pa Ord or Ord, this serves as a great option for your Thai soup noodle needs. Also, it's a nice break from Little China. I recommend the Hoy Kha soup noodles with mild spice and Crispy pork rice with basil (not Chinese broccoli) and runny over-easy egg. The Thai sausages from what I remember are a good appetizer as well. Thanks for reading.

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles
230 N. Garfield Avenue
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 927-9629
Everyday 10 am - 9 pm

Eat Drink Style Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra - The Chongqing Sichuan Sauce Lady

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

I saw this place a while back and was immediately attracted to the word "noodle town". I don't know why, but I have an affinity towards establishments that incorporate "town", "village", "city" and even catchy names like Pizza Pit, Burger Barn and especially, my dream restaurant... Taco Town. "Pizza, now that's what I call a Taco," says Adam Samberg.

So with "Noodle Town" in the name I had a feeling it would be worth checking out. This restaurant was previously Dai Ho, not to be confused with the Taiwanese Noodle Nazi in Temple City, and it served some really solid beef noodle soup before it closed down. Bad location/feng shui obscurity due to too much focus on an unknown Chinese cuisine... who knows. Contrary to the name, this place is literally a shack. I was greeted by a very sweet woman. Mrs. Ho is the chef and it seemed as though she was the only person working in the whole restaurant that seats no more than 20 people. Small restaurant, glass display case filled with Chinese deli snacks, pictures of their food adorning the wall and a one-person operation - this is my kind of restaurant.

I've never been to the Sichuan province but for any one into Chinese cuisine, know that they along with the Hunan and Yunnan provinces are notorious for using copious amounts of chili and red peppercorns in their dishes - like they were trying to rid the world of it. The red peppercorns, also known in powder form as prickly ash powder, when cooked with chilis and garlic, produce a numbing taste (ma la) that is delicious with virtually all meats and fish. It was so aromatic that it was said to have drug-like effects. I have a harder time eating spicy Thai and Korean food, but for some reason, I can handle Sichuan food just fine. I love this food and if you haven't tried it, now is a good time to try all the Sichuan, Hunan and Yunnan restaurants popping up all over the San Gabriel Valley. I don't even call that area SGV anymore, to me it's simply China.

Mrs. Ho comes from the city of Chongqing, which according to Wikipedia, has separated from the province of Sichuan. It is now a municipality under Beijing and roughly the size of Austria with 30 million people. Chongqing is also written as "Chung King" for Westernization and you may know of the dearly loved Chung King Szechuan restaurant in San Gabriel Valley. I also learned that Chinese hot pot is originally from the city of Chongqing. But with the influx of Mainlander immigrants to Los Angeles, there's so much to choose from now. As neighbors, it is obvious that there will be major similarities in both Chongqing and Sichuan cuisine. But with all that red peppercorn usage, I have a hard time identifying the provenance of their dishes. Here's what I had - I asked for smaller portions so I could try more food.

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

Sichuan Goulash Soup Noodles (Sichuan Hong Sao Niu Rou Mian)
Goulash? That is the first time I've ever seen the word "goulash" used in describing Chinese food. But then again, I'm also puzzled by the people that do or don't do the proofreading for many of the restaurants menus in SGV. It's often hilarious and basically "engrish". In SGV, there is beef noodle soup everywhere and I've given up trying to find the perfect beef noodle soup outside of Taiwan or China. I just make it at home instead. At a Mexican restaurant that serves tacos, you can gauge the quality and experience of the chef by the popular items, like carne asada. I sometimes apply the same test on the beef noodle soup, which is one of the most common, peasant foods of China. Because of that, some restaurants just put little effort into it and make it to have it on the menu but others really take pride in their champion bowl. And I wasn't disappointed by Chef Ho's bowl at all - I really enjoyed it. Since it is Sichuan-style, there was a heavy aroma of red peppercorns. Contrary to Taiwan, the Sichuanese do not use as much of the hot chili bean paste, tomatoes or sometimes papaya to form the soup base. The soup was slightly salty but I fixed that simply by adding some hot water. I'm not like a lot of people that will run around kicking and screaming because something isn't done right so just try adding water. The chef asked me if it was too salty and I told her the truth. Also, if you like cloves, there's a heavy dosage of it in here and I found it be very aromatic. The addition of roasted peanuts and bamboo shoots maybe unfamiliar to most but it didn't bother me at all. I'd eat this again because the aroma and taste is there.

