From my post at LA Weekly - Clarissa Wei
Some call it the “new Chinese Beverly Hills.” For others, it’s just the city where Din Tai Fung and the Los Angeles County Arboretum are located. But look closely and you’ll see a lively food community in an otherwise very suburban neighborhood.
Arcadia is the home of the recently relocated 626 Night Market and with a high concentration of eateries alongside Baldwin Avenue and Duarte Street, the city houses some of the finest Asian restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. Prices are cheap, interiors are cleaner than most SGV eateries and service isn’t all that bad.
Mirroring the population demographics, a good majority of the food in Arcadia is Taiwanese-inspired. Think stinky tofu platters, freshly-cooked Taiwanese sausages, saucy oyster pancakes and great offal selections. If Formosa specialties aren’t your thing, there are standouts like the Korean Young Dong Tofu and the cornmeal crust pizzeria Zelo.
Because of the city’s suburban layout, walking isn’t exactly the preferred means of transportation. Sure, it’s possible, but it’s better to bring a loaded SUV with a good few of your buddies for this neighborhood grub crawl because most of the food is family-style. You may not be able to hit up all these places in one visit, but make sure to make room for a final stop at one of the city’s teahouses for dessert: AU79 Teahouse, if you’re all about tea and boba quality, or Honey Boba, if you crave sugary sweetness.
10. A&J Restaurant:
A big bowl of glistening beef noodle soup. Fried pork chop over rice. Small plates of boiled peanuts, marinated pig ears and a wonderful cluster of bean sprouts mixed with seaweed. A&J Restaurant is a simplistic small eatery on Las Tunas known for their noodle soups. At no more than $7 a pop, the beef noodle soups here have both soul and bite. The appeal is the price: A ten dollar bill can easily cover the entire meal. Small appetizers are less than $2 each and if you have the room, the restaurant offers milk shaved ice for dessert. 27 Las Tunas Drive, Arcadia; 626-445-7270.
There’s no finer place for Taiwanese sausages than SinBala. The restaurant is open every day except Tuesday and you can tell that it’s the anchor for the Arcadia Center Plaza because Tuesday is the only day of the week that the parking lot isn’t packed full. Adorned with neon walls and a sunglass-wearing daiquiri cup as their logo, SinBala has a large menu filled with Taiwanese selections. Their Taiwanese sausages, called xiang chang (“fragrant” in Chinese), is their claim to fame. They’re sweeter than normal varieties and are complemented by a condiment of your choice: basil, garlic, cilantro, grape jam, kiwi, wasabi, etc. SinBala also offers uncommon Taiwanese specialties like oyster pancakes and ba wan (Taiwanese meatballs). 651 W. Duarte Road, Arcadia; 626-446-0886.
8. Zelo Pizzeria:
The distinguishing factor at Zelo is the cornmeal-crusted pizzas. Located in a small shop with a faint view of the San Gabriel Valley mountains, Zelo is perhaps the only destination in Arcadia to go to for freshly baked cheese pies. The kitchen is thoughtful and one slice, labeled tactfully as “generous” on their menu, goes for $4. The corn pizza on a cornmeal crust may sound redundant, but it’s one of the best choices you can make all day. Inside a steel deep-dish pan, the fresh corn kernels, balsamic-glazed red onions, smoked mozzarella and chives combine into a perfect, crisp medley. 328 E. Foothill Blvd., Arcadia; 626-358-8298.
7. Capital Seafood Restaurant:
Few things are better than convening a big group of friends for dim sum on the weekend. Capital Seafood is part of a new-wave of dim sum eateries, where menu items can be ordered off of a checklist rather than by hailing a hurrying cart. The menu is dim sum standard, but a particular stand-out is the warm egg custard bun topped with a lovely pineapple-flavored glaze. 333 E Huntington Drive, Arcadia; 626-574-8889
6. Boiling Point:
The traditional hot-pot eatery gets a 21st-century twist at the Taiwanese restaurant
Boiling Point. The expanding chain has thrown out the massive, family-style pots in
favor of miniature, personal pots. Each customer has a choice of ten broth flavors with complementary ingredients. But no matter which one you end up selecting, each broth is packed with intensity, creating a complexity that reveals itself with each spoonful. The basic house special soup has a serious, substantial broth that reeks of stinky tofu. Toppings are traditional: pork blood cubes, quail eggs, clams, enoki mushrooms, fish cakes and stinky tofu. Spice lovers can voice a preference — and if it all gets too intense, just order a large cup of sweet black tea to wash it down. Or better yet, come during lunch hour, when the tea is complimentary. 206 S 1st Ave., Arcadia; 626-461-6688.
5. Tofu King:
The English sign may still say “Chans Paris N” (the name of the previous occupant), but the Chinese sign, when translated, reads “Stinky Tofu King.” The eatery mimics a typical Taiwanese xiaochi (small eats) shop, with the latest Asian hits playing in the background and a cash-only policy. Though the tofu is disappointedly less rancid than the stuff in Taiwan, it’s probably as traditional as possible — without a Department of Health crackdown. They also make a mean braised fatty pork over rice. 713 W. Duarte Rd., Ste C, Arcadia; 626-254-0223.
4. Din Tai Fung:
For some, Din Tai Fung is the flagship restaurant of Arcadia. For others, it’s the only reason to make the trek to the San Gabriel Valley. Patio umbrellas and chairs are outside on a daily basis to accommodate the daily long lines — so don’t expect a quick meal. The Taiwanese-owned xiaolongbao eatery touts some of the best soup dumplings in town, maybe even in the world. They’re little pockets of savory soup made fresh and flavored with a small dish of ginger, soy sauce and vinegar on the side. 1088 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia; 626-446-8588.
3. Young Dong Tofu:
Young Dong may not have cheap, unlimited barbecue, but it does have some of the best soondubu jjigae in all of Los Angeles. The tofu eclipses the standard level of silkiness — and there’s just the right amount of chili, meat, mushrooms and seafood in each bowl. Meals come in a set: unlimited side dishes, a bubbling tofu pot, a bowl of crispy rice in a clay pot and a protein of your choice (we prefer the BBQ ribs). 1311 S. Baldwin Ave., Ste B., Arcadia; 626-445-0078.
2. Tasty Garden:
Sure the city may have a Denny’s, but Tasty Garden is the more popular option when it comes to late-night dining. Part of the Hong Kong diner’s appeal is that it’s great whether you’re looking to appease Western tastes (spaghetti Bolognese, filet mignon cubes) or feeling more inclined towards a traditional Chinese meal (chicken feet, lo mein, frog in a clay pot). And for those with a particular sweet tooth, they make one of the best Hong Kong waffles in the area. 1212 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia; 626-445-9388.
1. Cafe Fusion:
The team over at the Taiwanese cult-favorite Cafe Fusion has been doing the farm-to-table approach for years now, serving seasonable produce such as dragons’ whiskers salad tossed with sesame oil and baby spring bamboo shoots. Though the menu admittedly skews toward the more expensive, the dishes are finely prepared and centered around traditional Taiwanese flavors. You won’t find your typical street-side novelties like stinky tofu and pork chop over rice here. Instead, Cafe Fusion (which is not fusion at all) is great for lesser-known Formosan specialities like baked milkfish, boiled squid with ginger, pork kidney and prawn sashimi. If you have an extra 30 bucks to spare, try the buttery steamed black cod; it might change the way you think about fish. 510 E. Live Oak Ave., Arcadia; 626-447-6488.