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Hop Li... Pico & Veteran... what am I in for?

I have a friend who is taking my Lovely Tasting Assistant (LTA) and I out to dinner and he's suggested this "excellent Chinese restaurant" near his house in Westwood... Hop Li.

I'm truly scared of Westside Chinese. My girlfriend is Taiwanese. I've tried to shelter her from non-SG Valley Chinese. What are we in for? Is my relationship in trouble? What can I do to minimize fallout?

Please help.

Mr Taster

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  1. Though Hop Li is definitely not the best Chinese restaurant I've ever been to, it is a step up from all other Chinese places I've been to on the Westside.

    I think the restaurant is mainly Cantonese style food, but most everything I've had there is not too bad. Steamed fish, squid with spicy salt, and honey walnut shrimp are some of my favorites.

    Hopefully this will help you out.

    1. Also, I recall portions being quite a bit larger than at most Chinese places on the Westside

      1. There was another post awhile ago that tried to put this kind of thread about Westside Chinese food in perspective: No, it isn't going to be as "authentic" as the San Gabriel Valley. Yes, it will be better than most available around the country.

        I had a good portion of above-average chicken in black bean sauce there for lunch a few weeks ago. There was an elderly couple who were regulars who ordered more interesting seafood dishes.

        Chinese food is tasty and fun and reasonably-priced. If I don't want to go all the way across town, or trans-continental, am I supposed to avoid it? If better pizza is available in New York, or better sushi in Tokyo, I shouldn't eat it here? C'mon. Lighten up. Let your friend order his favorite dish. Ask, or have your Taiwanese girlfriend ask in Cantonese, what their best specialties are and have fun.

        5 Replies
        1. re: nosh

          I believe this is the thread to which *nosh* refers:

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

          See also:

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

          In our most recent Hop Li meals, we have generally done well with an emphasis on fresh comfort-food Cantonese: cold jellyfish; scrambled eggs and shrimp (PayOrPlay Jr.'s favorite restaurant meal these days); some sort of crab, lobster, or other live seafood; the pan fried noodles with tomato beef; mango chicken (everyone orders this at Hop Li, it's variable but can be quite good when not overly starched); and some fried rice. "Tofu garden" is a good vegetarian dish with mixed veggies buried in a mound of tofu, but it hasn't been on the specials list lately so I'm not sure if they can still make it or not; "Supreme Mixed Vegetables" aren't bad either.

          1. re: nosh

            Actually I think you're asking the wrong person... I do not believe necessarily in the very American idea of settling for inferior quality for the sake of convenience (or quantity). I see nothing wrong with only eating fresh tomatoes in summer or bagels only when in New York. Why bother with an inferior approximation? It makes the real stuff more of an occasion. All that more special. I won't die if I can't get my hand pulled noodles around the corner. Save it for the weekend and savor it all the more.

            Having just returned from 6 months in Asia, I can tell you that we are lucky to live in a city where food from such wildly diverse, high quality, authentic ethnic cuisines exists. When I can eat virtually the same tasting pud see ew at Sanamluang on Hollywood that I had in Bangkok, to my mind that's no comprimise.

            Likewise since I have been dining in the SGV, I have generally lost my taste for gloppy, overly sweet, overly greasy Americanized Chinese food (which I no longer feel is, as you say, tasty nor fun, though it may still be cheap). The real stuff is so much fresher and cleaner. Why bother with the fake stuff?

            Unless your friend really wants to take you, of course. Then you can seek advice from Chowhounds.

            Mr Taster

            1. re: Mr Taster

              If you're pre-disposed to thinking the place is serving greasy, americanized Chinese food that you wouldn't feed to your enemy's dog, then that's what you're going to get. Why not go with an open mind? If you don't like it, it's one thing... your post, however, reads as if you're dismissing it solely on the basis of location.

              Maybe you should re-post on a different forum? Ask for advice on how to graciously avoid going to a restaurant that your friend proclaims as "excellent." It sounds like you don't want to go anyway, and it seems more fair to your friend to just tell him up front than go and give off a negative vibe during the meal.

              1. re: Devourer

                You're right... I have not given it the benefit of my open mind.

                I'll go with one tonight and report back!

                Mr Taster

              2. re: Mr Taster

                although i didn't spend six months in asia, i have to say, that when i was in hong kong i was surprised at how heavily greased much of their food was.

                many dishes seemed to be floating in a pond of grease.
                the stuff i get in the sgv seems to have much LESS grease than the hong kong food.

            2. You're in for mediocre-at-best Westside Chinese served room temperature or cooler.

              1. Its the best of the Chinese available on the Westside BUT the food is very greasy I find. The location out in MDR was very good and the Pico shop should have corralled that chef when the Marina location closed. NOW I see that the old JR's near Bundy and SM in a strip mall on the north side of the street has a flickering neon sign announcing "Hop Li" - maybe that's the one to try. Maybe maybe the MDR chef has taken up residence there. In that case he made the best walnut shrimp ever. As noted above, steamed fish and chicken in black bean are safe bets.

                1. it's decent enough - I also love their honey walnut shrimp, and they do tasty noodles too - try the singapore mai fun

                  1. I like Hop Li and go to the one on Alpine in Chinatown. I think the Marina Del Rey location has been closed.

                    1. Nothing to be worried about-they do a good job. One thing I notice about Hop Li's is they are very accomodating. One day I was at the one in Chinatown and a group of Caucasian ladies were ordering like no MSG and eveything they wanted the sauce had to be on the side and the waiter didn't flinch and the food came out the way they wanted. So if its the oil issue or whatever...just tell them. They know which hand feeds them.

