Showing posts with label soup noodles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label soup noodles. Show all posts

Eat Drink Style Shisen Ramen, Torrance - A Szechuan-Style Ramen Shop

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

I think my appreciation for ramen came after my friends and I went to Japan for the first time. We weren't particularly hunting for ramen, but more so, let the smells and signage of a ramen shop attract us.  And we fell in love. Japan made it really easy for us to find food through one simple principle: cook nothing but delicious food.  Every shop we went to was simply solid.  From light, salt-based and soy sauce-based soups (shio and shoyu) to thicker-stock soups (tonkotsu), they were all good.  For a while, the ramen shops on Sawtelle row represented the ramen capital.  And it wasn't until coming back from Japan, that we realized that those noodle shops just didn't cut it.  We reminisced and lamented for a while.  We tried to find a place that offered a more rich-style broth other than salt and miso paste.  

Then came Shin Sen Gumi (Gardena, Costa Mesa & Rosemead) and Daikokuya (Little Tokyo) opened, creating this pork-bone soup craze that changed the Los Angeles ramen scene.  Shortly after,  a wave of new ramen shops hit the Los Angeles area after 2000, introducing more and more varieties of ramen.  Santouka, Asa, California and Gardena ramen to be exact.  Our friend Rameniac really helped define the differences in the shops available here and really made ramen a hot topic.  

After class, Jeni and I continued our ramen adventures in the South Bay area.  We had a really tasty experience at Shigetoshi "Sean" Nakamura's California-cuisine/ramen experiment – in which he combines farmer's market ingredients like heirloom tomatoes and cheese in ramen.  A combination that would surely raise the eyebrows of any pre-nisei Japanese, but has somehow got both Jeni and I craving it.  And we find ourselves here at about 10 pm – at a ramen shop offering Szechuan-style ramen.  Funny when you think of it, since it was the Chinese that inspired Japanese ramen.  FYI, ramen means 'pulled noodles', and it's pronounced 'la mian' ( 拉 麺 ).

I was so stoked to try this because we had a similar dining experience in Yokohama, Japan, shortly after visiting the Ramen Museum.  Ridiculous, I know. Basically, take your traditional Chinese dishes like BBQ pork, black bean sauce noodles, mabo tofu or sesame paste noodles and dump it on top of noodles and soup... voila Chinese-style ramen. But it's actually more complicated than that as you'll see.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

We sat down and took a look at the menu.  The main feature was the shisen ramen, which is Japanese for Szechuan.  We were about to order from it until we saw tonkotsu and a special ramen called the Garlic Black Shisen which got us wide-eyed.  A few months ago, I was at Ippudo Ramen in New York begging the chef to make a 'burnt soy sauce' ramen (kogashi) I had heard about.  My friends had just gotten back from Japan and bragged about it - I couldn't take it!  I was declined in New York but suddenly reminded of that style of ramen when I saw the Shisen special.  One please.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

Garlic Black Shisen Ramen ($9.80)
Although it looks like a mini Exxon oil tanker ran into some rocks, this was one promising bowl of noodles.  We both took a whiff of the ramen – the smell of fried garlic was marvelous. Thinly-sliced scallions, bamboo shoots and a few pieces of pork... we were ready.   The soup was really excellent, but super oily.  That's expected out of any tonkotsu-style soup.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

They used yellow noodles, which had just the right texture to it.  I usually go for medium cooked noodles because I like more bite to it.  I am actually craving this bowl of noodles right now.  They've had this on special since July and the servers said that they do change frequently.  I would go eat this ASAP.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

Tonkotsu Chashu ($7.50)
We also ordered the tonkotsu chashu ramen to really gauge the restaurant.  We do this all the time with pho restaurants.  If the pho isn't any good, chances are, it's not their focus or they really need a new chef.  I looked at the broth and kind of hesitated.  After eating that Black Garlic ramen, I was a bit greased out.  But it was everything but oily, and packed with a strong flavor of pork, salt and a lot of ginger.  I even dumped in some of the pureed garlic offered by the restaurant.  This was really good.  Except for...

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

the overcooked noodles.  Aye.  It could have been a stellar bowl.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

But to make up for that, Shisen Ramen is quite generous with the chashu portions.  It was almost too much for me since the pieces were pretty fatty.  