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

Steam Pork Belly with Ground Sticky Rice
I asked Mrs. Ho for some recommendations and she showed me a lot of dishes I wasn't familiar with. And I knew that the beef noodle soup probably wasn't her bread and butter. She pointed me in the direction of this dish which is basically pork belly slices sauteed with a very heavy meat/rice sauce. This was definitely heavy and more than I expected but I thought it tasted pretty good with the peppercorn chili sauce. I would share this if you're a fan of pork belly.

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

Pork Stomach & Beef Shank Chili Oil Mix
Another thing to look for in Sichuan, Hunan and Yunnan restaurants is their cold deli dishes. A true chef has to make those dishes good because like Korean food, you eat your main courses with small side dishes. I loved this. Great texture, tasty meat and a great chili oil sauce.

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

Chongqing Spicy and Sour Stick (Chuan Bei Liang Fen)
The Koreans have their cold noodles (naeng myun), the Mainland Chinese have their own cold noodle dish for hot summers. "Liang fen" literally means "cold powder" and it's made with a starch jelly much like the Korean acorn jelly used for mook. This is served cold with a standard chili sauce. But I have to say, Mrs. Ho sauce on here is awesome. This dish is flavorful, spicy and fun to eat.

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

Hot Sauce Cross Bridge Wontons (Hong You Guo Chiao Chao Shou)
You may be familiar with the Shanghai-style chili oil wontons in which wontons are boiled and served with chili oil sauce. But this goes backwards. Chef Ho says that the Chongqing/Sichuan style entails serving the wontons in soup with the chili oil sauce on the side. She explains that you dip the wontons in the sauce rather than adding sauce on top. But I threw in sauce into the bowl for purposes of shooting the food. This was delicious, and by far, my favorite dish here. She offers the ubiquitous soupy pork dumplings (xiao long bao), but I think this is probably her most popular. The filling consists of ground pork, dried shrimp, scallops, chives and grated ginger. In addition the sauce is awesome too... chili oil, sesame paste, chicken bouillon powder and soy sauce. Add some vinegar in here or in the soup to take this dish to another level. She also sells frozen wontons at 50 for $12. I'm going to get some next time for sure. Facking derishus.

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

Chuan Yu Noodle Town, Alhambra

I was amazed that she did all this cooking on her own. I have to say she is definitely a sauce master and a very warm person. You would be too if this is what you started doing when you were 16, the age she started cooking. I asked her to show me her chili sauce and she brought the bowl up to me. My god. There were so many things going on. Chili, sesame oil, peppercorns, salt, soy sauce, pickled vegetables, dried shrimp to name a few. And here's the best thing, you can buy this sauce to go for only $5 for a plastic container. I'll be using that for my beef noodle soup and will report back with it soon. There are at least 8 other things that seem like they are worth trying and I can't wait to come back for more.

Aside from the aforementioned, I would recommend the following:
- #7 Steamed Juicy Dumplings (xiao long bao)
- #19 Sliced Boiled Pork Belly with Tasty Garlic Sauce
- #20 Sliced Tender Beef in Chili Oil Sauce
- #25 Twice Cooked Pork (Basically it's fried slices of smoked? pork belly)
- #26 Stew Beef in Sichhuan Garlic & Chili Sauce (MUST)
- #27 Fish & Jellied Tofu in Sichuan Garlic & Chili Sauce (Sounds good)

Thanks for reading.

Chuan Yu Noodle Town
525 W. Valley Blvd. #B
Alhambra, CA 91803
(626) 289-8966

Eat Drink Style 1st Choice Noodle House, Alhambra - Heavy Noodling Chiu Chow Style

1st Choice Noodle House, Alhambra - Mi Sate Egg Noodles

It's rare that I'll find myself craving something a bit on the heavier side. One of my pet peeves is the doze that seems to happen after lunch around 2 pm. Thank god I haven't had the pleasure of crashing my dome into my monitor. But occasionally during cold weather, I'll enjoy something a bit more comforting and rich. If you're into Korean-style Chinese black bean noodles jja jyang myeon ( 자장면 / 炸酱面 ) or Burmese-influenced Northern Thai curry noodles called khao soi (ข้าวซอย), this featured noodle dish may be your next new thing. This is a Chiu Chow-Chinese noodle dish called satay egg noodles. Can you tell I love copying and pasting Asian language characters from Wikipedia?

