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May 12, 2008 07:41 PM

Snails w. Black Bean Sauce

I'm a native New Yorker and grew up going to Chinatown in Manhattan - but now I live in LA. There is a dish, Snails with Black Bean sauce that I cannot find in LA (or SF for that matter).

Does anyone know why this dish isn't offered in LA? It seems the complexity and detail of NYC Chinatown cuisine: Flounder in bird's nest shell, lobster with ginger and scallion, lo-mein with mee fun noodle, even the desserts such as mixed nut square and black bean pie and many many more aren't offered in LA. Yes I've tried LA's Chinatown and it really doesn't offer this type of detailed menu.

And on another level the Chinese food in LA just isn't as good. Chin Chin, PF Chang's and Xian offer some decent general Chinese food, but for the most part the Chinese food in LA is sort of disgusting and Americanized, which doesn't make sense cause there is such a big Chinese population. You can go to almost any Chinese restaurant in the NYC area and you can at least get a decent bowl of Hot & Sour soup.

I'm not trying to be a snob, but I'd like to get to the bottom of this.

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  1. Wow! Chinese food in LA Americanized and disgusting? I must say that LA has one of the best choices of authentic Chinese food you will find anywhere.

    Have you tried any of the restaurants in San Gabriel Valley?

    I would not call Chin Chi, or PF Chang's anything close to authentic Chinese. I think it is glorified Panda Express sit-down style.

    It really depends what kind of authentic Chinese cuisine. For something like hot and sour soup, you are looking at Northern Chinese cuisine. A place like Chang's Garden in Arcadia will do a good job. For lobster, you would try a Cantonese style place like Empress Harbour in Monterey Park, Sea Harbour (upscale), or maybe even New Capital or Top Island (quality not completely guaranteed but cheap).

    3 Replies
    1. re: WHills

      I'm going to try some of those. Thank you.

      But have you ever heard of or had snails with black bean sauce in LA?

        1. re: josamania

          New Capital is still open in San Gabriel Mall (the old Sam Woo Seafood space)
          and as far as I know still in Rowland Heights as well. But I don't remember any snails.

      1. The original comment has been removed
        1. I've never seen snails with black bean sauce in Los Angeles, but the fact that this New York Chinatown favorite isn't served here doesn't surprise me. Chinese American food is not something that is homogenous across the United States. There are a number of regional or even sub regional variations in Chinatown cuisine. A recent thread on this board lamented the lack of deep fried breaded cashew chicken, which is ubiquitous in Springfield, MO and environs. If you go to Miami, every Chinese restaurant serves honey chicken, which is rarely found in Los Angeles. The St. Paul sandwich is found in Chinese restaurants in St. Louis and nowhere else. Then there is the infamous chow mein sandwich of Fall River, Massachusetts. And turning the discussion around, there's stuff here in Los Angeles that you won't find in New York. For example, the new wave dim sum that you find at Sea Harbour, Elite, Mission 261, Happy Harbor and a few other places here, as well as the Bay Area, is nonexistent in New York.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Chandavkl

            I remember eating snails at Phoenix Inn Chinese Cuisine in Chinatown back in the 70's! Not sure if with black beans. Not a fancy place and cash only. I do remember having many good meals, late night too. Great rice soup (jook) with Chinese donuts. 301 Ord St, Los Angeles, CA 90012. (213) 629-2812.

          2. Macau Street in Monterey Park has "conch" sauteed in a black bean type sauce. Not snails per se, but conch, which in my book is close enough.

            Oh, and by the way, the stuff you'll see at Macau Street can not be found anywhere in NYC, and the food within about a 10 mile radius of Macau Street is probably 10x better than the Chinese food you'll find in NYC, or the outer boroughs.

            1. Don't know how long you've lived in LA, There is no comparison between NYC Chinatown and LA Chinatown to make.
              Flounder with birds nest shell is made with rock cod here (in Chinatown places like Hop Li, Full House Seafood or Empress Pavillion will have it). Pacific flounder is usually called sole here. You can get lobster with ginger and scallion anywhere that serves lobster. If it isn't listed as one of the preparations ask for it and they will make it. Don't ask for lo mein on the west coast. I made that mistake when I first moved here. Ordered charsu lo mein and got a pile of boiled noodles, side of charsu and a bowl of broth...that's west coast lo mein. Ask for "chow mein" and you can ask for it with mee fun (mai-fun---rice vermicelli) and they will make it that way-they might ask if you want it dry or with gravy. Noodle places like New Won Kok or Sam Woo BBQ will list 3 types of noodles you can have your noodle dish made with. If they don't list it you can ask and they'll make it anyway you want if they can.

