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The L.A. Taco Beginner’s Guide To Eating in the San Gabriel Valley

12:46 PM PST on November 19, 2020

    [dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]here are some pretty damn good places to eat in the San Gabriel Valley that can make you feel that you’re not in Los Angeles, if even for a brief moment. Some of which are still there and some that are now gone. Beyond the endless options of regional Chinese cuisine, there are legacy restaurants that tell the story of the cultural shift L.A.’s eastward suburban community has endured. Places like Petrillo's Pizza, Claro’s Italian Market, B-Mans Teriyaki, Chanos, and The Hat, just to name a few that have survived the test of time. 

    If you’re not from the S.G.V. or didn’t grow up eating there regularly with your family, it can all be intimidating. Where does one start? Not knowing what or how to order, Yelp only goes so far in helping you. This list is by no means a “Top 10” list of places; it’s here to help guide you by sharing L.A.Taco-approved spots and dishes that can act as a gateway to help you dive even deeper into the neighborhood gems that the San Gabriel Valley has to offer. 

    Remember, part of eating in the S.G.V. as an outsider is to use your senses and order what looks good on a menu or what the staff recommends. Part of the thrill of eating and trying new places here is to order it and see what is on the other side of the Styrofoam container.  

    Delicious Food Corner. Photo by David Marquez for L.A. Taco.

    Delicious Food Corner - Hong Kong-Style Cafe, Chinese

    You’re coming here for a traditional Hong Kong-style breakfast, and you won’t miss it, because there are usually long lines waiting outside. There are so many items I’ve eaten here that are delicious, but for your first time, you want to start with a few classics. The Hong Kong-Style Egg sandwich is a must, a nice scrambled egg between crustless soft white bread with your meat choice. I recommend Spam. You also want to try the cheung fun or (steamed rice noodles) stuffed with pork or a Chinese donut, and ask for it to get it topped with the peanut sauce. You’ll want to finish off with their fresh warm Pineapple Bun, which is almost like a concha. Except here, that concha is served with a hearty amount of butter to spread around. 

    2329 S Garfield Ave, Monterey Park

    Bánh Mí My-Tho - Vietnamese Deli

    This deli is perhaps the best Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich in all of the S.G.V. Vietnamese charbroiled marinated meats are probably one the tastiest and tender meats you will have, not to mention the fresh-baked French Bread it sits between. A favorite go-to for customers is the pork. They have a variety of prepared foods you will see on the counter. Grab what looks good to go along with your banh mi. I usually grab some egg rolls. You may also want to phone in your orders if you go on a Saturday or weekday around lunchtime.

    1408 E Valley Blvd, Alhambra

    A beef roll at 101 Noodle Express. Photo by David Marquez for L.A. Taco.

    101 Noodle Express - Dumplings

    As the name alludes to, they have a wide variety of noodle dishes and dumplings. All pretty outstanding, but the star of the show here is the Beef Roll! Almost like a rolled Chinese burrito, it’s a pan-fried (but on the softer side) scallion pancake wrapped around marinated beef, cucumbers, scallions, and cilantro. It’s delicious, and you’ll want to dip it in their chili oil. Dumpling-wise, if you like eating lamb, their boiled lamb dumplings are unique and juicy. If you like pan-fried crispy dumplings, the star of their menu is the classic pumpkin-shrimp-pork dumplings.    

    1408 E Valley Blvd, Alhambra

     

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    Ruby BBQ Food - Chinese BBQ

    I love BBQ anything, and I grew up eating at Sam Woo BBQ, which is another classic for things like roast duck or crispy roasted pork. Well, Ruby’s is what you graduate into after Sam Woo BBQ. The duck here is perfect, but the Macau-style Special Roasted Pork is unreal. The crispy pork belly chicharrón skin and tender pork belly will have you wishing you ordered more. Order more than you think you need. You can also get a combo with the roasted duck and pork, but just get an extra order of the pork. Trust.

    9567 E Garvey Ave, El Monte

    Curry Laksa at Borneo Cuisine. Photo by David Marquez for L.A. Taco.