For the 100th time, a brief background on Chiu Chow Chinese ( 潮州; mandarin: Chao Zhou; vietnamese: Trieu Chau; thai: Teo Chew). Jeni loves to clown on me when I talk about this particular cuisine, which originates in Southeastern China near Fujian and just west of the island of Taiwan. Historically, they are some of the smartest, fastest-moving, hardest-working merchants and sojourners of China. Their footprints can be tracked in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and even the Philippines. In short, they are everywhere, and so is their food. How do you identify Chiu Chow food? Have you ever had wonton soup? Have you ever eaten flat rice or egg noodles in your soup? Have you had beef, chicken, pork or fish balls? Oyster omelettes prevalent in Taiwan? Satay BBQ dipping sauce for Chinese hot pot? Pork and duck egg congee? Those are a few of the notable dishes in Chiu Chow cuisine. When you walk into a restaurant that offers 3-4 different languages on the menu, you're in a Chiu Chow establishment. It will usually be Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian. Sometimes Thai. Also, when you hear of say a person that is Chinese-Vietnamese, it is very likely that they are Chiu Chow-Chinese born in Vietnam. In Chinese, we refer to that as 越 南 華 僑 (yue nan hua qiao) which literally means "overseas Chinese person in Vietnam".

One of the things highly prevalent in Indonesian cuisine are peanut-based sauces – satay being one of them. According to Wikipedia, peanuts were brought over to Indonesia by the Spanish and Portuguese. Satay is made of peanuts, dried shrimp, fried shallots, lemongrass and turmeric - with dozens of variations in other countries. There are nearly 7.8 million "overseas Chinese" in Indonesia. And it is very likely that this dish satay egg noodle dish is inspired by Indonesian cooking.

I first came here as I fell for the bait on the outside banner advertising various noodles. Originally looking for wontons, I found the menu to be a bit overwhelming - like looking at an Asian version of Jerry's Deli menus. Instead I cut to the chase and asked the server what I should eat. Without hesitating, she took the menu and said "satay noodles". Is it better with egg or rice noodles? She insisted on the medium-cut rice noodles, linguini width, as it "holds" the sauce better.

1st Choice Noodle House, Alhambra - Mi Sate Egg Noodles

Within a few minutes I was brought the noodles and it smelled damn good. I was liking the colors, the tomatoes, beef and the golden satay sauce. It looked completely heavy but took the plunge regardless. The best way to describe this sauce is: uniquely delicious. There are hints of dried shrimp, garlic and shallots, lemongrass and a bit of fish sauce. In addition to the pieces of cooked beef, cucumbers and tomatoes, fried shallots are added for a nice texture.

1st Choice Noodle House, Alhambra - Mi Sate Egg Noodles

I'm glad I went with the rice noodles as they held the sauce nicely and provided a nice slippery texture. Thin egg noodles would be too thin for the thick sauce and appear like goop. About half way into this bowl, I was full. Like muffin-top full. I fished out the last pieces of rice noodles and just thought about how I was going to handle the rest of the sauce. I came back another 3 times and each time I told them to give me less satay sauce. I love these noodles but sometimes find myself adding a little lime and fish sauce to kick it up. I'd also recommend asking for 1/2 the amount of sauce. I've eaten over a dozen versions of this popular Chiu Chow dish and I find the one at 1st Choice Noodle House to be in my top 3. If you're willing to handle a heavy load, that monitor-bashing, food coma you get may just be worth it. For the ladies, a bowl can be shared amongst two people. I recommend sticking with this dish and not the pho or wontons. Thanks for reading.

1st Choice Noodle House
1124 W. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91803
(626) 457-1888

Eat Drink Style Pho Le Loi, San Gabriel - Hot Fish on the Platter (Dill & Turmeric Fish Noodles)

Pho Le Loi San Gabriel

Pho restaurants in San Gabriel Valley have proliferated over the last two decades – many of the restaurateurs moving out to the area because of heavy competition in the primordial roots of Little Saigon in Westminster. We all have our favorites in SGV and Little Saigon, and find it difficult to digress from the familiar places like Golden Deli, Vietnam House, Saigon Flavor, Pho 54 and Pho 79. Driving by a place like the one pictured above makes it hard to park and try it out. It's easy to overlook this as another pho restaurant because of its name. But it wasn't until I noticed the smaller words under 'Pho Le Loi' and a mentioning from a Chicago/LA foodie by the name of ErikM that I decided to try it. And I couldn't be more glad that I stopped by.

What is cha ca thang long? It's a delicious fish dish cooked with dill and turmeric, originating from Hanoi, Vietnam. It's served on a sizzling platter with a haystack of white onions and dill with fixings including rice noodles, herbs, vegetables and dipping sauce. At Hanoi's famous restaurant, Cha Ca La Vong, the fish is parcooked inside the kitchen and finished off at the table to really whet the appetite of the patrons. The sound of the sizzling fish, intense heaps of aromatic dill and smell of white onions really sets the stage for a good meal. I first had a variation of this dish at Viet Soy Cafe in Silver Lake and enjoyed it enough to make it at home.

