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Jan 1, 2008 06:05 PM

WLA: Hop Woo, da Pasquale, Hu's, El Rincon Criollo, Royal Star

Hop Woo (Olympic Bl at Sepulveda, in West L.A.) disappointed us a lot on our first try over the last weekend (preceding New Year's). Da Pasquale in Beverly Hills (reliable, excellent, and very fair-priced--and they deliver) was closed for holidays; ditto Hu's, which we've eaten at or from hundreds of times---not the SGV of course; not consistent, but OK, especially if you're eating there. So we tried Hop Woo delivery, and a man with a very nice voice and manner delivered our four or five dishes. I found them literally inedible. I had PBJ instead. My wife and son ate but didn't like, though one dish was less bad than the others. We cannot understand how the place has received positive notices. Did the chef recently change? Was he taking the holidays off? Or, in the grip of SGV-starvation, are people grateful for anything identifiable as Chinese, whether or not it tastes good? Anyway, for what it's worth -- and it gives me no pleasure to say it -- this was our experience. Oh yes, I almost forgot: we had a very enjoyable meal at El Rincon Criollo last week. My Lechon Asada was noticeably delicious, as were the "moros" and plantains; also the soft drinks with sugar instead of the hated corn syrup were tasty. (It was lunch-time.) O why did Royal Star (in Santa Monica) stop making its very good dim sum and then go out of business? As the only the only good Chinese restaurant on the west side, didn't it have a moral---nay, a legal---obligation to continue to feed our family?

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  1. Well, as to Royal Star, you don't stay in business if you keep losing money.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Chelmoon

      Royal Star was busy every time I went there, weekday and weekend. If they were still losing money, why isn't the same true of the dim sum palaces downtown and in SGV?

      1. re: boyk

        First, the rent in that large space in prime property on Wilshire at 30th in Santa Monica. Second, no significant uptick to the profit margin from alcohol sales -- before Royal Star, it was a sports bar. Finally, I only recall them serving dim sum on weekends, at least the few times I went there, and I do not recall it being busy at other times.

        1. re: nosh

          No, they served dim sum every day.

          They are sorely missed.

    2. I'm another Chinese-food fan who lives and eats on the westside who doesn't get the kudos that Hop Woo often receives on this board. Folks that like it -- what dishes are you ordering there that are good? The lobster or duck specials they advertise on their signs? Note that Hop Woo has two sides, one for sitdown, made-to-order dishes and the other large steamtable platters of premade food ready for takeout -- could it be that you were sent some from the latter?

      Despite the popularity of Chinese food delivery, I try to eat in the restaurant. Many dishes just don't travel well -- crispy gets soggy, sauces get congealed. If I have to order delivery I try to stick with soups and noodle dishes, and it is the only time I'll choose fried rice over steamed because it travels better.

      4 Replies
      1. re: nosh

        We mostly get two dishes: BBQ duck and Ong Choy with garlic. We occasionally get the spicy pepper fried shrimp. Our expectations match the restaurant. We don't expect SGV quality, but we love BBQ duck and can't go to SGV as easily.

        1. re: nosh

          I recently took my non Chinese friends there for dinner and they are still talking about how enjoyable the meal was. I must admit, the first two times, we just couldn't select the the "right" dishes. There were some dishes not so great but we do enjoy roast duck, wonton noodles in soup, salted fish chicken fried rice, Singapore style Mein-Fun, dry style beef chow fun, minced beef porridge, pepper salted shrimp in crispy shell, rock cod fillet with black bean & chili sauce, braised string bean. Will have to try their ong choy and ask if they will cook with shrimp sauce next time. For a small fast food mom and pop business, Happy Express seems to be doing good business. Must be at least 10 yrs or more that I can remember. I order party tray of chow mein for office pot luck (only $8.50) and home parties and everyone enjoys this simple meatless chow mein dish (add costco chicken to this dish, yummy). So cheap and good. Their beef noodle soup is very good. Order 3 item combo and you'll have enough food for 2 (maybe 3) lunch meals. Small parking lot but you can find street parking too.

          Happy Express Restaurant
          5495 Sepulveda Blvd
          Culver City, CA 90230-5558
          Phone: (310) 390-3691

          1. re: nosh

            Here are some good dishes at Hop Woo. Some are on the Chinese Bulletin Board in Chinese characters only:

            1. Steamed ToFu in Lotus Leaf topped with assorted seafood.
            2. Pea Leaves with Black Mushroom (Also Pealeaves Sauteed in Garlic is also good)
            3. Live Fish cooked in Rice Porridge (Served as porridge and separate fish dish -- good, but not pretty) Order 1 Chinese Doughnut (Yeo Tiao) wo go with it.
            4. Live Lobster cooked with ginger and Onion -- Good, but not outstanding.
            5. Roast Duck -- Mixed results here. Sometimes great (meaty and succulent) and sometimes boy and very disappointing.
            6. String Beans in XO Sauce

            BTW HK Film Director John Woo was spotted there last night unobtrusively eating with his family. I don't know if the Chef has changed, but there have been some partial ownership changes in the last 3 months. I have not detected any difference in food quality, but prices have been raised (still very affordable) and they are now open 7 days a week.

            1. re: altstarr

              Good suggestions. We have also like their clams in black bean sauce.

          2. Boyk, have you tried Little Hong Kong Cafe down the way on Sawtelle? Great lunch deals and food. Besides Royal Star, I know of only one other SGV style place long ago that tried to replicate its success on Westside(Lincoln south of Washington next to Del Taco) and they didn't make it either. SGV places don't have more expensive Westside rents and Westside taste buds are geared more towards Chin Chin or PF Chang's. Another place to try is Singapore Express at Lincoln and Maxella.

            I've always had a good meal at Rincon Criollo also.

            1 Reply
            1. re: wykkedwilly

              Haven't tried either. Will do so. Thanks.