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San Gabriel vegetarian Chinese... but not Happy Family

What Chinese restaurants can please both meat eaters and vegetarians?

We've got a mixed group tonight, and I'm having trouble coming up with a place that doesn't mix up their veggies with meat in some way, or has more to offer than just a couple of pan fried veggie dishes.

It would be great if you chould suggest a place with several standout veggie friendly dishes, in addition to great meaty options.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

Mr Taster

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  1. How about a combination of Americanized Chinese food and Chinese vegetarian mock meats? Yes, I know that sounds weird but that seems to be the approach of the new owners at New Bamboo Garden, 7248 N. Rosemead Blvd. in San Gabriel. I haven't had a chance to check it out yet, but they have a "Vegetarian Healthy Food" section with items like Vegetarian shrimp walnut in mayonnaise, vegetarian beef with pepper, vegetarian sweet and sour chicken and vegetarian shredded pork with dry bean curd. Since you're almost in Pasadena (it's in a shopping center on Rosemead at Huntington Dr.), the rest of the menu looks more like Pasadena than San Gabriel. They do have boba tea and slushies, though.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Chandavkl

      I just received their menu [in my mail today], and that "Vegetarian Healthy Food" section, with its choices like "Vegetarian Beef with Black Pepper," completely threw me off. We called--and ATTEMPTED to get a clear answer as to whether these are VEGETARIAN items (i.e., "fake" beef, chicken, etc.) or not, and the answer was very confusing. (The person who answered the phone barely spoke English.) They said (at least we THINK they said) that the items *DO* contain meat--real dead animals--even though they're calling them "vegetarian" items. We tried explaining that vegetarian means no meat--no animal products--but they didn't get it. Methinks someone there has gotten confused between "health food" and "vegetarian." They're using the term "vegetarian" when they MEAN "healthy." At least that's the impression we got from the confusing phone call...

      1. re: LinuxSoCal

        I have been confused by this before also, when going to a vegetarian Viet place that had "chicken", "pork", and "beef" sections on the menu. What arrived was clearly imitation meat (albeit a pretty good imitation). I suppose it's possible that there was some pig juice mixed into the vegetable protein, but if they were going to do that then why wouldn't they just use the real thing?

        1. re: LinuxSoCal

          Actually stopped by New Bamboo Garden to clear this up. It's fake meat. I had the shrimp made out of gluten flour. Not too bad.

          1. re: Chandavkl

            Thanks for stopping by there to clear up this mystery! So it is fake "meat"...I could've sworn they were just incorrectly using the term "vegetarian," but this is good to know.

      2. Don't know if this is too late to be helpful, but just for posterity.... here are a few places I like to go; the gf is a meat eater, so these days I end up at non-vegetarian Chinese places more often than veggie ones.

        Are you going with anyone who can speak Chinese pretty well? Most places will accommodate vegetarians if you ask the right way; obviously it may be difficult to be sure that you're always getting 100% vegetarian food, but most places seem to do a good job. Personally, I don't like to go to non-veg places I haven't gone before unless I'm going with someone who can communicate my eating needs better than I can.... that said:

        * Indian (if you count Taiwanese food) - House spicy noodles can be prepared vegetarian, and are delicious. Sauteed ong cai (water spinach) is pretty good. Some of the staff speaks pretty good English. Some pics (of those two dishes) at:
        http://www.runawaysquirrels.com/2008/...
        I'm not 100% sure if there's any fish in the stinky tofu here, but it's pretty good and the sauce it's served with is vegetarian. It's not too pungent, so it's a good "beginner" stinky tofu.

        * Kam Hong Garden can prepare most noodle dishes vegetarian (with or without egg), and they will make veggie dumplings / bao (the shen jian bao are pretty good), also with or without egg. One of my favorite places recently. Some of the staff speaks a little English http://www.runawaysquirrels.com/2008/...

        * Mei Long Zhen - Nian Gao (two different styles - one with just ji cai, and one with mushrooms, some sort of green vegetable, and some other stuff) can be done vegetarian, long beans, vegetarian dumplings (they have no egg).

        * Chung King (the one on San Gabriel Blvd in San Gabriel) - claim there is no meat stock in the mabo tofu, which they can make with no pork if you ask (ipsedixit says this is called "Mala Tofu"). I think it would benefit from some chopped shitakes or something to replace the pork. It has a lot of that numbing sichuan peppercorn flavor (which is supposed to be the dominant flavor), followed by a decent amount of spice. None of the other veggie dishes I had were mind-blowing, but there are some other options, including a tofu casserole that I didn't try but which looked delicious. Not sure how easy it is to communicate in English here. Some pics:
        http://www.runawaysquirrels.com/2008/...
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/383956

        * Din Tai Fung - no veggie XLBs at this one (they do exist - I had some in Shanghai), but they have eggless veggie dumplings, a great tofu appetizer, and you can get the Nian Gao and a bunch of other dishes vegetarian. They have a vegetarian section of the menu.

