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Exotic dishes, tastes of China

Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles.

August 25, 2011

If you're hungry for a little of Beijing and beyond -- northern Chinese dumplings, buns and hand-pulled noodles or maybe even cumin-scented lamb kebabs in the style of Xinjiang's food stalls -- look no further. Here's where to get your fix of Uighur saucy chicken piled on thick-cut flat noodles or Shandong beef roll, braised brisket wrapped in flaky, pastry-like griddled pancakes.

Omar: The cuisines of Central Asia and northern China meet at Omar restaurant in San Gabriel, where platters of steaming chicken chunks, spiced with cardamom leaves, Sichuan peppercorns and star anise top a mound of wide, flat handmade noodles and where big parties order the cumin-laced lamb kebabs by the dozen. The house pilaf, reminiscent of Afghan qabeli pilaw, is served only on weekends, and be warned, the house-made yogurt can run out early. Don't skip the meat pie -- a juicy meatloaf-like filling between two layers of thin, flaky pie-like crust.

1718 New Ave., San Gabriel, (626) 570-9778.

Happy Kitchen: The specialties of Happy Kitchen, a Valley Boulevard southern Chinese restaurant, may hail from the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, but with a chef from the northern city of Harbin, you'll also find house-made dumplings and buns. So besides various renditions of rice noodle soups (called luosifen, with embellishments such as poached shrimp, braised pork and savory eel), there is pancake-wrapped beef roll and tea-smoked chicken leg on the menu -- a little of both south and north.

301 W. Valley Blvd., No. 111, San Gabriel, (626) 284-2619.

Michelle's Pancake: The pancakes at Michelle's Pancake refer to classic northern Chinese savories that include flat, crispy-edged breads, tiny stuffed pillows of handkerchief-thin sheets of dough and flaky rounds enclosing a meaty filling. There are walnut-size baozi filled with beef; juicy pork and squash-filled grilled pancakes; scallion cakes; and another rendition of baozi that brings to mind miniature puffy tacos, filled with shrimp and egg. Shandong-style beef roll is wrapped around slabs of spice-braised brisket. Pot sticker-style codfish dumplings are chewy-crisp pockets that encase a whole chunk of fish surrounded by a slender layer of a leek-pork mixture melding into the crunchy crust.

706 W. Las Tunas Drive, No. B3-B4, San Gabriel, (626) 293-8098.

Beijing Restaurant: The specialty here is the hard-to-find (even in Beijing) ge da noodle, rustic pieces of it resembling spaetzle that are cut by hand from a rolled tube of dough and put into a tomato-y broth garnished with clouds of egg. Or they get stir-fried with cubed carrots, slices of squash and whole soybeans. Also check out the pastry section of the menu: Fried dumplings come with several fillings, the loveliest of which might be the lamb dumpling -- a long, flat, carefully folded package, crispy and pillowy on the outside, filled with hot, savory, juicy lamb.

250 W. Valley Blvd., Suite B2, San Gabriel, (626) 570-8598.

Feng Mao: Beijing-style skewers in Koreatown? Yes. At Feng Mao Korean-Chinese restaurant, the cross-over cuisine includes yang rou chuan, spiced mutton skewers (served in orders of 10) -- that you prepare on tabletop grills as if at a Korean barbecue joint. Lean cubes of mutton rubbed with a complex spice blend that contains mainly cumin, sesame and chile powder are as addictive as the banchan appetizers. Chicken, squab and quail are all on the menu, as are assorted cuts of pork and beef. All go great with a sip of Hite or Tsingtao beer.

3901 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 935-1099.

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