Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tiny Rowland Heights Storefront Little Highness Bao Opens Up In Beverly Hills

In this post-Trump election world, things have reached a point that almost nothing surprises me.  But I have to tell you that to me, the opening of a branch of Little Highness Bao on Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills pushes the envelope more than anything that seems to be happening in Washington DC.


Little Highness Bao is certainly not one of the big culinary names in the San Gabriel Valley.  It opened a small storefront last summer in a shopping center on the corner of Colima Road and Fullerton Road in Rowland Heights, where it purveys a very specialized category of buns, essentially steamed mantou buns filled with things like green bean with pork, chicken gravy with pork and onion, cabbage with vermicelli and dried shrimp (with another variety substituting mushroom for the vermicelli), rib with vegetables, and beef steamed buns.  Indeed it's the only restaurant I've been to that has this kind of specialty.  They also sell dumplings and other related types of fare.  Little Highness does appear to be in an expansion mode as they just opened a fishpot restaurant next to the original Rowland Heights store.  But it's not like they've created any kind of buzz out in Rowland Heights.  So certainly I was totally unprepared when my son Eric sent me a message that one of his foodie scouts had driven by, and even snapped a picture of the new Little Highness Bao location in Beverly Hills

Fortunately I was scheduled to work in Century City the next day, so it was only a slight detour to check out the Beverly Hills location of Little Highness Bao.   And there on Wilshire Blvd. between Roxbury and Bedford, directly across from Saks Fifth Avenue (and kitty corner from Neiman Marcus) was Little Highness Bao.  However when I walked in I momentarily thought I was in the wrong store because it only seemed to be a boba and tea shop, despite the giant mantou bun picture on the front window.  There were no food menus, either permanent, paper, or posted on the wall.  The clerk explained that the only menu was in marker on a side glass partition.


The menu is very sparse.  As you might be able to see, the menu includes beef noodle soup, wonton soup, pork dumplings, beef steamed dim sum (whatever that is), beef rolls, plus their signature pork and beef steamed mantou buns, as well as pork and beef xiaolongbao.  So to their credit they haven't filled their menu with Americanized items, but rather taken the friendliest items from the San Gabriel Valley.  Looking at the other tables in the restaurant, the xiaolongbao, not surprisingly, appears to be the most popular item with the local crowd.  When I was in the restaurant, all the other diners were non-Asian.  I did see a group of Mainlanders,who were apparently walking down the street, stop to take a peek, but then continued on.  I suspect they were unimpressed by the Beverly Hills hipster look of the restaurant, as well as the non-Asian servers and customers.  However, the food tastes like the Rowland Heights branch, the prices are not outrageous (XLB is $10.99, most everything else is under $9) and the cook with the baseball cap sure looked like a Mainlander to me.

Street address is 9667 Wilshire Blvd.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Where's The Mainland Chinese Food Near The USC Campus?

As I have written both for Menuism and LA Weekly, one of the most significant trends in Chinese dining in the United States in the past decade is the appearance of authentic Chinese food nearby college campuses all over the country to serve the culinary needs of the 300,000 students from Mainland China studying at our universities.   The current generation of international Chinese students is different from past generations due to their wealth, as well as the high likelihood of returning to China when their American university days are over.  As a result authentic non-Cantonese Chinese restaurants have popped up everywhere there's a university with any concentration of students from China. Even where two years ago there was a paucity of authentic Chinese options near UCLA, as my LA Weekly article described, suddenly there are a plethora of choices there.   But even though the University of Southern California has the second largest enrollment of students from China among American universities, numbering around 5,000, restaurants serving authentic Chinese food for these Mainlanders near campus appeared to be nearly non-existent.

Now it's not like there's never been somewhat authentic Chinese food near the USC campus.  Some 30 years ago there was Campus Chinese Restaurant on Vermont Ave. that made a terrific pepper chow mein, but it fell to the 1992 Los Angeles riots.  More recently there was Bamboo Express in the University Village mall which served authentic Western Chinese food alongside its Panda Express type items,  but which closed down when that shopping center fell to the wrecking ball.  Interestingly, the owners then opened up Qin West restaurant in Chinatown and then another branch on Westwood Blvd., bringing the first authentic "Mainland" Chinese food to both Chinatown and the Westside.  Then there was the Shan'xi Food Truck that haunted the USC campus that did so well it morphed into the sit down House of Bao restaurant, the second authentic Mainland style Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles Chinatown.  However that restaurant folded after just a few months, and I don't know if the truck operation ever came back.  Likewise I presume the Bamboo Wheel Shanghai style truck went out of business when the associated Bamboo Creek Restaurant in Monterey Park closed down.

