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THE GASTRO ECONOMIST

The best time to eat in Alhambra may be between meals

January 17, 2008|Cynthia Dea

Alot of unapologetic eating between meals goes on in Alhambra. At all hours of the day, hordes of waiting patrons can be seen spilling outside of eateries along Valley Boulevard throughout the San Gabriel Valley. Tasty Garden (288 W. Valley Blvd., No. 110, Alhambra [626] 300-8262) is one of the fiercest competitors battling it out for the hungry midday crowd bent on good grub and a good deal.

From 3:30 to 5 p.m., afternoon tea is served at the Hong Kong-style diner, known for its Cantonese comfort food and brisk service. The daintiness and refinement of "tea service," however, is completely lost on its tea menu; a snack is more like an entire meal covering all basic food groups. Chomping on chicken feet is popular at this hour.

The afternoon tea menu special seeks to satisfy everyone. Carnivores luck out with the stewed pig feet and wonton lo mein ($5.75) and crispy chicken wings with glutinous rice ($5.25). For vegetarians, the house special peanut pizza ($4.50), a scallion pancake filled with peanut butter, seems to do the trick. Some form of bread is obligatory in afternoon tea. Here, it's in the shape of yellow pingpong balls: the Hong Kong-style waffles ($4.25), called "little eggs" in Cantonese, are sweet, airy bite-size cakes. Each dish comes with a choice of coffee or milk tea. The tea, strongly brewed and mixed with condensed milk, is as good as anything you can find in Hong Kong's market stalls.

If that's not enough to stomp on your New Year's resolution to eat healthy, Lollicup and Tapioca Express, two rival boba shops intent on setting up shop side-by-side throughout the Southland, are next door to Tasty Garden. At Lollicup, stick to the Taiwanese-style snacks where the deep-fried string beans ($2.35), fried tofu ($4.99) and fried calamari ($2.99) rival anything found at the county fair.

At Tapioca Express, the snacks are fried as well (like the crispy pot stickers for $1.95), but if you've had more than enough fried food, balance out your chi with a generous helping of oolong tea eggs ($.99).

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-- Cynthia.Dea@latimes.com

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