I walked in with Jeni and her brother and were greeted by a happy young man and his mother wearing an apron. One quick look at the menu, and we knew what we already wanted to try. Their eyes lit up when I told them that they offered cha ca thang long, a dish they had eaten in Vietnam last year. Besides the sizzling platter version of the dill & turmeric fish dish, you can also order it in a fish paste form, which I also love.

Pho Le Loi Bun Ca Thi La1

Bun Ca Thi La - Dill & Turmeric Fish Soup Noodles
Expecting something similar that I ate at Viet Soy Cafe, I actually got happy because it resembled, or actually is, bun rieu. Bun rieu is a tomato-based soup with crab and vermicelli noodles that comes with your choice of either the dill & turmeric fish paste or periwinkle sea snails (oc) – these two being the most popular. I ate this at Vien Dong in Little Saigon and it was simply awesome. Anyway, great aroma to this dish due to the perfect amount of tomatoes and dill used. The crab was moist and carried the tomato-flavor like a sponge. I saved the best part (fish paste) for last. Pho Le Loi's version, as you can see, is heavily specked with black pepper and tastes different than Vien Dong's – nonetheless very good. Maggi, the chef/owner, said they use rockfish to make their fish paste. I love this dish because it really entices the palate, like bun bo hue, which is another favorite of mine.

Pho Le Loi Bun Ca Thi La2

Bac Ha - A Tuber Native to Southeast Asia
This is the first time I've eaten this type of tuber. Wikipedia states that is somewhat like a taro root, but this is more or less the stem of the plant. This is used a lot in Vietnamese and Cambodian cooking because it is porous and really retains the flavor of soup like a sponge. It looked somewhat like a celery but reminded me of a type of Chinese bamboo shoot used in Mongolian-style hot pot. Expecting it to be soggy, I was surprised by how crisp and textured it was. One bite into this and the faucets of soup were turned on. Loved it. Reminded me a lot of Chinese soupy dumplings (xiao long bao).

Pho Le Loi Cha Ca Thang Long1

Cha Ca Thang Long - Dill & Turmeric Fish on Sizzling Platter
You can be in a loud HK-style cafe in SGV yapping away with your drunk friends, eating beef chow mein or wonton soup noodles and suddenly hear a sound like ttttttttttttttttthiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiisssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. It can only mean the beautiful sound of something delicious sizzling in a black iron platter. I was busy getting a facial in my bowl of soup noodles and heard that wonderful sound. All 3 of us looked back and saw the happy young man walking towards us with the prized dish in his hand – the dish sizzling with so many onions that the steam nearly blocked out his face. Awesome. He set the platter down and we admired this haystack of goodness. As you can see, the fish is almost nowhere to be seen, like a Navy Seal in the jungles of Laos. Look at all those onions and dill. The onions, as with Korean BBQ restaurants, act as padding for the fish as well as last minute flavor boosters. The parade didn't stop as the server came back another two times to bring us noodles, vegetables, two types of sauce (one made with finely ground shrimp sauce and the ubiquitous nuc mam), peanuts and black sesame rice crackers. All of this for $13.99 – enough to feed two needy people. Vien Dong in Little Saigon also serves this dish – again, a very friendly and solid restaurant in OC.

Pho Le Loi Cha Ca Thang Long2

DIY Vietnamese Food
What I love about Vietnamese food is that you aren't limited to eating styles. If you like to 'interact' with your food and be your own chef, this will make you happy. With the fish sizzling on the platter, you can decide between lettuce for a wrap or you can do it like this. Grab some bun rice noodles, fish, onions, dill and your choice of sauce and stir it up. The fish had nice texture but tasted slightly overcooked – but that's our fault. We didn't eat it right away because we were still finishing the aforementioned dish. My tip for you: eat this RIGHT AWAY so that you get the fish at its best. Nonetheless, this was really tasty and fun to eat. I ate all the onions on the platter!

Pho Le Loi Sesame Crackers

I have never felt this full in a Vietnamese restaurant. I usually get full really quickly, but that's because I'm guzzling all the soup. This is filling meal that I'll continue to have. The service is good and the people here wear smiles. Besides these two dishes, they offer the standard Vietnamese fare like egg rolls, pork chop and noodles. They however, do not offer beef pho – only chicken pho (pho ga). However, these are just extras walking around in the back of a movie – the real stars are anything made with dill & turmeric. And to top off everything, for the first time in a long time, I was not thirsty after eating Vietnamese food – especially after pho. Cheers to Pho Le Loi for not dumping MSG all over the place.