I had heard hints that there were various Chinese food trucks currently parked around the USC campus.  However, driving by Jefferson near McClintock by international student housing, I only spotted one Chinese food truck, Tasty Wok and three taco trucks, including trucks named Tacos Guadalajara and Fluffy Tacos.  I also drove by the various small shopping centers on Figueroa St., but only saw the places that have been there for many years.   Well, the popcorn chicken at A Cup of Joy on Figueroa would have to do for authentic Chinese food, I guess, plus the on campus Asian food court at Fertitta Hall for the non-international students.

Still that answer didn't set well with me, so I turned to the good people at the Food Talk Central message board to ask where USC's Mainland Chinese students went to satisfy their Chinese food needs.  And they came through as I hoped.  The answer is a two part one.  Initially most of the responses indicated that a lot of the Mainland Chinese students at USC live away from campus, in luxury downtown LA apartments, or perhaps in San Gabriel Valley mansions.  That would explain the lack of authentic Chinese restaurant options that are otherwise common in campus communities from Champaign IL (which has at least 10 authentic Chinese restaurants for the large contingent of overseas Chinese students), Manhattan KS, Athens (Winterville) GA, Fayetteville, AR and probably hundreds of other university towns across America.

But even if a lot of the Mainland Chinese students left campus at night, they had to eat somewhere during the day.  And certainly not all of them lived away from campus.  Since today's Mainland Chinese students are much less inclined to widen their culinary horizons than prior generations of foreign students from Hong Kong and Taiwan, where did they get their Mainland food fix?  The real answer to the question of where USC's Mainland Chinese students go to get their Chinese food was eventually provided on the Food Talk Central message board by the indubitable food writer Dommy Gonzalez (also known as Dommy!) who lives in the USC area and who explained that what looked like taco trucks parked around Jefferson and McClintock were actually Chinese food trucks that didn't bother to change their names.

So going back on foot to Jefferson and McClintock confirmed that it's all true. All four trucks served Chinese food. The truck that said Tacos Guadelajara when I drove by on the street, said J. C. Foods on the street side and was festooned with Chinese lettering, as were all the trucks.  Fluffy Tacos didn't bother giving itself another name and I don't know if G & G Express Foods renamed itself from something else or not.


Each truck had a "menu" in the form of probably 40 to 50 pictures of their dishes that they served, almost exclusively Mainland style dishes, plastered on the side of the truck.  Prices were reasonable, with most dishes under $10, some including combos with rice and soup.  I was surprised to see an apparent nod to healthier ingredients here in California, as I ordered ground chicken wonton soup from one truck (can't recall seeing that anywhere) and a popcorn chicken roll (similar to the ubiquitous Shandong beef roll) at another.  But most of all, it was great to learn that even at USC there are authentic Chinese food options for the Mainland Chinese students at these and other Chinese food trucks in the area.

Monday, February 6, 2017

What New York Chinese Dining Has That Los Angeles Doesn't


While as a whole Chinese food in Los Angeles surpassed New York probably 20 years ago and continues to pull away, there are some things Chinese food wise in New York that don't exist in Los Angeles.  Here are four restaurants from my recent visit to New York that fall into this profile.


La Chine

La Chine in the Chinese-owned Waldorf-Astoria Hotel is the type of high end, authentic Chinese restaurant that exists in New York, along with places like Fung Tu, Cafe China and Hakkasan, but no longer can be found in LA after the demise of Hakkasan Beverly Hills (and perhaps Chi Lin). My guess is that Los Angeles is just not much of an expense account town like New York is. Yes, LA does have the entertainment industry, but that pales compared to New York which has Wall Street and the investment banks, and large numbers of corporate headquarters that LA doesn’t have.  We did pass on the $125 per person tasting menu, but got a good substitute with the restaurant week special. We had the Long Island fluke appetizer, which was OK, the wagyu beef tenderloin (the hit of the evening)   the crispy shrimp, which was quite tasty, the black cod, also OK.  For dessert there was the mango with pomelo tapioca soup (pictured below), which was excellent, and the coconut pudding square, which was meh.

