The Unvegan

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‘Gardena’

Dim Sum with the Sea Empress

I'll siu mai if you siu yours.
I’ll siu mai if you siu yours.

Anyone who lives in LA knows that Chinatown isn’t really Chinatown. Sure, there are many Chinese people to be found there, but the most authentic Chinese experience is further east in the San Gabriel Valley. Yet, the Torrance and Gardena area is often overlooked when it comes to Asian food, despite the fact that it sports the Toyota and Honda headquarters. And I don’t just mean Japanese food, it also has its fair share of Chinese. One of these is Sea Empress (you must check out their amazing website from 1966), which is all about dim sum.

Getting Stinky at Yami Teahouse

Right in the stink.
Right in the stink.

If you’re a longtime reader, you may recall a post from a few years ago highlighting the illustrious Chinese street food called Chou Doufu. Literally translating to “stinky tofu,” this dish can be smelled from blocks away and the smell is the antithesis of fragrant. For a long time, I thought this dish was relegated to Asia, until I read about a place in Gardena called Yami Teahouse that claimed to have that stinky bean curd. To my delight, it wasn’t far from my office and I might my way there to perk up my olfactory memory.

Keeping it Simple at Nino’s Place

Classic Peru right here.
Classic Peru right here.

Nino’s Place in Gardena is one of the many Peruvian holes in the wall that seem to dominate the food scene in that part of LA. Yet, the place remains unique in that it offers just about the biggest Peruvian menu I have ever seen. In fact, I think the only things missing at Nino’s were alpaca and cuy. On the outside, Nino’s claimed to also offer up Mexican food, but these seemed no more than an attempt to get people through the door.

Half a Chix at Peru Chix (CLOSED)

I'll just take half.
I’ll just take half.

A lot of Latin American restaurants feel the need to include Mexican food to draw otherwise unsure customers in. For that reason, I am always excited to find ethnic restaurants sticking to their goods. One such restaurant is Peru Chix, basically a hole-in-the-wall type of place in Gardena. Peru Chix has such Peruvian favorites as Lomo Saltado, but I kinda thought chicken would be the way to go.

Turning Amarillo at El Rocoto

Peruvian or Indian?
Peruvian or Indian?

For a strange little town south of Los Angeles, Gardena packs a surprisingly diverse amount of food. Contributing to this diversity is a Peruvian place called El Rocoto. Its menu is vast and although neither alpaca or guinea pig are anywhere to be found on it, I had no trouble finding delicious-looking things to eat. But before ordering, the waiter brought us out a nice bread basket with their namesake sauce and another one to eat with the bread. It was an interesting mix, but I definitely enjoyed the sauces.

Don and Ramen at Tampopo

Spicy for reals.
Spicy for reals.

Down in Gardena and Torrance, it’s hard to turn a corner without spotting a ramen shop. So when my coworkers and I set out for some Hakata Ramen Shinsengumi and found the line to be too long, it wasn’t hard to get our ramen fix elsewhere. That led us to Tampopo in Gardena. Tampopo may have a good amount of ramen on their menu, but they reminded me of an old-fashioned Japanese izakaya moreso than a simple ramen restaurant.

Japanese for Real at Hakata Ramen Shinsengumi

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Drunk or not, this looks awesome.

For too long have I been subjected to people who believe the beginning and end of Japanese food is sushi. While living in Japan for half of a year, I believe I ate sushi once. This was not because I was avoiding sushi, but because sushi just wasn’t as prevalent as we are led to believe. Sure, you can find sushi if you are looking, but it is not as though every corner has a sushi place. Rather, it is much more common to find ramen. This isn’t your Cup O Noodle college hangover ramen, but a real, hearty bowl of broth with noodles, meat and more. Recently, some coworkers of mine were heading out to “that ramen place” in Gardena for lunch and I joined them, fingers crossed that this place would be the true Japanese food I’ve been waiting for.