              You have to go a little further east to at least Alhambra and Monterey Park to find a better variety and quality of what you think you're missing out on. You want the NYC Chinatown noodle joint, then some place like Sam Woo BBQ is going to be close. You're also going to find more variety of regional cuisines and places that specialize in dumplings or dim sum or even deserts you're talking about. After you've explored the places east of LA Chinatown you'll find what you're looking for.

              "Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."

              Don't blame us for PF Changs or Chin Chin type places...that's corporate America.

              14 Replies
              1. re: monku

                Thanks for the responses. But to you Angelinos who have eaten Chinese food in NYC, do you feel its better in a general sense in NYC? LA has great Mexican, Korean, Thai and Japanese - better and more interesting menus than NYC. I'm going to try some of the places recommended above, but I still get the sense I won't find Chinese food (and Italian) as good as NYC.

                1. re: krom

                  I've eaten at about 150 restaurants in New York Chinatown (which I estimate covers 50 to 60 percent of all the restaurants there), choosing the best ones first. I've also eaten at all the Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles Chinatown and 95 percent of the Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. I can categorically say that by comparison, New York Chinese food is grossly inferior to that of Los Angeles, or for that matter, San Francisco. I don't make this statement as a matter of regional pride, but rather because it is the logical conclusion based on demographics. Historically NYC Chinatown had been Cantonese in origin, but the last two decades have seen a wave of immigration from Fujian province. These recent immigrants are the poorest of the poor. NYC Chinatown serves the Fujian community, the historic Cantonese community, and the tourist community. As such the Chinese food there is mired in the 20th Century, certainly not being bad, but not reflecting the latest evolutions in Chinese in cuisine, both as to other regional cuisines as well as improvements in Cantonese/Hong Kong style cuisine, and not particularly geared towards an affluent customer base. Meanwhile, Los Angeles has likewise seen an influx of immigration from Asia, much more broadly based than that seen in New York, both in terms of geographic origins as well as socioeconomic background. Nobody loves their food more than the Chinese, and well heeled immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China expect the most appetizing food that money can buy. As a result, the Los Angeles area is a gold mine for lovers of Chinese food, with more diverse (in terms of regional cuisines and breadth of selection) better (and, interestingly, cheaper) Chinese food than anywhere else in the United States, though the Bay Area is a close runner up. There is California quality Chinese food in Flushing, but not to the breadth or depth that there is here.

                  1. re: krom

                    New York-style Chinese cooking is a style that is pretty much a local adaptation of Chinese cooking. It has been adapted to suit the taste of the local population there. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but the taste preferences of the population here are much different.

                    Quite frankly, the restaurants that you mentioned are pretty mediocre. They are pale imitations of good (and authentic) Chinese food. Chinatown is no longer the heart of the Chinese community, which left for the San Gabriel Valley starting in the 80's. The best restaurants have also long since migrated to the San Gabriel Valley. The food in the SGV is about as authentic as it gets. If you like authentic Chinese food, this is probably the best place for it outside of China.

                    As for the snails, I haven't them in years, so I don't know where to get them.

                    I'd encourage you to try some restaurants. I have compiled a short guide to Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. I hope you will be able to find some good restaurants:

                    1. re: raytamsgv

                      You have a GUIDE???

                      Congratulations, you're my new hero.

                        1. re: schung

                          Well, this thread is six years old--many restaurants have since come and gone. I retired the guide a while ago, but if you search CH, you can find some of my explanations in different spots. There are also others who have very good explanations of the different types of Chinese cuisines.

                      1. re: krom

                        > I'm going to try some of the places recommended above but I still get the sense
                        > I won't find Chinese food (and Italian) as good as NYC.