        Also like some stuff at Mandarin Deli, Mama's, and Yi Mei; some pics and info on most of these at the same site linked above, but none of these are really places I'd go for a nice sit-down dinner.

        vocab:
        Sù - vegetable / vegetarian... won't always get you completely vegetarian though (i.e., might have meat stock or other stuff unless you're careful to specify) Quán sù - 100% vegetarian, no egg, but sometimes will get you no garlic, onions or chili too - pronounced "chwen (rising tone) su (falling tone)"
        Bú yaò jī dàn - no (chicken) egg

        9 Replies
        1. re: will47

          ps - At Mei Long there are also some veggie appetizers. There's a kau fu (wheat gluten) appetizer that's a classic Shanghaiese dish. I'm a little sick of it, to be honest, but it's pretty good here. Also, I believe there is a tofu skin based mock duck; IIRC it's on the menu as "neutered duck" or something weird. Double-check that it's vegetarian.

          Oh - also a list I wrote up a while back of some veggie places that are not Happy Family (though most are along the same lines)... know that's probably not what you're looking for, but might help out some other folks. It's not complete, but has most of the ones in that area.
          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/35096...

          1. re: will47

            Great suggestions! I second the recommendation for Mei Long or another Shanghai place, like Green Village. For cold appetizers, you can get the mock duck, the kau fu, as will47 suggests, and also the marinated celery and the minced tofu and "ji cai" greens. For hot main dishes, in addition to vegetarian nian gao (sauteed rice cakes) and noodles, you might also get the "xue cai bai ye," a combination of edamame, chopped preserved mustard greens, and sheets of tofu skin; vegetarian bean curd rolls stuffed with vegetables, known as "fu ze pi," and then a dish of shanghai (green) bok choy and braised shitaake mushrooms. Under the misnamed "dim sum" category (really dumplings and pastries), in addition the vegetarian dumplings, you could get the turnip pastries, which are flaky pastries stuffed with shredded daikon.

          2. re: will47

            Yeah, also one needs to be careful that they don't use lard to stirfry the vegetarian dishes. I've tasted this at DTF, in their stirfried vegetables and one other dish. But, we weren't looking for pure vegetarian and appreciated the added flavor that kind of stir-frying adds. But, in the case of a vegetarian, that is obviously not desired.

            1. re: zruilong

              Really? People I've gone with have asked there (whether the dishes are 100% vegetarian, whether there is any meat stock in the stir fries, etc.), and the answers were usually satisfactory, and the food there has never disagreed with my stomach (I've been vegetarian for 15+ years, so I'm pretty sure that eating lard would disagree with me). DTF has a vegetarian section on their menu, and vegetarianism is a little more popular in Taiwan than Mainland China, so I have always assumed that they know what "vegetarian" means.

              I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was some residual flavor from the wok, but are you totally sure they're using lard for frying? I've always attributed the flavor there to wok flavor + MSG.

              Anyway, not trying to disagree; obviously I'd like to know if DTF is actually using lard to fry their food, and I haven't had enough lard myself to know if I'd recognize the flavor. I don't think it's used that commonly for frying though, is it? I feel like even in China, vegetable oil is more common these days.

              But yes, if you want to be sure to always get 100% vegetarian food that hasn't touched meat, a vegetarian restaurant is the way to go. I personally try to make my best effort (and again, I usually try to avoid eating at non-vegetarian Chinese places for the first time unless I'm with someone who can speak Chinese a lot better than I can), and beyond that, let my stomach be the judge.

              1. re: will47

                I would be surprised if DTF used lard when they know they shouldn't either, and I do not mean to imply that they did in your case or in general. It was more of a warning in general to those seekig vegetarian options at restaurants. The flavors I tasted may have been some residual wok flavors, as you said.

                The reason the story stuck out in my mind is the first time I was there, we ordered a vegatable dish. It was a seasonal vegetable dish that they had in stock, and was an addition to the menu, I believe (there was a long conversation between my wife and the waitress regarding the vegetable option and I started to get distracted by all the other tables and their food). When the dish came out, it had a deeper flavor, not really the "savory/meaty" MSG flavor which I don't mind, but different. My wife immediatly said, its lard. I replied, really? How are you so sure? She said that her family would do that from time to time and it would taste just like it. I didn't believe her, so later that week, she bought some lard and prepared the dish at home, sure enough, same taste. My next question was, "Why didn't you do that before!?!" :-)

                Now, DTF, is my favorite XLB restaurant in the US and supports its XLB with very good quality accompanying dishes. Their owners and head chefs have forgotten more cooking techniques than I will ever learn, so they definately could have produced that flavor in other ways, especially using professional grade equipment. I don't mean to make a claim against DFT that is unsubstantiated and would damage their reputation, but the whole discussion of vegetarian at non-vegetarian restaurants reminded me of this story. I failed to communicate the message of my post properly above. I should have been more specific in my original post, but that's what I get for posting when I should be listening to my conference call. ;-)

                So, to be clear for any additional readers.

