The first time I ate at Tasty Noodle House was entirely by accident. I was trying to eat at Golden Deli, which has what is supposedly the best Vietnamese spring roll “in the universe.” The first thing I learned that night was that a restaurant that has the best spring roll in the universe also has a line that stretches around a block, so I did not actually get to taste those spring rolls until a few months later. (They are, as you would expect, very good.) The second thing I learned that night was that Tasty Noodle, which is about 15 feet away from Golden Deli, has the best Sichuan garlic eggplant in the universe. And so I was introduced to San Gabriel.
The San Gabriel Valley does have some great Vietnamese spots, but the real attraction is its Chinese food, which is, without a doubt, the best outside China itself. It is a region that motivates people to abandon diets, waste pay checks and make high quality rap parodies serenading food (search “San Gabriel rap” on YouTube). Most importantly, it’s near our campus, which means you have access to it.
So where’s the best food in the Valley? I plan on spending the next couple years trying to solidify my answer to that question, but there are (generally) five places that I keep going back to: 101 Noodle Express, JTYH Restaurant, Chung King, Lucky Noodle King and Tasty Noodle House. It hurts—physically and emotionally—to steer away from these spots if I’m in the area. The best way to approach the question of what’s the best of the best is to evaluate restaurants dish by dish and form your own opinion. Here’s mine:
When I was in China, I ate pork buns (or leek and egg buns, if I was in the mood) every day for breakfast. For one yuan—which was eight cents when I was there—I was given a plate of eight buns. That means I could have had 500 buns for five dollars, which was always an enticing option. Unfortunately, five buns fill me up. Although 101 Noodle Express and Tasty Noodle both offer seriously good bao, JTYH is the only one that really convinces me to waste valuable stomach space. Winner: JTYH.
Hand-Torn Noodles Versus Knife-Cut Noodles
Jonathan Gold—who is to the world of food critiquing what Louis C.K. is to the world of comedy—is of the opinion that JTYH’s knife-cut noodles are among the “99 Things to Eat in L.A. Before You Die.” The handmade, knife-sliced noodles are predictably incredible, but it’s the hand-torn, chewy rice noodles offered at 101 Noodle Express that are L.A.’s best.Winner: 101 Noodle Express.
The Dan Dan Noodle
L.A. Weekly named Lucky Noodle King’s dan dan mian one of the Top 10 Dishes in L.A. in 2011. I don’t know if I’m qualified to disagree, and I don’t know if I want to. Dan dan mian—noodles flavored with sesame paste and chili oil and garnished with ground pork—is probably my favorite dish in Chinese cuisine, and possibly my favorite thing to eat at any given moment. My only potential argument with L.A. Weekly is that the aforementioned hand-torn noodles at 101 Noodle Express (which can be made dan dan–style) are simply higher quality pasta than what is offered at Lucky Noodle King. But Lucky Noodle King’s version is more authentic, and tradition is important. Winner: Lucky Noodle King.
The Beef Roll
The beef roll is one of those dishes that everyone loves (assuming you eat beef). It’s basically a Chinese burrito: onions, cilantro, sliced beef and a layer of hoisin sauce wrapped in what is essentially a scallion pancake. Both JTYH and 101 offer a beef roll, but 101’s is astonishingly good. Winner: 101 Noodle Express.
Sichuan Garlic Eggplant
I already wrote that Tasty Noodle’s eggplant dish is amazing, but it bears repeating. Even if you think you don’t like eggplant, make the trip to Las Tunas Boulevard for this. Chung King also offers a good eggplant dish, but it’s underwhelming after trying Tasty Noodle’s. Winner: Tasty Noodle House.
Both Chung King and Lucky Noodle King offer authentic Sichuan cuisine, and I’ve written articles on both of them. Chung King has a bigger menu. Lucky Noodle King has dan dan noodles and an awesome pork belly dish. To each his own. Tie: Chung King and Lucky Noodle King.
Bonus: San Gabriel’s Dim Sum
I would need an entire article to explain dim sum, but if you’re familiar with it and need a place to go, try Sea Harbor or Elite. New Capital Seafood in Rowland Heights is also good.