It’s a good thing most people in LA don’t realize that the word “mian” simply means “noodle(s)” in Mandarin, or else they might just write off the restaurant Mian in San Gabriel as some sort of Noodle World or Noodle and Company knockoff. Fortunately, Mian is anything but. Like Chengdu Taste before it, Mian represents the Sichuan (or Szechuan or Szechwan) region of Chinese cuisine.
There is a saying attributed to Jonathan Gold that goes something like “‘A’ is for ‘American’ Chinese food, ‘B’ is for ‘Better’ Chinese food and ‘C’ is for ‘Chinese’ Chinese food.” The letters, of course, are in reference to the health code and if you’ve ever been to China, you would know this to be true. Thus, when I heard great things about the dumplings at Emperor Noodles in San Gabriel and then found out it had a “B” rating, I got pretty excited to try it out.
What’s in a name? A xiaolongbao by any other name would be just as soupy. Well, at least that’s what Long Xing Ji is banking on. You see, Long Xing Ji was once called Wang Xing Ji and was an incredibly popular dumpling spot in San Gabriel. Typically a wildly successful place would stick with a name that works, but for some reason that was not the case with Wang Xing Ji. Nonetheless, if the dumplings were as good as I had heard, I wasn’t going to complain about the name.
In my latest sojourn into the San Gabriel Valley, I made my way to Shanghai Dumpling House in the city of San Gabriel. I had heard this was one of the better spots to get authentic Shanghai-style dumplings a while ago and wanted to see if it could deliver. Of course, I went with a crew to ensure that I could try more than just that. The only hard part was ensuring they didn’t walk into Shandong Dumpling House, which is house in the same mini mall.
Living right at the edge of the San Gabriel Valley can be a beautiful thing. Especially, that is, if you love Chinese food. There are parts of the SGV that literally make you feel like you have been transported into the heart of China and Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village is one of those places. While it has supposedly gone through some management changes lately, it has been a regular on lists of LA’s best restaurants and has a menu the size of a long novel.
Although LA has a pretty cool Chinatown, it’s not really the center of Chinese culture in the area. To got the real experience, you have to take a long ride northeast of the city to the San Gabriel Valley. For some reason, Chinese chose this land to create much more than just a little Chinatown. Driving into it, it almost feels like you teleported to China, as all the signs are written in Chinese and the people almost seem to have made no effort to learn English.
Since I had spent a year living in Shanghai and always missed real Chinese food, one night my friend’s family (they are Chinese) took me out to San Gabriel. We went to a Shanghainese restaurant called Wang Jia (yes, there is more than one kind of Chinese restaurant). The place was packed with Chinese people, which is always a good sign. If the waiter spoke any English, he made no note of it.