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.
When it comes to Chinese food, I typically seek out Szechwan (or Sichuan or Szechuan), Shanghainese or Cantonese, so when I heard about a great newish place called Szechuan Impression in Alhambra I knew I had to get there – and fast! Thus I found myself at the place just before 6:00 pm on a Saturday. The earlybird risk paid off and we were seated nearly immediately.
The San Gabriel Valley is full of countless restaurants that are incredible. Unfortunately, many of them are unknown to the outside world of non-Asian people because they are holes in the wall or simply have no English on their menus. Chengdu Taste is not one of these places. It is well-known in many circles and so popular that it spawned a sequel and even a line out the door in the middle of the afternoon. But despite this when I grabbed a meal there with my buddy we were the only non-Asians to be found. Granted, in Rosemead the odds of Asian ancestry are pretty high, but that is not the point. The point is that this place had a reputation to live up to, even though the original location was closed for health code violations.
Down at the bottom of Squirrel Hill is Chinese spot called Chengdu Gourmet. I heard rumors that it could produce some real Chinese food, so I went down with a wife and a friend to see just how true this was. It turned out the place has both a traditional Chinese menu and an American Chinese menu, so we ignored the latter.
For my whole life, I have had a lack of respect for pandas. Yes, pandas. They may be cute, but despite being genetically predisposed to eat meat, they had chosen a life of eating bamboo. This choice has led to their endangerment, because it takes a whole lot more bamboo to feed a panda than meat. But things seem to be changing. Pandas now have a taste for blood.
For a little Chinese lunch, I headed to Szechwan in Manhattan Beach. It had come highly recommended, so I went expecting something pretty good. When we arrived, the restaurant was only about half-full, but we were still told to wait for a table. This seemed strange, especially when were standing around for five minutes looking like fools. Nonetheless we eventually took our seats and got the chance to check out the menu. The first thing I noticed that seemed off was that the food wasn’t quite Sichuan style (Sichuan being the way Szechwan is actually supposed to be spelled). Sichuan style is usually really spicy food and different from what we usually think of as “Chinese” food. Instead, the menu looked like any other Chinese restaurant.