Chengdu Taste was immediately added to my ever-growing spreadsheet of places to eat the moment Jonathan Gold mentioned it on his weekly chat this past Wednesday. The Astronomer and I absolutely adore Sichuan cuisine and seek it out whenever possible; there’s something about the numbing burn that comes with each bite, coupled with an avalanche of flavor, that never fails to get us giddy.
The restaurant, by the way, is named after the city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province and a USESCO-designated “City of Gastronomy.”
Whereas most dining spots in this neighborhood are fairly dumpy when it comes to decor, Chengdu Taste boasts a fresh coat of paint and plush red booths. The Astronomer, who I never realized noticed and cared about such things, was quite impressed with the surroundings.
“Just order something that you like at Chung King or Yun Chuan and you’ll get something different, but equally delicious,” advised Mr. Gold during the lunchtime Q&A session.
We started with the “Cold Noodle with Garlic Sauce” ($5.99), a dish that we hadn’t ever tried before but sounded perfect on this warm evening. The sauce, a mixture of crushed garlic, vinegar, and chili oil, was potent yet well-balanced. The toothsome strands soaked up the flavors just so. This seemingly simple preparation was one of tonight’s highlights.
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It is a tradition among my food blogging friends, especially those dining in and around the San Gabriel Valley, to sip milk tea following late night meals. Chewy tapioca balls are a common add on, but usually my company prefers their drinks straight up and fully caffeinated. While a post-dinner milk tea is perfectly lovely, I’d like to propose a new ritual that’s equally sweet, social, and local: hot fudge sundaes at Twohey’s Restaurant in Alhambra.
Twohey’s (pronounced “2EE’s”) has been around the San Gabriel Valley since 1943. The restaurant’s symbol, a gentleman with a clothes pin pinching his nose and tears running down his cheeks, is known as “The Little Stinko-O.” It was trademarked by the restaurant’s founder Jack Twohey upon overhearing a woman exclaim, “Oh, Stink-O,” when a patron seated next to her was served a hamburger garnished generously with onions and pickles. True story.
The Astronomer and I have driven past Twohey’s florescent-lit “Little Stinko-O” sign hundreds of times over the years, but it wasn’t until Jonathan Gold mentioned the restaurant’s famous hot fudge sundaes in an old column that I had any desire to check it out. Following last Friday night’s pho feast at Noodle Guy, it was finally time to put my curiosities to rest.
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Friday night called for something warm and comforting for dinner. It’s been one of the mildest winters in recent memory, but temps hovered in the fifties this evening and storms were rolling in from points north. After assessing the possibilities in and around the neighborhood, The Astronomer and I decided that a short drive to Alhambra for Vietnamese beef noodle soup was the order of the day.
Noodle Guy, not to be confused with Noodle King two doors down or Noodle Boy in nearby Rosemead, serves Vietnam’s greatest hits. From broken rice to spring rolls, there’s enough variety here to fill a thick, spiral-bound booklet. However, glancing around the dining room, it seemed that most everyone was burying their faces into a big bowl of pho.
Taking a cue from my fellow Noodle Guy-goers, I ordered a bowl of pho bo dac biet. Beneath the heap of chopped cilantro and sliced onions was a bed of rice noodles and a delectable collection of meaty odds and ends including flank, brisket, tendon, and tripe.
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I’ve mentioned my friend Sharon once or twice on the site, but she deserves more than a brief sentence in passing. You see, she’s my SGV guru. Sharon grew up in Alhambra, one block north of Valley Boulevard to be exact, and has had a lifetime of meals in the area under her belt. Try as I might to learn the lay of the land, I’ve barely made a dent in the scene during my two years of delectable explorations.
Lucky for me, Sharon happily takes me to her favorite haunts whenever she flies in from North Carolina, where she currently resides. On our most recent outing, we headed to Old Country Cafe to satisfy her serious hankering for Taiwanese-style fried chicken.
Old Country Cafe, one of the oldest Taiwanese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, is a charming hole-in-the-wall tucked inside a not-so-charming office-plex. The tiny space is heavy on the Formica and looks like it hasn’t been updated since its first day of business—I love places like these! We grabbed two stools along the counter and settled in with sweet drinks: salty plum for me and passion fruit for her.
We started off with a dish of snappy and chilled “flavored cucumber” ($2.25) at Sharon’s urging. She adored the vegetable’s garlicky undertones and salty kick. I admired its jagged edges and irregular shapes; it was as if the cucumber was hacked by a clawed animal.
We may or may not have ordered the bean curd ($2.50) that followed, but we were very happy to eat them nevertheless. Lightly marinated in sesame oil and soy sauce, the bean curd was savory and characteristically toothsome.
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