On a side note, the high end authentic Chinese dining scene in Los Angeles is entirely different than New York as LA can only support a handful of inauthentic high end Chinese restaurants like WP24, Mr. Chow and Philippes.  So the $64 question is with Chinese culture being so food centric, and so much Chinese money circulating around Los Angeles, where do the rich people go to eat Chinese food?  At least up to this point, it's not in dedicated fine dining restaurants, but rather the same places where you and I eat.  Virtually all of the seafood palaces where we go for $3 dim sum, lunch specials, and regular dining, also serve uberexpensive, largely seafood based premium menus, probably topped by the $10,000 per table banquet menu at Grand Harbor in Temple City.




Modern Szechuan

Walking near my hotel on 45th St. in Midtown Manhattan I passed a restaurant called Modern Szechuan, which featured a $6.99 per pound buffet, and had all the earmarks of a restaurant catering to local office workers.  But what caught my eye was hand written signs touting things like Lanzhou hand pulled noodles and xiaolongbao—certainly not Midtown office worker fare.   Walking into the front part of the restaurant where most of the tables were located, I saw a couple of lo wai eating and a couple more carrying out buffet items.  The menu was largely Americanized Chinese food and all in all this place really didn't look too promising.  But there was a section of the menu with knife cut and hand pulled noodle soups which looked authentic, so I ordered the chicken hand pulled noodles and the Shanghai wonton.  After I placed my order with the manager she directed me to the back of the restaurant, past the buffet, to pay for my food and to wait for it to be brought out. What a shock. Most of the people eating adjacent to the buffet were old Chinese guys like the old time Chinese bachelors you see in Chinatown.  In Midtown?  And reaching the back part of the restaurant, there was a separate menu of authentic Chinese items posted on the wall (ironically, nothing Sichuan style), and the seating area in the back area was filled mostly with young Chinese families.  Who knew?  It was like a hole in the wall restaurant had been transplanted from Chinatown into the heart of Midtown Manhattan!

The chicken and the noodles were fantastic, as were the Shanghai wontons made of ground beef. We even ordered a second bowl of chicken noodle soup.  And you'd never see a restaurant like this in downtown Los Angeles.





Satay

As I have previously written, Flushing has become my favorite Chinatown because unlike the Chinatowns in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and even most of Manhattan, the sidewalks don't roll up after the dark and there is plenty of activity late into the night.  It wasn't that way when I first visited Flushing Main St. 20 years ago when the area was only partially Chinese, but it certainly has transformed since then.  I have been to Flushing numerous times, but mostly in the vicinity of Main Street and Roosevelt Ave. since I've typically stayed at the Sheraton hotel there and mostly traversed within walking distance of the hotel.

This time we were driven to a Malaysian restaurant called Satay on a part of Kissena Blvd. I had never been to.   However, this was not a Malaysian restaurant as you or I would think about it. It was Chinese Malaysian food, i.e., food of the ethnic Chinese who live in Malaysia.  The proprietors, staff, and customers all spoke Cantonese, and the menu was in English and Chinese.  The food was prepared similarly to Cantonese food, but the dishes were different.   We had a Malaysian Chinese new year’s salad, golden spare ribs with pineapple, okra with green beans and smelt, an odd duck dish, and shrimp in shell cooked like crispy crab.  The Chinese New Year salad, pictured below, included Chinese red envelopes--filled with sesame seeds to top the salad.  The ingredients in the salad were served unmixed, with the diners then using their chopsticks to mix the salad for good luck. What a fantastic meal!




Wah Fung #1 Fast Food

When visiting with the Fung Bros. at Congee Village last year before they moved back to the West Coast

they indicated to me that the one thing New York did better than Los Angeles was old fashioned Cantonese bbq roast meats.  In that regard, the grandaddy of them all in New York Chinatown would be Wah Fung #1 Fast Food on Chrystie St.  Before there was Howlin Ray's Nashville Hot Chicken and long lines in LA Chinatown, there was Wah Fung #1.  Not to say that the lines at Wah Fung are as long, or that the wait time is anything close.  But given the fact that Wah Fung #1 Fast Food is takeout only and it only takes a minute or so to fill an order, I'd guess the volume of business at Wah Fung #1 is higher.