                I do not know if they use lard in any or all of their dishes.

                I tasted something that was replicated by preparing the dish at home with lard on a VEGETABLE dish there, but that was a dish we did not specify to be VEGETARIAN.

                I have no reason to believe DFT would use meat based products when a customer requested a vegetarian meal/dish.

                In general, however, especially at smaller restaurants that have a lower English speaking waitstaff, it is good to make sure they understand your intention that a vegetarian dish is not simply the dish sans meat, but not prepared with other meat based products like lard (and I assume that would go for chicken broth as well?).

                1. re: will47

                  I know this is an old thread, but will47 if you're still around (and still vegetarian), my sister was full-on veg for 15+ years also until one day she decided her husband's steak looked really delicious, and she ate some. That was the end of her vegetarianism-- she had no stomach problems whatsoever, and in a few months her eczema disappeared and her hair grew in thicker. So it's not a foregone conclusion that all vegetarians would react badly to a little animal fat hidden in their greens.

                  Anyway, I'm back revisiting my old thread because I'll be taking my cousin (a kosher vegetarian) out to the SGV and am looking for ideas that will satisfy both of us. Love the Shanghainese ideas, though I don't think I'll subject my cousin to green beans while we dine on pork pump :)

                  Have you had any additional ideas or discoveries during the intervening year since you posted last?

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    Just went to China Islamic with a vegetarian friend and he found things he liked in the menu. I have no idea if it would comply with kosher requirements though.

                    1. re: bad nono

                      China Islamic would be my recommendation as well. Really good food, kosher, and has many, many vegetarian items on the menu.
                      But their lamb dishes are very good for the carnivores in the crowd!

                    2. re: Mr Taster

                      I haven't been following the board much recently, but someone mentioned the post to me. Guess it's maybe too late now, but just in case, I'll response anyway.

                      Best place to look is my gf's reviews at http://nakedsushi.net or http://la.foodblogging.com -- she posts a lot of reviews about various places we eat. Just a couple recent highlights.... If you like somewhat spicy stuff, I thought Hunan Chilli King was pretty good (went there recently). And the new "Heavy Noodling" (JTYH) in Rosemead has some veggie options, with or without egg.

                      I don't know how kosher your cousin keeps, but I would think most non-vegetarian SGV Chinese places might not be the best place to go if s/he is really strict about it.

                      Of course, there are a lot of great veg options besides the green beans at most Shanghaiese places. I like ji cai nian gao (the rice ovals) without the pork, and the kau fu is a classic dish, though I haven't had a really amazing example here.

              2. Embassy Kitchen in San Gabriel has a great multi-course vegetarian banquet menu. It needs to be preordered.

                1. I have to agree with the person who suggested Ding Tai Fung. The restaurant is very clean, they expanded their restaurant and now have their own building on the other side (the older place is still there, too) and the service is excellent. They do have a selection of vegetarian-friendly dishes and the dishes that have meat are excellent! I have been going there for years and there are two manager ladies that are very nice and attentive and they remember your face. The food is great, it's one of those places where traditional Taiwanese food is loved by a diverse group of people!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: eyeloveLA

                    Just to clarify... DTF does not serve traditional Taiwanese food... rather it's a Taiwanese take on Shanghai food, and not a very common one at that. Of all the XLB in Taiwan, Din Tai Fung stands alone in its method of preparation and presentation. In fact, I posted earlier about where to find actual Taiwanese style xiao long bao... the rustic, unrefined kind you find at street vendors and night markets all over Taiwan, and it seems they're nearly non-existent... though I have yet to try these suggestions...

                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/536300

                    Give it a shot if you're curious to try "real" Taiwanese xiao long bao, and know that when Taipei's branch of Din Tai Fung is grabbing $8 per tray, those street vendors are charging $1, if that. Din Tai Fung in Taipei is truly a "special occasion" type of XLB place.... it's not the kind of stuff ordinary Taiwanese people would eat every day because of its extraordinary expense by Taiwanese standards.