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

I also noticed in the chashu photo, an uncanny resemblance to Scarecrow in Batman Begins.  Not the most beautiful photo of chashu, but I promise it is very palatable.

We also ordered gyoza and paiko for appetizers (not pictured).  The gyoza (in Chinese 'jiao zhi' or  'gao jee') were tiny as hell, but fried beautifully.  You know you're eating a good gyoza when you have that tiny crunch from the crisped up wrapper – something the Japanese are masters at making.  The paiko here (in Chinese 'pai gwut' or 'pai gu') are very similar to the fried pork chops sold in Taiwanese joints, but nothing comparable to it.  They were fried nicely with a nice dash of five-spice powder and served with a Sriracha-based dipping sauce.  

I am already thinking about my next meal here.  Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy.

Shisen Ramen
1730 Sepulveda Blvd. #6
Torrance, CA  90501
(310) 534-1698

Eat Drink Style Buu Dien, Chinatown - Keeping It (Bun) Rieu

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Chinatown, Los Angeles. A one square mile area that some call their weekly lunch spot or see as purely a wasteland of elderly people, junk shops and wandering tourists. For those that have ventured and tasted SGV, it is futile to search for better food in Chinatown. Understandably it’s a spot for people that don't want to make the drive out to the San Gabriel Valley, where the real food is. You won’t find lip-stinging Hunan food. You’ll never kiss a juicy pork dumpling. Nor will you slurp a solid bowl of beef noodle soup. It doesn’t exist in Chinatown because it’s not what the people want. You’ll most likely find all of your food drenched with sweet n’ sour sauce and receiving your bill with a fortune cookie on top. Sadly, a lot of people consider the food to be authentic “Chinese” food. If that was Chinese food, I’d rather go vegetarian. And what a lot of people don't know about Los Angeles’s Chinatown is that it's not really comprised of Chinese. In actuality, most of the Chinese food that you've eaten in Chinatown is Cantonese Chinese food, similar to Hong Kong-style Chinese food... but made for non-Chinese. Got it?

Of course the majority of the establishments are Chinese restaurants and various businesses, but it would be unfair if we did not recognize the efforts of the ethnic Chinese minorities that really do shape the character of Chinatown. But in the last decade, there has been an influx of Mainland Chinese, Chiu Chow Chinese, Cambodian Chinese and Vietnamese Chinese. A lot of them operating small noodle shops, jewelry stores and general eateries. You just read the word “Chinese” how many times in that last sentence, but there is a difference. And believe it or not, not all Asians look or eat the same. One thing in common with those ethnic minority groups are noodles. You probably won't find me in a joint like Empress Pavilion or one of those television-network Chinese restaurants like CBS/ABC. What the hell is that about anyway? I avoid those entirely. But you will find me in the noodle shops.

It's hard to find authenticity in Chinatown, I know because it seems like everything is offering the same food. But if you look really hard, you'll find some hidden gems. When it comes to noodles, the ethnic Chinese minorities reign the 1 square mile kingdom. Hong Kong wontons don’t exist here like you would think, not even in SGV. Places like New Kamara and Mien Nghia offer decent bowls of soup noodles for under $7, guaranteed to make your belly shiny. There are a few other Cambodian Chinese places that are so so, and you would surely find better stuff in Long Beach for sure.

For me, I think the Vietnamese options are on the light. Outside of Pho 87 on Broadway, I haven't found anything worth stopping for. All of the other pho restaurants I've been to are below the batting average. There is also Leena's truck, Nam Thai, on Spring/Alpine which offers a few Vietnamese staples such as banh mi, banh cuon and bun thit nuong, with the banh cuon being purchased from a factory daily. But her truck has been in operation since the lates 80s and runs independently from the Los Angeles food truck scene.

Amidst the salad bowl of ethnic cuisines, tourist traps and overpriced food, I’ve recently parted through the brush and bullshit and fell upon Buu Dien, an earnest, mom & pop, sandwich shop in a lonely stuccoed strip mall. Jonathan Gold recently heralded this place as one of the best banh mi shops in Los Angeles. And they are good. But he may or may not have overlooked something that I find to be quite delicious and what Buu Dien should be recognized for. I’ve been here a few times over the year to pick up sandwiches and one day I noticed a sheet of paper by the entrance: pho, chicken curry and bun rieu. For $4 each. Can’t be good, too cheap, right? You’ve had the first two, but may I suggest you meet bun rieu? A dish that consists of a crab and tomato broth with vermicelli noodles and various toppings. This originates from North Vietnam and can be topped with snails, tofu or even dill fishcakes, the way I had it when I was in Vietnam.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