Wah Fung has a simple menu.  You get your choice of chashu, roast chicken, roast duck, and/or roast pork on a layer of vegetables on top of a mound of white rice.  The standard price for a single item is $3.75, and the main (but not exclusive) target  audience is Chinese senior citizens.  I never ate there in over 30 trips to New York City, intimidated by the long lines.   But the Sunday morning line was manageable so I jumped in.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The New Lucky Dragon Chinese Casino in Las Vegas

The Lucky Dragon, a dedicated casino aimed at Chinese gamblers, recently opened in Las Vegas.  Lucky Dragon isn’t on the strip, but rather about a block west on Sahara Blvd., closer to Main Street than the busiest parts of the Strip.  It’s a small, low rise casino.  I’m guessing that the hotel portion, which is in an adjacent building to the casino, is maybe 6 or 7 stories high.  The gaming area is about 20,000 square feet, roughly equivalent to the size of one floor of an office building.  There was not a lot of gambling activity on the floor, but there was this huge line to sign up to be a frequent gambler.

It's surprising to me that it's taken so long for somebody to actually open an Asian targeted casino in Las Vegas.  There was the proposed Gold Mountain casino back in the 1980s which actually filed an IPO, but which was subsequently canceled.  And 15 years ago there was the mythical Red Dragon casino in the first Rush Hour movie with Jackie Chan.  At the time I thought a real Chinese casino would soon follow, but that didn't happen until now.  Then there's the large facility on the Strip being built by the owners of the Genting casino in Malaysia, which is currently under construction and will open up in two years with what seems to be a pan-Asian theme.  I trust it'll be nicer than their casino in the Malaysian highlands which we found dull and boring.

Perhaps the most telltale sign as to the target audience for Lucky Dragon is the fact there are only Chinese food options.  Plus, to me it seemed the dining areas are as big as the gambling areas.   The largest eatery at Lucky Dragon is the cafeteria type Dragon’s Alley, with an adjacent dining area.  Food was so so, but pricing was quite reasonable ($7 for noodle soup, $2 for small bowls of steam tray noodles).   And there was a line waiting to get in by the time we finished our meal.

Upstairs there is a higher class restaurant called Pearl Ocean (where the extra small dim sum is $4.88 a plate and the prices go up from there), which was packed  full, with people waiting.  Given that the casino has been open only a short while, that was impressive.   A second, higher class upstairs restaurant called Phoenix only opens for dinner.  They also have a 24 hour cook to order snack bar called Bao Now which was fairly expensive, with most entrees in the double digit dollar price range.  

The casino is catering to tourists from China, and Hainan Airlines just started flying from Beijing to Las Vegas in part to take tourists to Lucky Dragon.  However I’m not sure if that strategy will work since Lucky Dragon is so small and off the beaten path.  You can't easily walk from Lucky Dragon to the main part of the Strip (we found out the hard way), and perhaps like the moribund SLS Casino at the north end of the Strip, they're counting on the north end to perk up with the 2019 opening of Genting's Resorts World.  Whether they can hold out until then is something to be determined.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

36 Hours in The Bay Area

Though the ostensible reason for flying up to San Francisco was for a football game, this was really an eating trip. Landing a little after 9am Saturday, first stop was iCafe on Waverly Place in Chinatown for the poor man’s giant crispy top bbq pork bun for only $1.35.  This compares to the admittedly better but much smaller versions which you can get at some of the dim sum houses for $5 for an order of three.  I then headed to one of the two full service Chinese restaurants that had opened in Chinatown since my last visit, Hanlin Tea Restaurant.  I had their boneless fried chicken, kind of a cross between a chicken nugget and a chicken strip, with a very crunchy batter.  It was similar to something I remember eating a long time ago, and my best guess is that it resembled cracker meal. 

