Every Flavor in China

Ten miles east of downtown Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley constitutes America's largest Chinatown—one of wide boulevards and glittering shopping malls, thriving shops, and a smorgasbord of regional cuisines.

Ariana Lindquist

Ten miles east of downtown Los Angeles, the San Gabriel Valley towns of Monterey Park, Alhambra, Rosemead, and San Gabriel constitute America's largest Chinatown—one of wide boulevards and glittering shopping malls, thriving shops, and a smorgasbord of regional cuisines. A good place to begin a visit is the intersection of Atlantic Boulevard and Garvey Avenue; there, you'll find the elegant Duck House (501 South Atlantic Boulevard, Monterey Park; 626/284-3227; www.pearlcatering.com), where proprietor Catherine Fong creates one-of-a-kind dishes like Buddha chicken (a whole boneless chicken stuffed with taro, yams, sea cucumber, and scallops, then deep-fried and steamed) and Peking duck "three ways": a sandwich of crispy duck skin, a stir-fry of duck meat and mung bean sprouts, and a savory duck soup. (Both dishes require pre-ordering, so call ahead.) For a taste of old Shanghai, head for Lake Spring Shanghai Restaurant (219 East Garvey Avenue, Monterey Park; 626/280-3571), where red-cooked pork (a bone-in fresh ham simmered in soy sauce, rock sugar, and cassia) has been a standby with locals for years. At Savoy Kitchen (138 East Valley Boulevard, Alhambra; 626/308-9535), a young crowd queues up on the sidewalk for Hainanese chicken rice, a dish of poached chicken and rice made with a deep, rich chicken stock. Another popular spot is Liang's Kitchen (227 West Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel; 626/281-1898; pictured on page 84), a Taiwanese restaurant serving "military base" cuisine, a style of cooking that traces its roots to 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek's army retreated to Taiwan and its cooks prepared regional Chinese dishes with Taiwanese ingredients. The result is an amalgam of regional styles. Liang's "special onion dry noodle," based on a Shanghainese snack, is a nest of noodles atop soy-based broth, topped with caramelized scallions and a fried egg (see ** Noodles with Fried Scallions). A few blocks away, **Hunan Chilli King (534 East Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel; 626/288-7993) dishes up honest (that is, scintillatingly hot) versions of Hunan peasant cooking; the pork with brown sauce (pork belly braised in soy sauce and chiles) and the stir-fries of dried fish are not to be missed. Battambang (1806 South San Gabriel Boulevard, San Gabriel; 626/307-3938), a Cambodian-Chinese restaurant, also offers hot and spicy fare: dishes like deep-fried chopped crab baked in a richly aromatic curry. Dumpling 10053 (10053 Valley Boulevard, El Monte; 626/350-0188) serves a taste of northern China; the boiled pork-crab-sea cucumber dumplings are outstanding, as are the steamed pumpkin-shrimp dumplings: both are pillowy morsels in precise, pyramidal shapes, a perfect balance of sweet and savory. —Carl Chu, author of Chinese Food Finder (Crossbridge, 2004)