Food Column: Lucky Noodle King Boasts Excellent Spicy Sichuan Cuisine

In a previous issue, I lauded Chung King as the best Sichuan restaurant in town. I may have jumped the gun. In retrospect, it was a bit of an
outrageous claim considering I had been to maybe three Sichuan restaurants in
San Gabriel before I stumbled upon that gem. I have been to the Sichuan
province itself, though, so I can say with confidence that Chung King deserves
its praise. Chung King’s only fault is its noodles (with the word “fault”
being used very loosely), so when I heard that Lucky Noodle King sports the
best dan dan noodles in L.A., I was there within a day, eager to see if it met
the hype. 

Dan dan mian,
known among English-speaking folk as dan dan noodles, is the kind of dish that
I could eat as a last meal and die happy. Morbidity aside, I’m always looking
for a good bowl of the stuff. It’s simple: dry noodles, some garlic, sesame
paste, peanuts, and often a heavy dose of chili oil. It’s also marvelous. I was
disappointed by Lucky Noodle King’s version, as it was light on the chili and
heavy on the sesame paste. The result is less spicy and sweeter than I prefer. It was good, but based on my first visit Lucky Noodle King’s dan dan mian isn’t going to make me
praise the culinary gods. JTYH restaurant, which I reviewed last semester, and
101 Noodle Express both offer better noodles. 

In everything else, though, Lucky Noodle King was a lucky
find indeed. The owner’s English vocabulary doesn’t extend much farther than
“yes” and “no,” but it worked out for me because there are useful pictures of
dishes on the wall, ready to be pointed at. When I asked her if
there was anything on the menu that I absolutely needed to try, she just
laughed at me as if I had told the world’s best joke. My food got to my table
without a problem, though, and the feast began. 

We started off with twice-cooked pork, which, predictably,
involves cooking slices of pork belly two times; the pork is boiled and then
thrown in the wok with hot oil. It was as good as any I’ve ever had, and certainly
better than Chung King’s version. We followed that with “boiled beef in hot
sauce.” Despite the mass of chili oil that looks like it single-handedly caused
global warming, it’s not too spicy, and the beef has an interesting texture.
For tradition’s sake, I chose to get a plate of fried dumplings. I didn’t
regret it. They were exactly what you should find at any corner Americanized
Chinese restaurant, but never do. The “Sichuan noodles in meat sauce” were
surprisingly sweet and had a nice cucumber flavor, but weren’t anything too
special. 

The Chongqing chicken, which is basically fried chicken with
dried chili peppers, is one of the scariest plates anyone will see. It’s also
one of my favorites. At first glance, it just looks like a pile of peppers, but with
a little prodding, you’ll find the submerged chicken. It’s deceiving, though,
as the chicken only absorbs a bit of the surrounding spice, making it more
flavorful than spicy. The peppers themselves are as spicy as they look. Because
I make a hobby of finding foods that can make my face go numb, I’ve built up a
heavy tolerance for spicy. I’m also a terrible person, so after telling my
friends that the stuff was harmless, I popped a handful of the peppers into my
mouth. One of those friends, in a decision that history will regard as roughly equal
to Custer’s choice to hunt down Native Americans, followed suit. He promptly chugged
down five glasses of water in about two seconds. 

I should add that Lucky Noodle King is—like all the best
Chinese joints—barely sanitary and certainly not fancy. Most dishes run in the six to eight dollar range. Chung King and Lucky Noodle King are literally two blocks
away, though, so some tough decisions need to be made if lucky
individuals find themselves hungry on San Gabriel Boulevard.     

Lucky Noodle King. 534 E. Valley Blvd, San Gabriel. (626)
573-5668. 

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