So on a hazy morning, I walked in to Buu Dien. The lights were shut off and the room was illuminated solely by the blue overcast light from outside. There was an old TV blaring out headlines in Vietnamese and I could hear the quiet gurgling from the coffee maker nearby. A heated display case offered you its delicacies – cured pork balls, fried pork patties and banana-leaf wrapped goodies. Some signage on the wall colored in Vietnamese/French-like typography advertised the available drinks. A clock shaped into the country of Vietnam ticked away. There was another display case that stored various Vietnamese drinks, patés and Vietnamese meatloaf (cha lua). On top, there were packages of instant noodle bowls – I wondered who actually bought these. There were stools scattered around, like they had walked away from tables on their own. The tiles on the floor were slightly cracked and freshly mopped. All that was really missing were some red and blue plastic stools and napkins tossed all over the ground. This feels like Vietnam, and I already liked what was going on in here. This was your typical Vietnamese food establishment selling various culinary knick-knacks.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

And then an older man with glasses popped up from behind the counter and said hello. “Hi, how can I help you?” How about cooking me something delicious, I thought to myself. I ordered bun rieu and he smiled with surprise. There was another gentleman slurping down a bowl of bun rieu like he was in his happy little world. I took a seat and waited for my bun rieu.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Cha Chien/Hue
I sometimes think the Vietnamese can start their own fast-food like corporation by packing one of these patties in between some lettuce and bread, and sell it in some happy meal like form because this stuff is great. It's used in banh mi, in bun rieu and possibly as informal wedding dowry.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Nem Nuong
These are Vietnamese style meatballs that are cured and then either grilled or deep fried. Used mainly in sandwiches or eaten like a meatsicle.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Bun Rieu
My attention was averted when I heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Mr. Pham's slippers slid across that tiling, holding a tray full with everything I needed to get my meal on. There was the bowl of noodles gently breathing heat, a plate of lettuce, herbs and lemon and hot sauce. He placed everything on my tiny table and said "enjoy".

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

But before he could leave, I asked him about the missing component... shrimp paste (mam ruoc). He again looked at me like I was new to this delicious dish. I told him I can't eat it without my shrimp sauce. Most people have a love/hate relationship with this pungent, if that's even the right word, sauce made of ground fermented shrimp. Although we had the Lao version of this growing up, shrimp paste never failed in triggering a response in the form of a plugged nose, "eeeewwww" and a quick sprint for the hills. But I love it and have grown to love it the more I use it. Like it's good for my health. I cracked open the jar and it was almost done with. There was nothing but a plastic spoon cut off at the end to fit within the jar. I say you skip this part if you aren't ready to dip your own chopsticks or use the spoon provided to dig up that purple paste of pungency. But if you do, the addition of this sauce with some hot chili, lemon and herbs form yet another yin-yang relationship within Vietnamese food.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

There are many versions of bun rieu out there, the crab paste and snail ones being the most popular that I've seen. Here at Buu Dien, Mr. Pham's wife, Hen, does her with a huge piece of crab paste. Her mudball-like sculpture of crab, shrimp and pork is nothing short of delicious. As the crab paste sits in the soup, it soaks up the broth like a sponge – with every bite, more tasty and juicy than the other. I love this.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Don't eat this naked. You must eat it with bean sprouts, lettuce and herbs. Squeeze of lemon.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

I learned that Mrs. Pham indeed makes all of her meat delicacies. This cha chien was delicious. It's no wonder her banh mi sandwiches are tasty as well. You throw this into any Subway sandwich and you'll finally have some flavor in your food.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

If I had not stopped here for banh mi sandwiches, I would not have found this. Finally a break from my usual soup noodles at New Kamara. And for $4, this only makes the meal that more special. It wasn't the best I've eaten, but still very good. I love Vien Dong in Little Saigon, for its dill fish cake patties and snails in their bun rieu, but this to me feels more home-cooked and reminiscent of the many soup noodles I ate on a red stool in Vietnam. All that was missing was some balled-up napkins on the floor, the constant sounds of motorcycle motors and honking and the sweat-inducing humidity. Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Ramen Jinya, Studio City - A Tasty Bowl of Lost in Translation

