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Mar 22, 2007 02:07 PM

Chung King in San Gabriel-report w/pics

Wonderful meal at Chung King, a Siuchan restaurant in San Gabriel, last Friday. You order your warm dishes at the table, but you can head to the counter in back for a choice of cold snacks to start with--just point to whatcha want. From the counter I got the best salty bar snack ever--fried peanuts with tiny fish--crispy and addictive. Also, a nice break from the intense spice of the warm dishes.

Though the fried chicken with chilis was just about as spicy as a wimpy midwesterner like me could handle, the saltiness (and a tinge of sweet) was just enough to make me scarf it all down.

The crispy rice cakes with a light broth with chicken, fish and mushrooms poured over the top was a yummy mild break from the spice, as was the chinese bacon with green garlic (though I could feel my arteries hardening as I ate). Also, cold tsingtaos come quickly to the table and help mitigate the spice.

Cash only, open until about 10 pm. 1000 S. San Gabriel Blvd in San Gabriel.

Pictures here:

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  1. Went back to try Chung King for the second time because we couldn't get the steamed fish with chiles the first. We also had the Chung King hotpot as well as the seaweed and spicy beef appetizers. To my surprise, even the seaweed was spicy with a nice crunchy texture. The spicy beef was delicious, a little smoke, pungency, gelatinous, a kind of unrefined proscuitto. The fish, however, was a disappointment. Though it was very fresh, it was obviously not prepared with chiles and spices, but added afterwards. After brushing aside the sauce and spice, you got basically a Cantonese steamed fish. The hot pot was humogous! It was enough for a small village with almost everything edible in the restaurant thrown in. The problem was that the sauce was so infused with chiles and so spicy that everything in the pot tasted the same. I literally couldn't taste the difference between the chicken and the bean sprout in the hotpot. The only difference was the texture. That has been my main issue with Chung King. It tends to be one-dimensional in its cooking.

    6 Replies
    1. re: cfylong

      I've never really understood the popularity of Chung King with the 'hounds on this board.

      I've never been a big fan of Chung King and I can tell you what's wrong with it.

      Most dishes are overly salted, or too oily.

      Spicy dishes lack depth of character, all you end up tasting is the chili oil or peppers.

      Dishes lack consistency. One day the ma poa tofu will be pungent and salty, and another day it will have an oft-putting sweetness to it.

      1. re: ipsedixit

        Well, golly gee, if I could eat there as often as I want to I'd probably start noticing some inconsistency, too. All I know for sure is that the three times we have been there, all but a few of our dishes have had depth and complexity lurking behind the heat and sizzle, and I've tended to wake up days later dreaming I'm gonna have those prickly-ash spareribs for breakfast, with maybe the pork and leeks. I did think the dan dan noodles were boring, though our friend from the Bay Area who ordered them said they were the best he'd ever had.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          ipsedixit - what do you think the best sichuan place is?

          1. re: Lau

            In Rowland Heights, try Shufeng Garden. Best to go with someone who speaks Chinese as most of the better items aren't listed in the English menus.

            Shufeng Garden
            18459 Colima Rd
            Rowland Heights
            (626) 839-7589

            I used to like Lucky Dragon alot, but have heard that they've changed chefs, so take this rec with a bit of caution.

            Lucky Dragon
            321 W. Garvey Ave.
            Monterey Park
            (626) 573-5060

            1. re: ipsedixit

              I won't claim to be a Sichuan expert, we did go to Lucky Dragon about a month ago, and it was not at all impressive. We ordered the same dishes that we normally do in Chung King, but IMO, Chung King is way better. LD was oilier, but lacking in heat (I felt it almost beats the purpose).

              However, in the midst of all this, three trips to Hong Yei have convinced me that it deserves much more love on CH. While Hong Yei is not "sichuan-only", its renditions of my favorites in Chung King are better than Chung King.

          2. re: ipsedixit

            Spicy and oily... Yup, that pretty much sums up almost all of the dishes that I ate when I took a trip to Chengdu in Sichuan province.

            It's how it's supposed to be.

            The best Sichuanese dishes that I've had in LA was at Bashu, which has sadly devolved into just a hot pot restaurant. Until a better Sichuan restaurant opens up, Chung King is the closest one to replicate that Chengdu experience.