    Borneo Kalimantan Cuisine - Indonesian and Malaysian

    This fantastic small and casual restaurant made it on the Michelin guide, which says a lot about what you’re in for. It is an example of the breadth of regional Asian cuisines that you can encounter in the S.G.V. Borneo is an island in Southeast Asia with territories belonging to both Indonesia and Malaysia. Hence, the food is simply outstanding. First, you want to start with their Roti, a wheat flour-based flatbread that’s griddled to make it soft and pillowy. The texture is almost similar to a smashed croissant, and it is served with a spicy curry to dip it in. A must is a bowl of that Laksa Noodle coconut curry soup, with Oxtail is one of the most satisfying soups in L.A. Lastly, you will also want to get the Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice). Which is some of the best fried rice you’ll taste.

    19 S Garfield Ave, Alhambra

    XLB. Photo by David Marquez for L.A. Taco.
    XLB at Din Tai Fung. Photo by David Marquez for L.A. Taco.

    Din Tai Fung - Taiwanese

    There is no denying that Din Tai Fung has some of the best dishes around. If not the best XLB, aka soup dumplings, around. The restaurant pioneered the cult-like obsession with the dish. Soup dumplings are a study in physics; typically stuffed with pork and cabbage or crab, they do a perfectly thin dumpling skin that barely contains the juices in place. You have to bite a little off the top of the dumpling so the soupy, fatty goodness inside doesn’t burn the hell out of your tongue. Then, you pour a small chili and black vinegar mix on top and enjoy. Aside from these foundational dumplings, pretty much everything else you can get here will be reliable. 

    400 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia (Santa Anita Mall)

     

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    Nha Trang - Vietnamese Noodle Soup

    There are so many options for pho and beef noodle soups in the area; it’s hard to go wrong. You can get some delicious pho here, but the Bun Bo Hue (beef noodle soup) is one of the best I’ve had. A much richer broth than Pho, it is packed with tender beef and is a bit spicy. It also has a thicker noodle. If you like seafood, get the Bun Rieu with Crab, perfect for the upcoming cooler weather. Also, the Bun Bo Xao Doc Biet #16 is (without no soup). 

    742 E Garvey Ave, Monterey Park

    Dim sum at Dim Sum Express. Photo by David Marquez for L.A. Taco.

    Dim Sum Express - Dim Sum

    If you’ve driven down Garfield Avenue and noticed a small hole-in-the-wall hut with a line, that would be Dim Sum Express. The San Gabriel Valley has a glorious abundance of excellent dim sum banquet-style restaurants, with places like King Hua, Sea Harbor, NBC Seafood, to name a few. However, there is something attractive about a fast, easy, cheap dim sum spot where you can be in and out in minutes. The customer favorites are BBQ Pork Bun, shrimp shumai, pan-fried and steamed dumplings, egg tart, and anything else your dim sum-loving heart desires. Beyond their dim sum menu, their Pepper Chicken Udon is fire, and so is their salted pork chop! High-key. 

    326 N Garfield Ave, Monterey Park

    Jim’s Bakery - Bakery

    Got a sweet tooth? There are so many bakeries and boba cafes; it is hard to choose which one to feature. I chose Jim’s Bakery. Their egg tarts never disappoint. That light, flaky crust filled with delicious custard. They have a wide variety of other baked goods, both sweet and savory. Try out one of their buns, a slice of mango cake, or some OG almond cookies. Either way, you will want to take extras to-go and share with your loved ones. 

    400 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park

    99 Ranch Market -  Asian Specialty Grocery Store 

    Why a grocery store on this list? Because you can find almost every Asian ingredient, you need to cook your favorite dish and all kinds of frozen and prepared foods as well. The produce and seafood are some of the best and affordable in the city. I typically come here after watching the latest cooking video on YouTube and find everything I need. There are so many uncooked noodle varieties to make all the noodle dishes at home, like egg noodles for chow mein, ramen, yakisoba, whatever you like. They also have a wide variety of frozen dumplings and egg rolls to stock up on. Lots of different cuts of meat, the whole fish in the seafood section is plentiful. If you love food and especially if you love to cook, this should be one of your go-to spots. 

    345 E. Main St, Alhambra (multiple locations)

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