                        It depends what you mean by "as good". If by "as good", you mean "can I find the same exact dish I got at this one place in NY Chinatown", or "can I find good NY style Chinese food in LA", then the answer is probably no. But listen to the people in this thread (and countless similar threads), and *go try some places* before you make broad pronouncements like this (especially after bringing up "PF Chang" and "Chinese food" in the same sentence). You absolutely will find some of the best and most authentic Chinese food outside of China / Taiwan / HK in the SGV. And there are about 20+ east-west miles, and maybe 5-6 north-south miles (I'm just pulling those numbers out of my ass, but something like that) chock-full of places to try.

                        Now if you're talking about anywhere in LA outside of the SGV, you will probably have a much harder time finding good (or at least authentic) Chinese food (the West side, for example, has basically none).

                        I grew up in NJ, used to live in NY, though didn't do a lot of Chinatown eating when I was there, and most of the eating I have done in NY Chinatown has been at vegetarian places. But anyway, not only have many of the people writing here had food in NY Chinatown (and in Flushing, which by all accounts has some pretty great stuff too), but many of them have had food in these countries... recently. My girlfriend and her family are Chinese, and I have lots of friends and co-workers who are Chinese or Taiwanese. Most of the ones I've talked to about this say that the food here is pretty close to what they're used to over there.

                        I would give up on finding the exact dish that satisfies your nostalgic itch, and look (with an open mind) for something similar and more authentic. You may actually find that you prefer it. Some of the responses in this thread have already given you some places to start looking, so stop whining and get out there and try some food.

                        For example, it's hard to find East Coast style Americanized "cold sesame noodles" in LA, however there are many delicious similar dishes (under various names) at a lot of Northern Chinese and Taiwanese places in the SGV. None of them are exactly the dish I grew up eating... but for me, they are not only better and more authentic, but they still manage to scratch that itch.

                        1. re: will47

                          Well there is no disagreement that Chin Chin and the like aren't anything special. But I can also say that the general average Chinese restaurant in the NYC area is better than the general average Chinese restaurant in LA. Is this really disputable? I'd like to hear what average places in Hollywood/BH area are up to snuff. The hot and sour soup usually used too much vinegar, the chicken used is usually dark meat and so on.

                          As for more speciality restaurants I will hold of any more broad generalizations until I try some of the restaurants listed above.

                          1. re: krom

                            Chin Chin and PF Chang's were started by a white guys. If you're concentrating your search to Beverly Hills and Hollywood, you have to take into consideration the clientele in those areas. It's not the Chinese immigrant population. You'll have to start East of the 110.

                            1. re: krom

                              Well if you're asking for a comparison of unauthentic Chinese restaurants that most of us who wouldn't be caught dead in, or would even classify as Chinese food, I'd go along with will47's comments that New York and Los Angeles are two different worlds. New York is an older and more historic city, more likely to have restaurants, Chinese or otherwise, to have been in continuous operation for a long period of time. For example, a current thread on the New York board refers to old time New York Chinatown restaurants from the 1950s that are still in operation today. There are no restaurants in Los Angeles Chinatown that date back to the 1950s or early 1960s, except possibly Quon Bros., which has turned into a jazz club. Los Angeles has spread like topsy in recent decades, so most of the Chinese restaurants here are newly opened in new locations, even within the city itself. Consequently, even the Americanized Chinese food here differs from that in New York as it is on average more reflective of changing trends. As such, any comparison on that basis is one of apples (big) and oranges.

                              1. re: krom

                                I think it's hard to say, and depends on what you grew up around and what you like, because neither is really "authentic". So how do you compare one to the other.... If you are used to East Coast Chinese food, you will probably have a hard time finding similar stuff here, for the reasons mentioned elsewhere in this thread.

                                1. re: krom

                                  I will say that Hollywood probably has the worst Chinese food in the Los Angeles area, so if you wanted to pick an area to give New York a favorable comparison, you certainly succeeded. It has the absolute worst Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles, Kung Pao Kitty, as well as the worst dim sum I've eaten anywhere in the country at Zen Zoo.

                                  1. re: krom

                                    "...I will hold of any more broad generalizations until I try some of the restaurants listed above."

                                    Are we supposed to say "Thank you"? :)

                                    Jeez, I know international students from China, Taiwan etc., who don't want to leave the SGV (upon graduation) because the food is "just like what it tastes back home". The SGV is absolutely fabulous - the search engine will throw up enough names to last for a few months (other than some excellent recommendations in this very thread).

                                    Jeez, why would you look for Chinese food in Hollywood? Do you look for a laptop in Bed, Bath and Beyond?