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Dragon Fare

June 29, 1986| --Compiled by Steven Smith

The Los Angeles area has two Chinatowns: There's the old one downtown, crowded into a few short blocks, and the giant newer one in Monterey Park, where many signs are in Chinese. But no matter where you find yourself in the Southland, there are sure to be Chinese restaurants, for this area has had an enduring love for everything from egg foo young to shark's fin soup. Among the hundreds of wonderful local Chinese restaurants, here are a few that were recently reviewed. ABC SEAFOOD (708 New High St., Los Angeles (213) 680-2887). ABC is about as close to Hong Kong as you can get, not because of its seafood (which is fine). It's the dim sum that draws the crowds. The seating is disorderly--ABC hands out numbers, just like a meat counter--but the wait is worth it. Once seated, you're treated to a parade of Chinese dumplings, meats and sweets. The char shiu bao (soft steamed dumplings filled with barbecued pork) are excellent, as are the baked pork-filled buns with golden brown, sticky tops. More exotic are the fat bundles of chicken and Chinese sausage encased in rice. Plates of barbecued pork and duck and a midday noodle menu provide hearty lunches. Open Mon.-Sun., 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Visa and MasterCard. Dinner $7-$10.

FIVE FEET (328 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach (714) 497-4955). The name and the decor recall an art gallery, of the stark, loft-like sort; it's a cutting-edge place, a Chinese restaurant with French touches. No laundry-list menu here, just a changing menu of six appetizers and eight or 10 entrees; appetizers always include a dim sum (the shrimp is very fresh, the pasta al dente ) and mussels, in a terrific black bean sauce. The dinner entree that makes Five Feet famous is a whole, two-pound catfish in a mild hot sauce, topped with a riot of julienned vegetables. Just try to find better catfish. Second best (says the menu) is a Chinese steak, an excellent filet served on a sizzling platter in dark soy sauce--wild stuff. Anything with shellfish is a treat, as are the enormous prawns and the squid. Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; Sat., noon-4 p.m. Dinner, Mon.-Thur., 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Visa and MasterCard. Dinner, $30-$60.

FUNG WONG (123 N. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills (213) 854-3346). The pastel interior in this vegetarian restaurant is cool and placid--like the waiters (whose service is unusually good). Some of chef Kan Kwong Lim's dishes are really creative: a special Peking "duck" that nearly passes for the real thing and minced "squab" in lettuce. Some of the best plates are simple vegetables--sizzling supreme and sauteed eggplant are two of the best dishes in town. The seafood is unexceptional, but don't miss those shrimp rolls. Only one dessert (a wonderful tapioca pudding with lotus seed) is outstanding, and some dishes are a bit tentative; but the careful reproduction of classical Chinese vegetarian dishes makes eating in this elegant restaurant a very interesting experience. Sun.-Thur., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. All major credit cards. Valet parking. Dinner, $25-$40.

MANDARIN DELI (727 N. Broadway, Los Angeles (213) 623-6054). There's usually a line snaking out the door here: You're most apt to get a table by sharing. The deli's soups are entrancing, with their potpourri of ingredients and textured noodles, but it's their pan-fried meat dumplings that cause the culinary chaos. Big, floppy rectangles that radiate heat, they're highly addictive. Tender pasta surrounds a fluffy meat filling, crisp on one side, tender on the other. (Plan to take some with you.) Also recommended are the cucumber salad, rich with garlic, and their pork-sauced noodles. Wed-Mon., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. No credit cards. Dinner $6-$12.

REGENT SEAFOOD RESTAURANT (739-747 N. Main St., Los Angeles (213) 680-3333). Lunch at Regent is often so crowded that at peak time people waiting for tables crowd the entrance (most attracted by the $2.80 special). If four people lunch together, they can share four main dishes, a generous lunch for a pittance. The Regent may specialize in seafood, but it could also make its reputation on its minced squab (with lettuce, Chinese sausage, ginger, bamboo shoots, onion and black mushrooms). As for seafood, the clams with garlic and black bean sauce seem to be a favorite; even better are their splendidly charcoaled scallops with the same. Shrimp are also beautifully cooked. Decor is Chinese-plain, service rapid considering the congestion. Sun.-Thur., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Reservations for 10 or more. Visa, MasterCard, American Express (minimum charge $10). Dinner $8-$20.

SAM WORLD RESTAURANT (715 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park (818) 289-9898). Part of a strange and wonderful triumvirate of Chinese restaurants on Garvey Avenue, Sam World specializes in barbecues and seafoods, which are served with spirit and aplomb. The duck--especially barbecued chopped duck "with orange flavor"--is terrific, as is the crispy barbecued tripe (listed on the menu as "pig intestine with daily special"). Sizzling oyster with ginger and onion is rich and sizzling indeed. Sam World's most memorable dish is the Hakkanese "beef ball with seasoned vegetables." Soft yet magically crunchy, the balls are shredded to absorb the rich brown sauce that accompanies them. And if that doesn't satisfy you, you can always go down Garvey to Sam Ward--or to Sam Woo. Daily, 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. No credit cards. Dinner, $15-$30.

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