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

If you remember the opening scene of Lost in Translation, you can see a red-eyed, groggy Bill Murray wake up in a cab. The amazing array of Japanese characters in neon light form reflecting off the windows of the cab. Cut after cut of city life and a blank stare provide us with the confusion Bill experiences. For the whole movie, everything he was accustomed to, interactions, mannerisms and customs were either flipped upside down or thrown out the door. And it was the same way I felt when I had first arrived in Japan. It was already the evening when we landed in Narita International. From there, we cabbed it into the city and it was just like the scenes in Lost in Translation. Lights - of every possible hue. Signage - working every single one of your sensory glands. Black-haired people - walking around aimlessly. All of this happening within a tightly packed concrete jungle. This was the system known as Tokyo.

Being tourists in Tokyo was a challenge. Everything was written in Japanese and no one spoke English. If there was English signage, it probably didn't make any sense. Try finding directions in the metro station and you'll be sure to spend more time than you need there. You may know that more comically as Engrish. If it were not for one of our friends that spoke minimal Japanese or the Chinese characters in Japanese (kanji) we might as well have just followed a tour book. But when it comes to eating, I never found it difficult to find good food. There are photos and drawings everywhere. Their posted outside businesses, all over the window and even have employees running up to you to reel you in. There's also the wonderful art of plastic food modeling in Japan known as shokuhin sanpuru which is more often than not, a clear indication of what you'll be eating. In Tokyo, after a long night of you know what, I found myself completely fueled by sake and Sapporo, running by a restaurant with the food models sitting on a table, not enclosed in a case, and awarding myself with a plate of plastic tonkatsu for a souvenir. Oops. To that restaurant in Tokyo, sorry, I still have it if you want it back. Read more about Japanese food modeling here.

In Japan, the worst food there is probably better than any Japanese food you'll eat in your neighborhood. It's true, the standards are so high there for a culture that drools over small details. It was because of the simple enticement by large food photos and high standards that we were able to eat solid ramen at every ramen shop. And I loved that. You didn't have to log on to a food forum, Yelp or a tour book to find good food, it was really the food that found you. I can still remember the last bowl I ate in Tokyo. It wasn't a very busy shop and it was the kind of restaurant that you ordered the food from a machine, which then printed the orders in the kitchen. In less than 10 minutes, a server brought your piping bowl of whatever ramen – it was divine. We were indeed lost in translation, but frolicking in the joy and art of Japanese soup noodles.

This was 2006, and since then, I've only found a few places in Los Angeles and New York that were worth considering, "solid ramen". I do like Santouka from time to time, but I feel guilty eating such a rich broth. I like Asa Ramen for its fatback toppings, but that too can be much. Ippudo Ramen and Ramen Setagaya in New York are super tasty, but I don't live in New York! But good news comes to me when I get an instant message from the Rameniac, and usually it sounds like this:

"Hey, I found a new ramen joint that opened up."

This time, I'm brought to Studio City, a satellite of Japanese food culture in Los Angeles. During the 80s, a lot of sushi shops were popping up for the wealthy movie industry folks and even now, Ventura Blvd. is peppered with here and there Japanese joints. Ramen Jinya is located in another one of the millions of Valley strip malls next to good old Marshalls. One look from the outside and you wouldn't think much, but with an ex-Santouka ramen chef leading the charge and backing from Takahashi Tomonori, a successful restaurateur that operates 7+ establishments under his La Brea Dining brand, I think I've found myself a piping-hot, bowl of Lost in Translation.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Like California Ramen in Torrance, Chef Daisuke Ueda ("Daice") offers a Californian twist to the menu with fresh salads that include corn, broccoli and potatoes. But that's the least of our interests - we want to get into the meat of everything!