While it stopped raining before I landed, it started to rain lightly when I got in the car to drive to Berkeley around 12:30pm.   I would get lunch first at the Pacific East Mall in Richmond, where I knew there was at least one restaurant I hadn’t tried, Sichuan Fusion.    It rained fairly hard part of the way to Richmond, so I decided on a leisurely lunch in the mall and wait for the rain to break.  I had the tofu with crab and egg yolk, which I had only previously eaten as a dish with gravy.  This was actually a soup dish, and the large tureen contained about six bowls worth, which I struggled to finish.  When I finished lunch I left the mall to find the sun shining. However as soon as I started on the short drive from Richmond to Berkeley the skies darkened and it started to rain again.  Fortunately, by the time I got to Berkeley the rain stopped and once again the skies lightened.  For some reason I stopped by 85 Degrees on Shattuck to have something to eat later in the afternoon.  With so many branches of 85 Degrees in Los Angeles,  I don't know why I went there instead of something local.  I guess old habits are tough to break.

Driving back from Berkeley to the city after the game was pretty much bumper to bumper the whole way and took well over an hour.  Actually I didn't mind because in recent years my night vision has deteriorated and I was apprehensive about driving at night so far away from home.  But with traffic creeping along there was no problem  After the long drive back to Chinatown, I headed to Chong Qing Xiao Mein.   I had the Guilin rice noodle soup with stew meat and peanuts, and it was very good. 

The main reason I went up north was to try Hong Kong Lounge II, to compare its crispy bbq pork with Hong Kong Lounge 1, Lai Hong Lounge and Dragon Beaux.  While Chinese food in Los Angeles is clearly better than San Francisco, the crispy bbq pork bun, made famous by Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong, isn't available in Los Angeles except at Golden Valley in City of Industry.   Hong Kong Lounge II, Hong Kong Lounge I, and Lai Hong Lounge, were all once commonly owned, and consequently have very similar crispy pork buns.  However, the ownership of all three have since been separated.  Hong Kong II is the smallest of the three, and if it was the best of the bunch as some observers have indicated, I was worried that I might have trouble getting into the restaurant, particularly since I’ve seen the problem you have (i.e., an hour’s wait) if you miss the first seating at Lai Hong Lounge in Chinatown.  So with a 9:30am opening time, I was dismayed that I couldn’t get out and over there until 9:15am.  However I was surprised to see when I drove by that there were only a handful of people waiting in line.

Needless to say I went wild at Hong Kong Lounge 2, spending $50 on two orders of crispy pork buns, plus also their famous coffee pork ribs, fish cheung fun, pea leaf and chicken dumplings and chicken potstickers.  My verdict?  Dragon Beaux, part of the Koi Palace group, still had the best crispy bun, followed by Hong Kong 1, Lai Hong Lounge, and then Hong Kong 2.  The Hong Kong 2 crispy bun wasn’t as crisp and was a little too sweet for my taste.  The coffee ribs were very good and very interesting, but since I’m not partial to the taste of coffee I wouldn’t order it again.  The pea leaf dumpling was ordinary and the fish cheung fun was OK.  The chicken potsticker was very good, one of the best I’ve eaten, but for $7 for five small potstickers, the value is lacking.  But I’m so happy to have tried all of these places.  The big surprise about Hong Kong 2 was that there was not the huge crowds I had imagined.  It didn’t fill for perhaps 20 minutes after opening, and even when I left around 10:30am, an hour after opening, there were only a handful of people waiting to get in.  (In contrast, when I walked by Lai Hong Lounge in Chinatown a couple of hours later, there was a mob waiting to get in.)  Not sure what the reason is.  Perhaps it’s too pricey, or perhaps it’s a little further east of where the Chinese live in the Richmond district.

I then headed back to Chinatown where I did a last sweep around just to make sure there weren’t any new restaurants I had missed.  I then drove out to the Sunset district, on the way passing Hong Kong Lounge 2 again and still seeing only a small group of people waiting to get in.  My target was a place called i Wonton, but when I got there I couldn’t find it.  Checking my Blackberry I saw it was closed.  At first my plan B was to stop for a regular baked bbq pork bun at a nearby places called Donut House, which supposedly had one of the best versions around.  It was good, but the truth is there are a lot of good places for that item in San Francisco.  At that point it occurred to me that I was near San Francisco State University and I vaguely recalled that an authentic Sichuan restaurant had opened up in a shopping center near campus, part of the trend I’ve written about how the current crop of Mainland Chinese students have spawned new Chinese restaurants near campuses all over the country.  I had assumed the restaurant was in the Stonestown shopping center, but when I got there I saw it was too upscale (Macy’s etc.) to be the right place.  Though I didn’t remember the name of the restaurant I Googled the right details to pull it up and found that it was a half a mile away  on a side street in a residential area near the SFSU campus.   I ordered the pepper salt fish at Fang Yuen which was pretty good and made for a nice dinner at the airport.