If you have any more suggestions for cha ca thang long, would love to hear about it. I've heard about Hanoi Restaurant in Little Saigon and have added that to my long list of Little Saigon places to eat at. Thanks for reading.

Pho Le Loi
107 E. Valley Blvd. (Just east of Del Mar Avenue)
San Gabriel, CA 91776

Eat Drink Style 101 Noodle Express, San Gabriel - Freshly-Made Beef Scallion Pancakes

101 Noodle Express San Gabriel

Driving around on San Gabriel Valley's, Valley Blvd. can be a dangerous thing. It's basically an obstacle course for Traffic School students... 24/7. Almost every time I drive on this street, my blood begins to boil because I am always behind a 30-mph herd of people that are doing anything but focusing on the road. Some people are busy yapping away on their cell phone, some are just blinded by their own facial sun visors that remind me of a welding mask (are you going to drive or are you going to solder me a new metal table in your car? make up your mind!) and most of the time, people are just too freaking old to be on the road. Like Koreatown, SGV's streets are surrounded by strip malls and shopping centers. If you don't know you're way around here and are trying to find your address, you can easily get into a car accident by not paying attention to the road. I've been close to rear-ending people in Koreatown because it is strip-mall overload – laden with signs that bear virtually no English. In SGV, there's one strip mall that I drive by all the time, always with a line of people strung along the parking lot. And if it wasn't for Jonathan Gold's review, I would simply drive by as usual... not knowing that this Shan Dong-style restaurant called 101 Noodle Express makes a truly delicious beef scallion pancake.

101 Noodle Express Inside

With a name like 101 Noodle Express, I am immediately discouraged. When I pass places like Pizza Pit, Burger Barn and Taco Town... I can't help but yawn. Even Panda Express is more interesting than 101 Noodle Express because pandas are just more interesting than pits, barns and taco-laden towns. Once I walked in to this aromatic and crowded restaurant, I had a feeling that the name did no justice for this place. While standing around for the next available seating, I looked around to see what people were ordering. Okay, I see beef scallion pancake... over here, there, there, there, back there, a few crumbs on that old lady's mouth, right here, one piece dropped on the floor, there... I think the jury has reached a unanimous decision.

101 Noodle Express Beef Pancake
Beef Scallion Pancake ( 牛 肉 捲 餅 )
I have no idea why I have the habit of rubbing my hands together whenever I see the waitress come out with my dish. It's automatic. The waitress laid the pancakes down and I did a double-take on the size of these mothers. My god, they were super-sized. Thinly-rolled and wrapped around beef that I could tell was super moist, and a generous serving of chopped scallions and cilantro. Awesome. Before I even drilled my teeth down to the center of the pancake, I felt the thin crackling of the toasted pancake. The beef was super tender and seasoned well with a sweet, home-made bean sauce. The balance was perfect in every bite. I recommend adding some of the chili sauce on top for a nice kick in the ass. 2 big 'fajitas' for $6.75. I like these much better than Mandarin Noodle Deli's version. The beef is not as tender there.

101 Noodle Express Beef Pancake Nachos

Stir-Fried Scallion Pancakes ( 家 常 炒 餅 )
Don't be frightened, it's not Applebee's strange new appetizer. This is the wilder cousin of the aforementioned dish. The ladies next to me were kind of enough to let me take a photo of their dish. The scallion pancakes are chopped into triangles and stir fried with bean sprouts, scallions and probably a little bit of salt and sesame oil. Jonathan Gold says it best... they're kinda like a wild version of Chinese nachos.

101 Noodle Express Dumplings1

Shrimp Pork Dumplings ( 蝦 豬 肉 水 餃 )
A lot of people ordered these as well. 101 offers a nice variety of dumplings, more than Dumpling 10053 in El Monte does – 19 kinds! The most interesting ones are lamb dumplings, pumpkin shrimp pork and scallop leek dumplings. I'll have to try next time. The ones pictured above are shrimp pork and filled with a nice amount of stuffing. They don't skimp on the shrimp. The dumplings were juicy but compared to Dumpling 10053, I have to give the gold medal for taste to D10053. The shrimp/leek and 3 flavor (sea cucumber, pork, imi. crab) are done nicely.

101 Noodle Express Dumplings2

101 Noodle Express Relish

Chinese Chili Relish
Seems like there's a bit of Latino influence here at 101 Noodle Express. You've got the beef 'fajita's, the scallion pancake 'nachos' and then there's this 'salsa verde'-like relish you can use on almost any dish. It's made of cilantro, chinese celery, green chilis and boiled onions – it's awesome. I put this in my beef noodle soup, scallion pancake and stuffed it into my dumplings. Sometimes even the smallest, unexpected things at a restaurant are reason enough to bring you back. In this case, I'm all for that chili relish.

