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.]
Dean Sin World
306 N. Garfield Avenue
Monterey Park, CA 91754
153 East Garvey Avenue
Monterey Park, CA 91755
101 Noodle Express
1408 East Valley Boulevard
Alhambra, CA 91801
535 West Valley Boulevard
San Gabriel, CA 91776
715 W. Las Tunas Drive
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Blue Cherry Yogurt Bar
137 West Main Street
Alhambra, CA 91801