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Gyoza
For $12.50, Ramen Jinya offers a happy meal consisting of a small salad, appetizer of choice (gyoza, fried chicken karaage, etc.) and the ramen of your choice. The skins were very thin on these and as you can tell fried beautifully. I love when you get that caramelized sauce "webbing" on the bottom of gyoza. The sauce was a soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and chili oil mix. I think they may have been over-steamed because the gyoza wrapper was slightly soggy. Gyoza has to be served and eaten right away.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Fried Chicken (Karaage)
This is one of my most favorite things to order at any izakaya. These were beautifully fried and marinated well. I hate when karaage has too much batter or the chicken is too dry. This is strictly a dark meat dish. If you're in Little Tokyo, try out Chin Ma Ya's karaage... it's probably one of my favorites in Los Angeles. This was served with ponzu sauce.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Fried Garlic & Bonito Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen
With a name that long, it should be a solid dish. This was the special at the time of the grand opening and what Rickmond was telling me about all day long. To be exact, these our his exact words:

"What I did order on my initial visit was simply the special of the day, a delightfully authentic and hitherto rare-outside-of-Japan take on Tokyo gyoukai ramen, with a dashi and gyofun fish powder-infused shoyu tonkotsu soup and a topping of marinated and grilled bonito and garlic flakes."

He had me at "garlic flakes". I honestly felt "Tokyo" when I saw that bowl. Moist rolled-up chashu, golden noodles, scallions, an aromatic brown broth with a ladle so large that it could be used as a shoehorn. If you're shopping for some shoes at Marshall's next door, I'm sure Daice won't mind if you borrow the ladles.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

I first tried the broth and it was super tasty. I could taste the nice bitterness from fried garlic with the soy sauce and subtle bonito-flavored broth. The noodles were nice but I would have preferred them even more al-dente. And the, the chashu, mmm... nice and melty. The egg although was a bit too mushy. I was hoping for molten lava yolk action.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Jinya's Chicken Ramen
My favorite wife ordered the namesake house special. I was surprised that Chef Daice would select the chicken ramen as the captain of the ship. I didn't think much of this until I took a sip of that broth. Beautiful. It was so homey and reminded me of a delicious version of Campbell's chicken noodle soup minus the sodium. Chef Daice boils chicken bones for 8 hours... just long enough to add a subtle stickiness to the broth much like tonkotsu broth. I could taste some ginger and garlic in the broth.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

This was served with two chicken meatballs (tsukune) that had a decent amount of wood-ear mushrooms and a super moist piece of chicken breast. I would order this next time I go, it's seriously tasty.
Ramen Jinya, Studio City

That shoehorn is no joke. It makes Ippudo Ramen's spoons like miniscule.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Garlic Injection
If you're a garlic head, then Chef Daice will let you inject as much fresh garlic as you want into your bowl of ramen for a nice spice kick.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Our friend JK, another satisfied slurping customer.

Ramen Jinya, Studio City

Ramen Jinya has only been open for a week and I have a feeling it will do pretty well. Although out of the way, you'll be glad to know there's a Marshall's next door - two birds with one stone. Admit it, we all shopped there many times in our lives. On top of the quality of the food, both Chef Daice and Takahashi Tomonori are more than welcoming and friendly. This just may be your closest taste of Tokyo without enduring the 12 hour flight, jet lag, sensory overload and confusion. By the way, we'll be running up and down Japan next week for food! Thanks for reading and of course to Rameniac for fulfilling our ramen cravings.

Ramen Jinya
11239 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 980-3977
www.jinya-la.com/ramen

Eat Drink Style Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown - Garlic Warfare in Koreatown

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

If you think about it, garlic is probably the one ingredient that is prevalent in almost every culture's food. Revered for its healing and medicinal qualities, this member of the onion family, along with leeks, shallots and chives, was used once as currency, for healing wounds, ingested for spiritual reasons and for warding pale, creepy people with fangs. But for those that enjoy food, we all know that garlic is a major component in cooking and repelling a hot date during dinner. Whether its sauteed or even eaten raw, garlic can take a dish to higher levels. But to what level specifically?

I don't know, but I have a feeling the Koreans may have an answer. Why Korea? Over Spain, Italy and America, Koreans consume more garlic per capita than anyone else. Just how much? Americans eat an average of 2.5 lbs. of garlic a year... Koreans – 22 lbs. a year. 22 lbs. of garlic in a bag can knock you out if it was swung at you with enough force. I've always known that Koreans use copious amounts of garlic, along with sesame oil and red chilis, but this as you will learn very soon, is a complete understatement. For many years already, garlic warfare is happening in Koreatown. And you probably didn't know that it was happening at a place on Wilshire and Harvard.