Thanks for reading.

101 Noodle Express
1408 E Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 300-8654

Eat Drink Style Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa, Alhambra - Pho Gone Wild


Something happens to TV programming once the clock strikes 12. The programming is either syndicated re-runs of old shows like Married With Children or you get those 1/2 hour infomercials for some exercise machine that you'll probably never use. And advertising has taught me why this happens - money. To run a TV commercial on any of the big networks like NBC, ABC and ABC between the primetime hours of 7pm - 11pm, it'll cost you anywhere from $250,000 to $350,000 and even more during special events like NBA Playoffs. For superbowl, you're talking over $1,000,000 per spot because of the reach. Yes, not many clients can afford this sort of placement. Even if they could, they would probably be too unappropriate. After midnight, the freaks do come out... enter: Girls Gone Wild. If you were blind or half-asleep, you would still be able to tell what kind of product they are selling. Loud rock music, sorority girls screaming, dudes cheering and that ever-so-convincing voiceover guy.

As annoying as the commercials are, I find them hilarious. Imagine. You get married to the woman of your dreams and you have a baby girl. So angelic, so beautiful. She kisses you good night every night and tells you that your her hero. Next thing you know, she's 'developing' in jr. high and no longer hugs you anymore because she has a crush at school. Her nights are spent inside her room on the phone, and no longer in the living room. Then she starts going to dances and before you know it, she's on her way to college. Your sweet little girl is going to become a woman finally. But god forbid that one night, at around 2:43 am, you see your daughter taking a beer bong out of a halved sparkletts water jug on Channel 13 for what seems like a 'documentary' on college life. An office-size jug. God forbid. When we have children one day, we all just have to let go and pray that she stays on the right path.

And its the same way I perceive the Central Vietnamese noodle soup called 'bun bo hue', literally meaning 'noodles + beef + from the Hue region. We all know pho, the celebrated beef noodle soup from Vietnam. Pure in broth, flavor and texture... with simple additions that make this one bowl of heaven. But after one wild weekend in Hue, pho is no longer pho. She's lost a lot of beef and has grown other stuff, like braised beef, pork blood cubes, pork knuckles and pork sausage. Her hair is no longer a light yellow/brown, it's red. And boy has her attitude changed, no longer quiet and subtle with gestures, she's loud and not afraid to bite. Think of it as noodle soup gone wild.

In actuality, this soup has no resemblance to pho. The soup is completely different in taste because the predominant ingredient is lemongrass in a slightly spicy beef broth. Toppings usually consist of pork knuckles and pork blood cubes. For garnishing, bean sprouts, red cabbage, mint and lime are used. I searched the Chowhound boards and learned about a place in Alhambra called Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa, not to be confused with Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa in Rosemead.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Alhambra

Located on the far west side of Valley Blvd, still in the realms of Alhambra, you'll find NNKH situated in a small strip mall. Because of the bamboo trees by the window, it always looks like its closed but you'll be happy to know they close at 10 usually. Not sure about the Sunday hours. 'Nem Nuong' means charboiled pork that has been cured in fish sauce, oil, sugar with garlic, pepper and potato starch to bind the mixture. It is pink in color and looks uncooked but is indeed cooked. There's also another version where the pork is shaped into meatballs and skewered on sugar cane sticks. And this is exactly what NNKH is known for, their 'nem nuong'. More on that later.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Bun Bo Hue

Bun Bo Hue (Lemongrass-Flavored Beef Bone Soup with Noodles)
This comes with one large pork knuckle, pork blood cubes, braised beef shank slices and pork meatloaf (gia lua). If you don't want any of the above, simply let them know. The shank and meatloaf are good. You can buy your own meatloaf for only $2! The noodles are made with rice and as thick as spaghetti noodles (unlike the thin pho rice noodles) but go very well with the soup. The soup is so good that I'll actually doggy-baggy it and eat it the next day. Eat this with the fixings, the red cabbage, bean sprouts, mint and lime really take this dish to another level. If you want to spice this up, I suggest you use the sriracha chili garlic sauce (has seeds in it) versus the traditional non-seed chili sauce used for pho. No hoisin allowed in here!!! $5.25

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Bun Bo Hue Bone

Centerfold of the Pork Knuckle
Usually comes with the skin on, but once you get past that, the meat is very tender.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Pork Blood Cubes

Pork Blood Cubes
Not everyone will like this, but I think it's delicious. I think of it as chocolate and gobble it up.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Bun Bo Hue Fixings

Bun Bo Hue Fixings
Red cabbage, bean sprouts, lime, jalapeno, mint and this one herb I can never identify. Wandering Chopsticks, Master of Vietnamese food, please identify this for me!