All in all this was a very enjoyable trip. My room at the Royal Pacific was only $96, parking included, but an extra $15 in taxes, compared to as much as $240 when staying there during prime convention time.  So this was the perfect weekend to come up to San Francisco, especially with a beautiful sunny Sunday after the rainy Saturday.  


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Technology Leaving Us Old Diners In The Dust

Heaven knows it's tough enough ordering at an authentic Chinese restaurant if you don't speak Chinese. Throw in a technological hurdle and it's a gauntlet. I'm not talking about putting in your order on an iPad. I've kind of gotten the hang of that. But walking into Dasheng  BBQ in Monterey Park, I notice no menus. I asked the guy behind the counter for a menu, he says they don't have one. He then pointed to a poster on the wall and said you need this. "What that?" I asked. He then whipped out his smart phone and pointed to one of the apps. As it turns out their menu is only accessed somehow via the Chinese language WeChat app, with the menu only being in Chinese, though I had no idea of the mechanics since I didn't have We Chat on my phone.  

Coincidentally the Los Angeles Times recently ran an article by reporter David Pierson about how vendors of home made dumplings and other foodstuffs were selling their wares on WeChat    Pierson actually contacted me while writing this article as he was searching for someone  (even someone anonymous) who had purchased home made food items on WeChat to see if I knew anybody.  I couldn't help him except to give him the name of another person who might know.  But if you read his article you can see he did indeed manage to interview an end user.

The article quickly led to a thread on the Food Talk Central message board from people curious about how they could use WeChat to partake of these home made Chinese goodies.  Going to the WeChat application provides no apparent entry into this part of the foodie world.  There is nothing to indicate the existence of an equivalent to Facebook's Marketplace.  But where questions about the local food scene are normally quickly and easily resolved on this and other local food message boards, there has been no definitive answer posted.  

This silence actually isn't surprising.  When you read Pierson's article, strangely, depending on the particular food product involved, these WeChat sales may or may not be illegal.  It depends upon whether the food contains any meat or not, meat making it illegal.  Consequently, sellers certainly want to keep a low profile, while consumers don't want to put their food source at risk.  This is reminiscent of more than a decade ago when we used to buy frozen dumplings from a house in Monterey Park, from a "dealer" that we had heard of by word of mouth.   That operation was mentioned in a thread on the then vibrant Chowhound Los Angeles message board, but then the thread soon mysteriously disappeared.  Interestingly, that household operation subsequently became Mama Lu's Dumpling House.

I have since installed the We Chat app on my phone, though I'm still not sure what the drill is.  It probably has something to do with the QR Scan feature in WeChat.  Coincidentally, I just received an email with a Chinese language solicitation regarding Burberry products. The email had a QR Code embedded in it. On a hunch, I opened up WeChat's scan function, then put the QR Code image in the view box. and snapped it. That created a message link with the name and picture of a person who I presumed to be the seller, with the direction to first send a friend request to that person. Once you are friends then you can communicate with the person.  In conjuction with an article I found that incidentally noted that WeChat was a pioneer in a nascent business to customer direct messaging marketing approach, I'm thinking the answer lies is getting the vendor and the customer to identify and message each other on a one to one basis.  I'm guessing scanning the QR code is the facilitator in bringing the parties together, as opposed to something more organized like Facebook's Marketplace.  So I'm guessing when you go to Dasheng BBQ they give you a QR Code that you scan into WeChat which sends you their menu on your phone.  Or something like that.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Two Days in Phoenix

I've had a very strange relationship with the city of Phoenix (or as the stewardess on a recent flight I took from LAX to Phoenix repeatedly pronounced it, Fennix.)  It's only 400 miles from my home in Los Angeles, meaning a short one hour flight or an eight hour drive.  Yet after first visiting Phoenix in 1966 while still in college, my next trip there wasn't until 2004.  And since then I've been there 10 times, so I'm now fairly familiar with their Chinese food scene as reflected in my Menuism article on Chinese food there.  