        2. I finally got to try out this restaurant tonight with my parents (picky Chinese eaters) and the BF (vegan). Everyone liked it!

          It was pretty easy to order vegan dishes as long as you knew Chinese; the waitress was accommodating despite it being really busy that night.

          For appetizers, we had the spicy cabbage, celery and bean sprout salad as the vegetarian plate. The spicy cabbage was a bit bland, but the bean sprout salad was good.

          Us meateaters had a meat appetizer plate with chicken feet, pig ears, and the slices of cured meat (beef)? The pig ears were good and flavorful but not that spicy. The chicken feet was too tough for my liking. The slices of cured meat was my favorite appetizer. It was salty and just spicy enough to surprise you after you swallow it.

          We had the mapo tofu (vegan) and I thought it was good and mouth-numbingly spicy but the BF thought it was too heavy on the peppercorn.

          We also ordered the house special spicy chicken cubes. That was the hit of the night. Mouth-numbling spicy and salty, but we couldn't stop eating it.

          We also ordered the tofu-sheet and chives but it was pretty mediocre. My dad thought that they didn't soak the tofu-sheets enough because they still had a LOT of bite to it and I thought the dish was too salty and not chivey enough.

          pics with full report:

          3 Replies
            1. re: africanizedkiller

              I think PandanExpress was actually referring to Mala Tofu -- and not Mapo Tofu.

              Mapo Tofu is Mala Tofu with mashed up pieces of pork added. Mala Tofu is generally vegetarian.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Well we just asked for the Mabo Tofu without the pork. I don't think they have mala tofu specifically on the menu. I should have seen if they could have replaced the pork with chopped shitakes or something, but it was still pretty good.

          1. Oh my God, ate here a couple months ago, spicy fish dish tasted good, but the beef in the pot was horrifying, so oily it was gross, and I'm a huge fan of oily and greasy. This was like a whole pot filled with pure chili oil. I'm sorry to say gross, but it was gross. I kept eating for a while, thinking initially this was a some style my palate needed to get accustomed to -- then on drive home I was hallucinating (from MSG?) and my hands had swelled to 2 or 3 times their normal size (which might have been part hallucination, but was certainly part salt). Will NEVER go near the place again.

            4 Replies
            1. re: la tache burger

              That's just the way Szechuan is, to my knowledge. The chili oil hot pot dishes are not substantially different at Yunnan Garden a few blocks away. Szechuan can be over-the-top hot, numby, salty, and oily. It's not an elegant cuisine like Shanghainese or Cantonese. I like the dish you hated. I would drink pure chili oil and love it.

              I like Chung King. It's gritty real-deal Szechuan, and seems to be a favorite of FOB Chinese throughout the SGV.

              1. re: aventinus

                I spent upwards of 3 months traveling across China, Hong Kong and Taiwan last year and Sichuan province was my least favorite regional style. aventinus and WBguy are right-- it's oily and lip numbingly hot stuff, and it was pretty challenging to find a regular diet of items that did not send my tongue and stomach into capsaisin-induced spasms. And I like spicy-- just not a regular diet of it... particularly with this degree of heat.

                Mr Taster

                1. re: Mr Taster

                  the thing is that i think the well-known dishes from sichuan are all spicy, oily and numbing. however, when i visited sichuan (my friend's family still lives there, my friend partially grew up there), there were a ton of dishes that were not spicy/oily and were delicious. however, I dont think you'll see that in the US since thats not what people are looking for when they go to a sichuan restaurant

                  in fact, certain members of my friends family dont really eat alot of spicy food at all and were very suprised i could eat the spicy food

                  1. re: Lau

                    Chung King (the one on San Gabriel, anyway) has some dishes that aren't that spicy. We were there last night ( and had a mixture of spicy and non-spicy stuff. In particular, I don't think the rice crust dish with fish on top was spicy. They have some casserole dishes there that I haven't tried, but I think there are some of those that aren't spicy as well.

                    The eggplant was not that numbing, and was sweet enough that even though it's listed as spicy on the menu, I didn't find it very spicy.