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Nem Nuong

Nem Nuong Rolls (3 for $3.75)
You can choose to order these pre-rolled or you can try and have some fun and get your hands dirty. These contain lettuce, a crispy shrimp roll, charbroiled pork and a chive. The sauce used is similar to nuoc cham, but is thicker because it has beaten egg and sometimes honey in it. The rolls are good, but not quite as good as Brodard in Little Saigon, Westminster. If you decide to order the nem nuong party pack, you'll receive a whole plate of various meats including the charbroiled pork, sour pork patties (good!) and crispy shrimp rolls. A bowl of hot water is provided for you to soak rice paper and roll your own joint up.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Nem Nuong Closeup

Centerfold of Nem Nuong Charboiled Pork Rolls
Cha gio egg rolls go well with pho, and these go well with Bun Bo Hue, in my opinion.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Shrimp Roll

Super Perverted Food Porn Close-Up
Notice the crispy egg rolls contain small pieces of shrimp. This is true dedication. It's like rolling a taquito within another taquito without making it big like a burrito.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa Nem Nuong Sauce

Special Nem Nuong Sauce
Wandering Chopsticks was helpful enough to explain the sauce to me. Check out her version of nem nuong on skewers.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa
1700 W Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91804
(626) 943-7645

Eat Drink Style Mien Nghia, Chinatown Los Angeles - Heaven In A Bowl

Mien Nghia Chinatown.jpg

For a while, I lost hope in finding the right Chiu Chow noodle shop in Los Angeles. My dad first introduced to me what is still now, my most favorite noodle shop - Trieu Chau Restaurant in Santa Ana located on Newhope/First St. This place only opens till 5 pm but usually has a line out the door. I don't want to gross anyone out with an experience I had here, but... ah what the hell. The food is so worth it, that I'd still come back. Caveat #1. Trieu Chau Restaurant is so packed that the practice of joining 2 parties into 1 table is all too common. I once got hooked up with a grandpa and grandma. We didn't say a word to each other as we happily slurped our noodles and soup. Until... grandma busts out her NAILCLIPPERS. Ok, I thought, that's fine, she's going to clip her fingernails. Then without notice of me, she props her food onto her chair and starts clipping away.... laying her finely incised TOENAILS onto a napkin which was already sharing real estate with a duck bone she had cleaned out. Even a National Geographic archaeologist would find it hard to carbon-14 that bone b/c it was devoid of any bone marrow. Check please. Caveat #2. I once took my friends here and as we happily slurped our noodles and soup. We all peered at the ceiling at what looked to be a neon orange cylinder with tons of black dots. Hey that's kinda nice, something you know, festive and shiny and bright. One might think it's an air freshener adorned with black crystals. We were far off the target. They were FLIES. But you know what, we could give a sh*t. The food was too good.

Anyway, it's been a good 5 years since I've eaten at TCR. All the places I've tried in Chinatown just didn't cut it. Then came along my friend Jéan Downs who emerged out of nowhere as a foodie with a strong opinion. I like that. After threatening to squash my head in a vise, he forced me try this place in Chinatown called Mien Nghia. "Meen Yee" in cantonese. Ok Ok. And boy do I owe a lot to Jéan Downs. In about two months, I've eaten here nearly 10 times and have not been disappointed. Just last week, hehe, 4 times!

Commuting from Silverlake to work, Chinatown is always a nice stopover for take-out lunch. I'd usually hit up the roach coach on Alpine for their banh cuon (pork/mushroom rice crepes) or banh mi's (sandwiches). And when I'm hungover, I'll require some soup to quell the thirst at Pho 97 or Chiu Heng. What a coincidence... my first time at Mien Nghia occurred after a wild night of drinking. Soup, my stomach says... soup.

I walked into Mien Nghia, which is next to a sandwich shop called My Dung. I know I know, it's not how it's read in English. It's pronounced "Mee Yung" in Vietnamese... but you have to just step back for a minute and smile. I was greeted and immediately seated. I love asian restaurants. For some reason, unless you're a non-asian or a gwai-lo, you're expected to know what you want even before you even sit down. Menu please... the waiter stares at me and turns for the menu.

Mien Nghia Chinatown2.jpg

That guy in the Miami Dolphins turquoise polo is funny.