Recently, a newly opened (well actually, new ownership of an old restaurant) called House of Egg Roll (sic) in suburban Chandler has made such a splash that it made one publication’s list of the top 50 Chinese restaurants in the U.S.  My guess is that the current owner purchased the predecessor Americanized Chinese restaurant and didn’t bother changing the English language name, since it’s irrelevant to Chinese speaking clientele.  So as soon as I picked up my rental car at Sky Harbor Airport on Sunday morning, I made a bee line to Chandler.   House of Egg Roll is now a Shaanxi style restaurant  and their pita bread lamb soup was the best I’ve had.  It was better than Shaanxi Gourmet in Rosemead in the San Gabriel Valley,  the best of several Shaanxi style restaurants in the SGV, which is saying a lot.  Before heading to the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale at Gainey Ranch, I also picked up a nice order of pork bing from Chengdu Delight to eat in my hotel room.  Just as good as in Los Angeles.


Shortly after I arrived in Scottsdale, I received a message from my friend and former co-worker Dave Isaac.  Somehow, Dave had parlayed his CPA practice with a secondary career as a radio talk show host.  Indeed, Dave once had me on his radio show to talk about Chinese food and our working days together..  Since my hotel was in Scottsdale and Dave lives in Peoria, we couldn't meet in the Chandler/Mesa area where most of the good Chinese restaurants in the Phoenix area are located. Fortunately, while I was in Chandler I was able to pick up Chinese newspapers with restaurant advertisers and I found some new restaurants that I hadn't tried, and luckily there was one new advertiser in north Phoenix,  Ann’s Asian Bistro, in the city of Surprise, some 30 miles west of the Hyatt Regency in Scottsdale.  I had driven through Surprise once, eight years ago when I last drove from LA to Phoenix, and considered Surprise to be at the edge of nowhere.  It was even west of Sun City, America’s first retirement community which I actually remember opening up around 1960.  Nowadays the western part of Phoenix flows seamlessly into Sun City, and now Surprise, so it met Dave the next night for dinner.  Ann’s is one of the few new Cantonese restaurants in Phoenix, as with most Chinese communities in the US, the bulk of the new Chinese restaurants are non-Cantonese.  At Ann's we ordered the beef chow fun, garlic string beans, and salted fish tofu casserole, all of which were reasonably good, particularly the salted fish casserole.  And we practically had the entire restaurant to ourselves as there was only one other diner there the whole evening.

After my meeting ended late Tuesday morning, I headed down to Mesa to try some other new restaurants that I saw in the Chinese newspaper.   First stop was B J Noodles, where I was expecting to have some dumplings or perhaps noodle soup.  But then I saw something on the menu described as “grains fish”.  I asked what that was, but the waitress was unable to explain it.  Since it wasn’t marked spicy I decided to try it.  That was a good choice because it was an absolutely delicious dish of sliced fish in a white sauce with sauteed sliced cucumbers and wood ear fungus.   I wolfed it down in record time.  In the same shopping center was another new find, Chili Rush.  Needing more food for later in the afternoon until my evening flight home, I searched for nonspicy, nonmessy dishes and came up with the national dish of Taiwan, stinky tofu.  Interestingly the restaurant's menu didn’t say Chili Rush, but rather Magic Chili Garden instead.  As a Google search later revealed, the ownership entity is Magic Chili Garden, but they operate under the name Chili Rush.  And strangely, the receipt for my food had neither name, but rather said Henry’s Private Kitchen. Last stop was Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House for some extra thick hand made noodles in peanut and garlic sauce.  

I have to say that most all of the Chinese food  these two days I ate was extremely good, generally comparable to the San Gabriel Valley.   It just reinforces my conclusion from my prior trips to Phoenix that pound for pound, authentic Chinese food in Phoenix is better than that in New York.  Not to say that there aren't more and better Chinese restaurants in New York than Phoenix.  But the average authentic Chinese restaurant in Phoenix is better than the average authentic Chinese restaurant in New York City as it is closer in quality to what we get in Los Angeles.