Good Girl Dinette is a sweet little spot in Highland Park where “American diner meets Vietnamese comfort food.” In this clip, you’ll see us eating, girl talking, and meeting Diep Tran, the fabulous woman behind the restaurant. We had a blast filming the segment and hope that you’ll enjoy it just as much.
It’s 9:30 AM on Saturday morning. I’m driving to a little dumpling shack called Dean Sin World in the city of Monterey Park—the first stop on an epic Food Marathon that will crisscross Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Valley in search of greatness in the form of Chinese food. The thermometer in my car reads 91 degrees, which is a bit harsh even for August in Southern California, but not surprising considering the week’s heatwave. I’m shaking in my sneakers and imagining the worst, but really, there’s no turning back.
My seven friends and I will Eat, Run, and Repeat, all in the name of good food, good health, and good fun. Indigestion and poor air quality be damned. By the end of our journey, we will have clocked in five miles and five meals. It’s the glory we’re after, for there will be no medals or cash prizes at the finish line. My comrades include, from left to right, The Astronomer, H.C. of L.A. and O.C. Foodventures and Foodie Fitness, gas•tron•o•my readers Andy and Hanh, Matthew of Mattatouille, Neil of Food Marathon, and Sook of Yutjangsah. I’m the gal with the neon orange headband and shorts.
And the gun goes off!
Meal #1: Dean Sin World – Monterey Park
The San Gabriel Valley, which is home to the largest population of Chinese people outside of mainland China, is a carbo-loading paradise. The boulevards that stretch along the cities of San Gabriel, Alhambra, and Monterey Park are dotted with amazingly authentic eateries specializing in steamed meat-filled dumplings, crisply fried pancakes, and heaps of noodles. As every runner knows, carbohydrates and running go hand in hand.
At Dean Sin World, we were treated to a cold appetizer of sliced beef tendon while the ladies in the kitchen whipped up our spread. The first dish to arrive was the sweet and soupy “Wine Brew,” which consists of soft egg curds, sticky tubes of tapioca, and cooked rice in a bath of rice wine. Next to arrive was our order of xiao long bao, also known as soup dumplings. It’s hard to go wrong with juicy and savory pork wrapped in deliciously pliable wrappers.
It wasn’t exactly soup weather outside, but Ms. Lu’s Lion’s Head Soup with Napa cabbage and glass noodles hit the spot perfectly. The name of the dish refers to the soup’s soft and plump meatballs, which seem to be bound together by the lightest touch. From Dean Sin World, we ran .2 miles to Mama’s Lu.
Meal #2: Mama’s Lu – Monterey Park
At Mama’s Lu, we dug into a most excellent Green Onion Cake that was crisp, slightly chewy, flaky, and not bogged down by too much oil. The chopped scallions provided a splash of color and flavor. I tried to convince my teammates to order another plate, but they were far too reasonable to agree. Mama’s Lu’s fried pork dumplings was everyone’s least favorite item of the day. The outer skin was overly bread-y, while the innards were mushy and lacked integrity.
The Shanghai Rice Cakes were a hit and one of my favorite dishes of the day. The smooth discs of joy were sauteed with pork, mushrooms, carrots, scallions, and cabbage in a soy-based sauce. The rice cakes’ quick fry in the wok imparted an overall smoky quality to the dish.
After our second meal, The Astronomer and I strolled down Mama’s Lu‘s corridor, while Mr. Food Marathon took off like a champ. For a self-proclaimed non-runner, Neil sure did have a bad-ass stride.
From Mama’s Lu, we pounded the pavement for 1.8 miles to 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra. We averaged 9 minutes and 15 seconds per mile.
Meal #3: 101 Noodle Express – Alhambra
At 101 Noodle Express, we gorged on steamed pumpkin and shrimp dumplings and cold Dan Dan noodles. Even after eating two meals prior and cranking out 2 miles, each and every one of us was thankfully able to appreciate the dishes. Sweat just adds a bit of savoriness, right?
101 Noodle Express‘ specialty is the Shandong beef roll, which is comprised of a fried wheat pancake smeared with a hoisin-like bean paste and stuffed with fresh cilantro and thin cuts of beef. Oh goodness, this was fantastically tasty.
Meal #4: Bamboodles Restaurant – San Gabriel
From 101 Noodle Express, we jammed over to Bamboodles Restaurant, which was only 489 feet away. Bamboodles Restaurant is the first American outlet of a small chain originating in Guangdong Xinhui. Here, noodles are made the old-fashioned way by an unselfconscious man bouncing up and down on a long bamboo rod.
We started off with pleasantly bouncy fried fish balls smothered in chili oil. Then, we moved on to perfectly refreshing spinach and pork noodles served over crushed ice.
Based on H.C.’s recommendation, we also ordered the spicy wontons. They tasted so good going in, but I’ve gotta admit, during the next leg of my run, they didn’t taste so hot. Burp!
Meal #5: Kingburg Kitchen – San Gabriel
From Bamboodles Restaurant, we ran 1.7 miles to Kingburg Kitchen in San Gabriel. The temperature was well over 100 degrees at this point in the day, but everyone made it safely and soundly to our final savory destination. We drank a lot of water when we arrived.
At Kingburg Kitchen, we enjoyed two cold appetizers—beef tendon with bean curd and a salad of tofu strands. We also went for an order of their house special fried pork and leek dumplings. Unlike the disappointing ones at Mama’s Lu, these had an ideal ratio of filling to wrapper, and were much better in texture.