Anyway, here's what I had over a period of 5 visits. And let me tell you, Mien Nghia makes a quality broth. Every sip is good. A tip for those that come here. You'll notice that there is a dark chili oil sauce... it's not really hot sauce. It's chiu chow style satay bbq sauce... similar to what Chinese use for hot pot dip. A lot of asian noodle restaurants will wing the broth by using water and chicken bouillon powder (Knorr). It tastes chickeny but it just doesn't have that weight, volume to it. Know what I mean? There's a difference between good pho broth and half-ass broth. You know who's dealing the real sh*t and who's dealing the schwag. Snoop would say that they are dealing the chronic here.

Mien Nghia Chicken Fish Noodles.jpg

Chicken and Fish Slice Egg/Rice Noodles $6.75
I am blowing up this photo and framing it in my living room. Makes me want to jump at it. The chicken is very moist and flavorful. The fish pieces are coated with a starch mix to give it that nice texture created from blanching the meat. And nothing says cherry on top of an ice cream sundae like fried shallots. This soup is nice but again, the addition of the satay bbq sauce really adds a nice taste to it. My stubborn sister refused to use the sauce but was happy once I dumped it into her bowl. This is my favorite here. The prices are higher than normal noodle shops but I think Mien Nghia really gives you a good amount of food. I'm stuffed every time I eat here. J could barely finish her bowl.

Mien Nghia Beef Stew Noodles.jpg

Beef Stew Egg/Rice Noodles $7.25
At a Chiu Chow restaurant, you'll notice the menu has Chinese, Cambodian and Vietnamese writing. Historically, Chiu Chow people travel wherever there is work and they bring their food with them. Much like the food trade in Hawaii done by Japanese, Chinese and Koreans... the same theory applies. You bring your food and offer people. Which is why you get the Vietnamese beef stew known as 'bo kho'. This is my 2nd favorite dish. It's reallly heavy and hearty but it really satisfies you. The beef shank/brisket/tendon slices are super tender and the soup is made with the right amount of tomato paste and cinnamon/anise/coriander. Mmmmm.

Beef Rib Noodle Soup.jpg

Beef Ribs with Egg/Rice Noodles $6.50
Don't order this. The broth and sauce are strange. I don't know what else to say it, but I'm putting some orange cones around this. You're better off getting a sandwich next door at My Dung.

MIen Nghia Seafood Noodles.jpg

Seafood Egg/Rice Noodles $6.75
My sister and dad ordered this. Whenever they go to a Chiu Chow restaurant, they have to eat the seafood bowl. This was taken at the Rosemead location (Mien Nghia has 3 locations). On top is a piece of shrimp fried along with a wonton skin. I didn't try this but they said it was good. My sister was unhappy until I dumped a tablespoon of satay bbq sauce in here. Sauce makes people happy. My family loved this.

Mien Nghia Wonton Noodles.jpg

Wonton Egg/Rice Noodles $5.75
No matter where I go, even Wonton Time, can't beat the real Hong Kong wonton. I ordered this with the owner's recommendation, who is very sweet and talkative. I didn't have the heart to tell her.... "I want my f*cking money back!" What they referred to as wontons was merely a small lump of ground pork blanketed by wonton skin. No texture, no taste, no stellar bite you get from a HK wonton. Caltrans.... please put some orange cones around this please.

Mien Nghia Fishcake.jpg

Yes, I know the term is quite frightening, just as shrimpcake is. Sara Lee and Entenmann's would never produce this freak of nature, but let me tell you, it's wonderful. Fish is pureed and flavored with fish sauce and sugar. It's then boiled or steamed and then deep fried to create that nice 'crust'. I substituted the fish slices for these. My favorite. In Hong Kong, I'd buy a pound of this fishcake block for like $7 and devour it with beer.

Mien Nghia Noodle Mix.jpg

Egg & Rice Noodles = Yin & Yang
You'll notice that every dish I ate has the egg & rice noodle mix. It's a Vietnamese & Chiu Chow thing - they can't decide whether or not they want egg or rice noodles... smart, ask for both!

Overall, I love this joint. Although the soup is very tasty, it's not that signature Chiu Chow broth which is made with fried garlic/shallots, pork/fish/chicken bones and I think daikon (for sweetness). I have to crown Mien Nghia with the true Noodle Whore crown. Everything on the menu is noodles. I couldn't be more happy about that. Try it out when you can. By no means, a comparison to pho or Chinese beef noodle soup... but this is big for Southeast Asians. Thanks for reading. Oh yeah, MasterCash only.

Mien Nghia - Chinatown
304 Ord St
Los Angeles, CA, 90012
(213) 680-2411

Mien Nghia - Rosemead
7755 Garvey Ave
Rosemead, CA, 91770
(626) 288-0177

Mien Nghia - San Gabriel
406 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA, 91776
(626) 570-1668