I first came to Myung Dong Kyoja when I was searching for one of my favorite korean dishes, kal gook soo. Kal gook soo literally means "knife-cut noodles" and it is basically a soup noodle dish with various toppings and broth flavorings. The most popular being chicken noodle soup (dahk kal gook soo) and anchovy-flavored noodle soup (myeol chi kal gook soo) offered at Koreatown places like Ma Dang Gook Soo and Olympic Noodle. Unlike a proper bowl of pho or Chinese beef noodle soup, this dish is much more simple, comforting and homey. The soup at first may seem light in flavor, but the simple addition of some scallion/chili/soy sauce relish and chili powder and you're good to go.

When you first walk in here, almost instantly, you will be hit with an invisible fist of garlic. It is at the entrance of the door that you have the option of saving yourself from sweating out garlic for the rest of the day, or taking your palate on a test drive through Garlicville. Go for the latter if you're true garlic-head.

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

And once you've ordered your food, the server comes out with a small portion of kimchi as seen above. You're probably wondering why so little is given, but it's more than you'll need. I can promise you that every piece of cabbage packs a decent amount of minced garlic. At first bite, you'll know what I'm talking about. I think I ate about three pieces before my tongue started to sting a little from the fresh, fieriness of the minced garlic cloves. So fiery that when you drink some water to abate the pleasurable pain, you can feel a sort of numbness in the tongue. And I love it. It's almost like you're eating minced garlic with a side of red chili and cabbage.

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

Look at that, it is a crater of garlic. Just standing over this holding pot, I was hit with major garlic fumes. Insane!

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

If you can handle the hazing on the tongue, they'd be more than glad to serve you with another 1-2 punch. The servers come by with their kimchi pitcher and tongs. Intense!

In addition to the garlic freak show, there are a few things that are worth eating at MDKJ. The steamed dumplings (goon man doo) at first appear to be Korean cousins of the widely-adored Chinese xiao long bao, soupy pork dumplings. But they are nowhere nearly as juicy as they are. The dumplings themselves are plump due to a heavy vegetable to meat ratio. They are steamed in a plastic basket and are indeed pretty decent. But I prefer the well-balance boiled dumplings found at places like Dumpling 10053, Dean Sin World and Lu Noodle House. Anyway, a simple mixture of a Korean condiment and vinegar and you're good to go.

There's also MDKJ's version of kal gook soo, which tastes even better once you add the Korean flavoring condiment and maybe a dash of vinegar. The thing I've noticed with Korean soup noodles is that they cook the noodles a little too long for my taste. I enjoy a toothsome, notable al-dente-ness in every bite. So I highly recommend ordering your noodles a bit harder. Problem is if you're non-Korean like me, communicating that is a bit difficult.

Myung Dong Kyoja

But thanks to my trusty Translator app for my iPhone, I can get from point A to B. I always get a kick out of seeing their reaction because this Translator app is so literal, but they get the idea. I said: "Hello. I like my noodles chewy. Not soft. Thank you. Also your kimchi is very strong in garlic taste. Intense! But I love it."

Myung Dong Kyoja

If the garlic kimchi isn't holding up to your garlic expectations, you need to use this relish consisting of soy sauce, minced garlic, scallions and a type of mild korean pepper that has a taste similar to bell peppers and slight spice kick from shishito peppers. I love this sauce. Add 2-3 big scoops of this sauce into your kal gook soo soup noodles and you're set. Like I said before, the soup can be a little too plain without any sauce, so this is what is used to flavor your dish. I like my soup noodles with a touch of vinegar to cut through that muddy garlic tone.

Myung Dong Kyoja

Myung Dong Kyoja Kal Gook Soo
The version served here is much different than what you're probably used to. Soup noodles are served in a slightly starchy broth from the noodle runoff. It's topped with a simple stir fry of ground meat, zuccini, carrots, onions and 3-4 mini dumplings that I really enjoy. If you like the mini dumplings, you can order them straight up with soup and nothing else. Win.

Myung Dong Kyoja

Myung Dong Kyoja

This is what I call a happy meal. The surprise gift is a fiery mouth of garlic.

Myung Dong Kyoja, Koreatown

I wasn't kidding when I said there is garlic warfare happening in Koreatown. They've even provided you with a fancy gargling machine in the restroom, the Garlic Kimchi-a-tor 5000. I took a shot of the gargling liquid and it did nothing for me but create this minty garlic taste that seemed to never go away. Don't say I didn't warn you about the garlic. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

Myung Dong Kyoja
3630 Wilshire Blvd. (c/o Harvard)
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 385-7789

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