The scallion flecked Kingburg Pancake was just what I wanted to nosh on after running in the brutal heat. Refined flours go down so easily.
Meal #6: Blue Cherry – Alhambra
For the final leg of the food marathon, we ran 1.2 miles to Blue Cherry Yogurt Bar, where we cooled off with Beijing-style yogurt. Served in a paper-topped clay jar, the cold, creamy, and tart yogurt coated our stomachs with its smooth goodness, providing the perfect conclusion to the day.
Thank you very much to Foodbuzz for footing the bill, and my brave friends for agreeing to this crazy endeavor. We finished 5.1 miles at just under 10-minute pace—48 minutes and 7 seconds. It was a treat, a real treat, but a different kind of treat altogether.
And a very special thank you to Matthew of Mattatouille for beautifully photographing the event and putting together this excellent video.
[Check out the course map here and click below for a full list of restaurants. For more shenanigans, follow me @GastronomyBlog.]
The show finally aired on BBC Two in the U.K. last month, and the above clip features a little glimpse of yours truly—Thanks to Graham of Noodlepie for digging it up on You Tube. I always get a kick out of meeting bloggers in real life or seeing their mugs revealed, so I thought I’d share this little snippet with you.
As soon as the Astronomer and I got engaged, our families and friends wanted to know if we’d set a date. It’s been nearly two months since The Astronomer popped the question, and no date is in sight. Our thinking was location first, then choose a date based on the facility’s availability. We’re trying to be as rational and logical as possible throughout this b-a-n-a-n-a-s process.
On our first afternoon of scoping out possible locations, The Astronomer and I visited The London West Hollywood and The Oviatt Penthouse in downtown L.A. We loved the rooftop and the English gardens at The London, but The Oviatt’s old Hollywood vibe wasn’t really our style. After thoroughly inspecting the two venues, we skipped over to BonChon Chicken in Koreatown for lunch. Wedding planning, like all proper endurance sports, really works up an appetite.
Similar to Chicken Day and arch-nemesis KyoChon, food orders at BonChon are placed up front at the cash register. While the chicken meets the deep-fryer—not once, but twice—patrons must patiently twiddle their thumbs. The wait time at BonChon is comparable to competitors, but a bit more exciting thanks to the compressed napkins distributed to diners.
To entertain ourselves during the tortuously long lull, I made a movie starring The Astronomer titled, “Napkin Fun @ BonChon.” It’s a riot, I promise.
Before our chicken arrived, we were each served a complimentary dish of coleslaw. The thinly sliced red and green cabbage was drizzled in a pleasant Thousand Island dressing. The coleslaw tasted worlds better than the bizarre ketchup and mayonnaise concoction at KyoChon up the street.
We were also served a complimentary dish of refreshing pickled radish cubes.
After a solid twenty minutes of twiddling our thumbs and making silly movies, the chicken finally arrived tableside. Our large order of wings ($15.99), half soy-garlic (left) and half spicy (right), was enticingly presented in a wicker basket.
The texture of both varieties was spot-on, with the requisite KFC snap wholly present. Flavor-wise, The Astronomer and I favored the soy-garlic variety for its dangerously addictive umami properties. The spicy ones were really tasty as well, but we both desired a hotter glaze—more burning, please.
BonChon is a formidable competitor in Los Angeles’ KFC battle, but KyoChon wins by a nose.
The Astronomer and I drove down to San Diego this weekend to celebrate Tết with my family. In Vietnam, the entire country shuts down for over a week in order for families to gather and celebrate. It was beyond grand last year taking off several weeks of work to eat, drink and be merry, but it looks like this Tết I’m going to have to settle for a measly weekend. Oh, cultural norms…
We woke up early this morning to go to the temple. Instead of having a traditional Buddhist ceremony, the temple organized a festive raffle. I won a book about Africa, while Cousin Jimmy won a jade dragon wall hanging. My grandparents didn’t win a prize, but I awarded them Best Dressed honors.
After the Tết raffle, firecrackers were lit!
Before heading to the San Diego Tết Festival, we ate com chay (vegetarian lunch) at the temple. Many Buddhists refrain from eating meat during the first month of the New Year.
As we entered the Tết Festival at Balboa Park, we were greeted by a bunch of veteran carnies. We thought we had made a wrong turn until we ran into Cho Ben Thanh. Whew!
The number of Vietnamese food vendors present at the festival was pretty limited considering how many Vietnamese restaurants there are in the city. Regardless, the smell of grilled pork permeated the festival air.
Cousin Jimmy was in the mood for a banh mi and procured one soon after we arrived. Even though the sandwich was pre-made and the bread was soft rather than crisp, Cousin Jimmy still thought that it was good eats. The Astronomer went for a tall cup of nuoc mia (sugar cane juice) to start. The nuoc mia was refreshing, but too sweet because the vendor failed to squeeze in a bit of citrus like they do in Vietnam.
To accompany his nuoc mia, The Astronomer purchased some banh khot, which were served with greens, herbs and nuoc cham on the side. The banh khot were soggy in the center and tasted like banh xeo. Texturally, banh khot should be crisper and more wafer-like.
While we ate, a faux wedding procession came through. The costumes made me feel like I was at the Citadel in Hue.
A wedding isn’t a wedding without a roasted piglet.
The highlight of our afternoon at the festival was the lion dance. The footwork was cool, but the rhythm of the drums is the coolest.