                      Honey garlic spare ribs as an appetizer.

                      1. Went to Hop Li and was unfortunately as I feared. My friend ordered the egg foo young, which I had actually never had before. Three massive, heavy, bready things drowned in some thick brown sauce and covered with shrimp-- an obscene portion enough to feed three people.

                        My girlfriend ordered the fried beef noodles with tomato. Cantonese style deep fried noodles topped with big chunks of tomato and some tender beef slices (this was the best part) and once again drowned in a gloppy, sweet gravy. Just too big, too heavy, too massive, too much of everything.

                        I ordered the supreme vegetables. Again a rediculous portion of tasty fried glass noodled topped with merely a handful of veggies. This item was not drowned in sauce, but it had been thickened up by something giving it that distinct gloppy texture found in the other dishes. I ate primarily the veggies and part of the noodles and was full, leaving about 2/3 of the serving left over which we took home, simply because we appreciate the Buddhist philosophy of not wasting food.

                        In the end-- we gave it a fair shot. It was bad.

                        Mr Taster

                        3 Replies
                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            Name of the restaurant is Hop Li Seafood, why didn't you order any of their seafood dishes?

                            What you ordered are Americanized Cantonese style dishes. Any Cantonese dish with "tomato sauce" is always sweet-ketchup is one of the ingredients.

                            The glass noodles you describe are bean thread noodles and basically are starchy and make their own sauce when they add chicken broth for flavor, otherwise they have no flavor on their own. Gloppy sauce in other dishes are from a slurry of corn starch and water to make what is supposed to be a gravy. Go to any Chinese grocery store and one of the most prominent ingredients they sell is corn starch.

                            1. re: Mr Taster

                              Geez, why would you order that at a seafood chinese restaurant? Go to Panda express for egg foo young or cheap lo mein. And tomato sauce at a cantonese restaurant is a really bad choice. It sounds so Americanized. That's like ordering a hamburger at Empress Pavilion during dim sum.
                              At least order something with a clear cantonese style sauce like their mixed seafood with pan fried noodles, or their fish filet in ginger and green onions? Try their mixed seafood soup. If you like something spicier, maybe shrimp in black bean sauce or XO sauce. Their Yang Chow fried rice is pretty good too. Squid or shrimp with spicy salt is also a pretty good choice. If you like something more sweet, then try their shrimp with glazed walnuts or something like mongolian beef.

                            2. Kudos to you for giving it a shot. I don't think i've ever ordered egg foo young at a Chinese restaurant, nor seen it ordered...

                              Because most things I consume at Chinese restaurants (even in SGV) seem to have that universal starchy, gloppy "sauce" (with the exception of vegetable dishes or seafood dishes (whole fish, crab, lobster, etc... although those sometimes have the sauce too)), are there dishes or restaurants that you recommend as being particularly close to that found in your travels?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Devourer

                                As for restaurants in LA, it's funny... I think the only similar foods I've found in Los Angeles are the hand pulled noodles (like Malan in Hacienda Heights, which is a chain restaurant we saw in China) or the dough sliced noodles (Heavy Noodling in Monterey Park). And of course Little Sheep, which is also a China-based Chain. Oh, in Chengdu, Sichuan we ordered the chili-fried chicken like the kind to be found in Lucky Dragon in Monterey Park (or so we thought) but actually the version served to us in Chengdu was much, much tamer (surprisingly).

                                It was a bit of a revelation eating in Hong Kong after 2 months of eating Chinese food all over the mainland-- the reason being that the food in mainland China is dramatically different from the food we ate in Hong Kong and thus dramatically different from the Americanized Chinese food of my youth. Think street vendors selling barbecued skewers of lamb spiced with cumin and pepper. A Beijing snack of steamed cabbage covered in a sinus-blasting hot mustard. In Xi'an a pizza sized flatbread rubbed with grilled onions and olive oil. In Kaifeng, super tender corned beef comparable with the best I've had in New York. And in the mountains of Yunnan province, the tabletop barbecued yak. Oh, the yak. For the love of succulent, tender, charcoal grilled yak.

                                However..... in Hong Kong (which is in Guangdong province, formerly called Canton Province... i.e. Cantonese food), I could see where our Americanized Chinese food (and specifically the New York Chinese food) came from. The wonton soup (thin broth, NO VEGGIES (what the hell is WOR Wonton anyway?), and big meaty wontons-- though the soup in HK was served with vermicelli noodles as well) and the red-tinged barbecued pork over rice... we had a fantastic version in a restuarant with pig carcasses strung up in the corner next to us. The siu mai dumplings were tight little chewy, doughy pockets... not the soup-filled dainty things you can get at Din Tai Fung (though inauthentic, I prefer DTF's version). Suddenly I was able to see where all of our "altered" Chinese food came from, only the stuff we had in Hong Kong was universally very good. I highly recommend that each and every Chowhound visit Hong Kong, if for no other reason than to experience first hand your domestic Chinese food roots.

                                However very, very little of the food we ate in China came is a gloppy sauce, very little was deep fried, and very little was sweet. We mostly ate fresh and simple foods prepared very flavorfully (with the help of a lot of MSG)

                                Mr Taster