                    For authentic Taiwanese food (which is primarily found as snack food), you'll have to go to places like Sinbala sausages, Ay Chung glutenous soup, Stinky Tofu King and Lollicup for boba and snacks (try the fried chicken... it tastes just like it does at Taiwan's night markets... crispy and peppery).

                    Mr Taster

                  2. Per this blog post (not mine): http://www.weezermonkey.com/2009/09/m...

                    Gourmet Vegetarian
                    140 W. Valley Blvd. #222,
                    San Gabriel, (626) 280-5998

                    I've always walked by, it's ALWAYS had long lines on the weekends. Never joined the festivities, but at least this place has cheap vegetables.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: TonyC

                      Is there a restaurant in the Focus Plaza that isn't crowded on the weekends?

                      Happy Veggie Garden (Rowland Heights) is actually pretty good ... until the owner had a falling out with the chef and fired his ass. Doh!

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        We're thinking about stopping at the temple. Any suggestions for outstanding Rowland/Hacienda Heights vegetarian (or veggie compatible omnivorous) restaurants where the star chef hasn't gone awol?

                        Mr Taster

                        1. re: Mr Taster

                          Why not just eat at Hsi Lai Temple?

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Well, I've eaten at the temple before and the food is not the highlight of the experience...

                            Mr Taster

                            1. re: Mr Taster

                              Hmm ... I'll take that as a backhanded insult.

                              I regularly volunteer in the kitchen whenever I'm free and around the area.

                              Actually, I think the highlight of a visit to Hsi Lai Temple is to the spend the night at the temple.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                I'm sure that you weren't in the kitchen during the times that I've eaten there, Ipse.

                                Mr Taster

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  No offense, ipsedixit, but I have to agree with Mr. Taster on the food at Hsi Lai Si. But buffet style food isn't usually that great, and isn't whether it's delicious supposed to be besides the point anyway?

                                  In Hacienda Heights / Rowland Heights area, you could try Malan Noodle, which has vegetarian noodle soup and fried noodles with homemade noodles.
                                  http://www.runawaysquirrels.com/2008/...

                                  Also #1 Noodle House (Rowland Heights) can make some of their noodle dishes vegetarian http://www.runawaysquirrels.com/2009/...

                                  Also, Si Hai (four seas) for breakfast or snacks.
                                  http://www.runawaysquirrels.com/2008/...

                                  There's a Happy Family in Rowland Heights, which I heard used to be better than the mpk one (it also used to have a non-vegetarian downstairs) - but I think now it's about the same as the mpk one.

                                  -----
                                  Malan Noodles
                                  2020 S Hacienda Blvd, Hacienda Heights, CA 91745

                        2. re: TonyC

                          Food is not so great at that one (Gourmet Vegetarian), and way too heavy on the fake meat -- there are only a few dishes that are vegetable / tofu only. They are trying to add some other stuff (they were really pushing their vegetarian "sushi" one time when I visited), but the food isn't really any different / better than any of the other Chinese vegetarian places in the area, and the prices are higher. I think they have been advertising it pretty well, because my girlfriend's mom told us about it really soon after it opened. The atmosphere is a little nicer, and the kabocha porridge is pretty good, but I'd just as soon go somewhere else.

                          Some dishes (and often the default soup) contain egg, so if you avoid egg, be careful to ask.

                          Bean Sprouts in Arcadia is hit or miss, but still a better bet IMHO if you want somewhere with a fairly nice atmosphere, fairly friendly staff, and slightly different food (it's more modern Taiwanese style noodle / rice dishes). Their noodles used to be too soft, but they switched suppliers recently, so they're usually at least Ok now. I go here like twice a week, so I'll give my picks for stuff to order / avoid. They serve beer too

                          *good*
                          Herbal "house special" noodle soup
                          Doufu Bao - tofu sheets in a kind of pouch type shape, served with ginger and vegetarian "oyster" sauce. New menu item... pretty good.
                          Beef Noodle Soup
                          Da Lu Mian (can make without egg if you want it)
                          Smoked Gluten (either cold appetizer or stir-fried with green peppers)
                          Soy Pork and Suancai (pickled greens) - boring but a satisfying lunch
                          Teriyaki Tofu Eel
                          spring rolls - they put curry (and potato, I think) in their spring rolls, which really adds a nice flavor, and they're nice and crispy

                          *neutral*
                          dan dan mian - blander than the sichuan version - this is basically soy pork on top of some noodles.
                          zha jiang mian - it's not the best I've had, but it's Ok.
                          radish cakes - good but need to be thinner / crispier

                          *avoid*
                          Curries (udon or rice)
                          Ma Pao Tofu (awful)
                          Nian gao (rice ovals) -- either fried or soup -- the texture is wrong
                          Rainbow Roll - (comes with lunch special) -- awful