A few months ago, our good friend Janet flew back to Socal from Chicago. We picked her up at LAX around noon and immediately proceeded to do what we know best: eat (barring karaoke, of course).
Chicago’s paucity of good Asian eats is pretty well-known, so we had decided on an ambitious list of spots beforehand. With nearly a dozen places at hand, we managed to hit up almost all of them. The 27 mile food trek took us through 4 different neighborhoods: K-Town, Fairfax, Thai Town, and the San Gabriel Valley.
A word of caution: this suggested itinerary isn’t for the uninitiated, including people with small appetites.
Pitstop № 1: Myung In Dumplings
First stop was Myung In Dumplings in the heart of K-Town on Olympic Blvd, between Western and Irolo.
Myung In Dumplings has a pretty austere menu consisting of Koreanized Chinese dishes, including, as the name implies, dumplings.
We ordered 2 sets of dumplings: spicy steamed dumplings with shrimp and pork, which are stuffed with minced pork and shrimp, and rolled into logs before they’re steamed. However, both Janet and I agreed that Pao Jao Dumpling House, inside the Koreatown Plaza mall, has a superior version with spice that actually packs a punch.
The second was a set of Korean-style siu mai, which were folded using a technique reminiscent of Shanghai-style siu mai, but in Korean fashion, stuffed with meat, not sticky rice. Delicious. It went well especially with the chili-infused soy sauce-vinegar mix.
Pitstop № 2: Ham Ji Park BBQ
Next up on the itinerary was Ham Ji Park, one of my favorite bbq pork rib spots. Unfortunately, service that day was a bit lacking (more so than usual). Trying to grab the waiters’ attention was an exercise in patience. And at one point during the meal, a waiter nearly spilled a bunch of used plates onto Janet.
We shared an order of barbeque pork ribs, already glazed and marinated to perfection. And no effort needed to grill the meat by oneself. The three of us managed to finish the the ribs with ease, quickly separating the meat from the rib bones like clockwork.
Also got an order of kimchi stew, which was served piping hot. But I won’t say more about the unappetizing find I managed to stumble across in the soup. 😦
Pitstop № 3: Milk
After this protein overload, we made our way up north to Fairfax, home to one of LA’s finest dessert institutions: Milk, known for its ice cream macaron sandwiches.
We shared 2 sandwiches, each of us allowed one bite in between rotations. I guess we’re just efficient that way.
The blueberry crumble sandwich was the better of the two, with a more tempered sweetness, even with half the sandwich dipped in a sugar-coated frosting.
The Thai tea ice cream sandwich was all sugar and no tea. And for some reason, it began melting at a faster rate than its counterpart. Definitely could have been improved.
Milk is practically across the street from Buzzfeed’s LA offices, so we naturally took the liberty of peering into the empty offices through the windows for a quick look (hope nobody was inside!). I have got to say, they have a really nice open office layout. #workgoals
Pitstop № 4: Sapp Coffee Shop
Mindful of our 6 pm dinner plans in Monterey Park with the rest of the Project WILD pack (including Josie), we quickly drove east to our next stop in Thai Town, Sapp Coffee Shop. I’m a fan of their rice plates, but we somehow opted for 2 noodle dishes instead.
Janet had been deprived of boat noodle soup for quite some time, so we ordered Sapp’s version, which came with fried pork rinds, fish balls and pork offal, all bathed inside a blood-laden broth, seasoned liberally with spices. Unfortunately, the bowl we had was quite watery and lacked the signature intensity of the version at Pa Ord Noodle (down the street).
The jade noodles, one of Sapp’s signature dishes, were yummy though. Colored green with spinach juice, the noodle was a complex medley of contrasting flavors and textures. Apparently you can order it in soup form too!
Pitstop № 5: Kanom Thai Ram
On our way out, I bought a bunch of potato curry puffs (similar to Indonesian pastel) and fried bananas from a Thai snack shop next door. I just cannot resist banana in fried form. No idea why.
Pitstop № 6: Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars
Every savory meal must be followed by a sweet refreshment. So naturally we adhered to this cardinal rule, and thus found ourselves at Pitstop #6, one of my absolute favorite popsicle establishments: Mateo’s.
Paletas are essentially Mexican popsicles, except a million times better than what you can find at your American ice pop shop. Mateo’s has a humongous library of flavors, coming in 2 variants: milk-based and water-based.
I already knew going in what flavor I wanted: walnut. So creamy, smooth and subtly nutty. Best of all, it’s only $2 a pop (cheaper than La Michoacana, which has quite a few branches in the San Gabriel Valley)!
Janet got a sour water-based tamarind pop.
And Alvin got a “yellow cherry” paleta, which is actually made from nance, a tropical fruit native to the Americas.
Pitstop № 7: Huolala
We then headed further east to grab dinner with the rest of the group for a reunion of sorts at Huolala, a Sichuan-style restaurant on Garfield Ave in Monterey Park. The entire place, befitting the literal translation of its name (huolala or 火辣辣 means “scorching hot”) was painted in a shade of fiery red, as were all the tablecloths.
The waitress, perhaps unsure of our spice tolerance, even questioned whether we were in the right place, asking in Chinese “You know this is a Sichuan restaurant, right?”
We started off with a cold plate appetizer, consisting of marinated pig’s ears (凉拌猪耳朵), marinated seaweed (涼拌海帶) and smoked fish (熏鱼).
And we proceeded to order an obscene amount of family style dishes, all of us unabashedly digging into this bounty of spicy food, including some classic Sichuan dishes like twice-cooked pork (回鍋肉, huoguo rou).
The most interesting of the bunch was a dish called “beer duck” (啤酒鴨, pijiu ya), a casserole of duck and taro braised in an intensely spicy concoction of duck, chili oil, and soy sauce, spiced with a number of traditional Chinese ingredients like star anise, Sichuan peppers, garlic cloves, ginger, and cloves. It was especially delicious with a heapful of white rice.
Pitstop № 8: Tea Brick
As if we weren’t already full, we proceeded to top off the night with some dessert and milk tea at Tea Brick, a few blocks away, located in the same plaza as my go to branch of Mama Lu’s.
Not sure how we managed to power through brick toasts (basically toasted bread, scoops of ice cream and other decadent toppings) alongside individual cups of flavored milk tea. But we did.
Some hits, some misses. But never a dull moment with these nitwits.