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San Gabriel Square

My husband and I will be taking our first trip to Los Angeles in almost a decade this summer. Staying for a week. All kinds of dining. I realize that the San Gabriel Valley is a destination for Chinese food - but wondered whether San Gabriel Square (the "Great Mall of China") is as fun as it is advertised to be - and whether it's an interesting place to walk around for an hour or two and have lunch. Note that we have positively dreadful Chinese food where we live - so we will be very happy simply dining on good Chinese food. Robyn

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  1. It isn't fun so as much as it is convenient. If you're only going to be in the area for a few hours and want to just walk around, it's a decent start. There's a variety of places to eat and shop depending on your tastes within the Square and nearby. Is there anything in particular you're interested in?

    4 Replies
    1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

      Thanks for your response. We're staying in Beverly Hills - so we won't exactly be in the area by accident :). I'm just trying to plan some day trips around the greater Los Angeles area to see different aspects/sights of the city. And - of course - to have some good food. I am under the impression that the the San Gabriel Valley is now the heart of the Chinese community in Los Angeles - and that it is pretty suburban (it's happening all over - old "Chinatowns" lose population as the children and grandchildren of immigrants prosper and move to the suburbs - Vancouver is a good example of that). Please correct me if I'm wrong about my assumptions. Anyway - since I live in a city that is also basically a collection of suburbs - I'm trying to get a handle on the best way to visit the area. We would of course love to have a great lunch (it's too far for dinner) - but I was trying to figure out other places to see too. Or maybe I'm looking for something that doesn't exist (maybe the San Gabriel Valley is simply a suburb like the one where I live - with different food choices in the supermarkets and lots of excellent Chinese restaurants. In which case - we can have lunch in the San Gabriel Valley - and go to the Norton Museum. FWIW - I live in the greater Jacksonville FL area. We had a pretty good dim sum restaurant (it even had carts!) for about a year here. But it closed suddenly a few months ago (don't know why - it was doing a great business). So dim sum would be nice for lunch. OTOH - last time we were in Los Angeles (2000) - we had pretty good dim sum at VIP Harbour Seafood on Wilshire Blvd. (pretty close to the Getty Museum). So if someone told me I couldn't do a lot better by going to the San Gabriel Valley - we'd probably return to that restaurant for dim sum - and try something different for lunch in the San Gabriel Valley. Anyway - any comments/ideas - even if they "diss" my preconceived notions - would be appreciated - because I am far from expert when it comes to dining or anything else in the Los Angeles area. Robyn

      1. re: pvgirl

        You're definitely right about SGV being the heart of the Chinese community in LA although I will note that a good number have also moved further east towards the Walnut/Rowland Heights area. The SGV is more like what you're describing with the suburbs. There's a lot of restaurants and other shops everywhere. There isn't a central location but places tend to be clustered into plazas of various sizes all throughout the area. There are a lot of good restaurants to be found (and a lot of not so good ones) but they're usually places I personally seek out moreso than just wandering around and picking one at random.

        The SGV is perfect for finding regional Chinese tastes and specialties ranging from Cantonese to Sichuan (Szechuan) to Northern China and everything in between. I think the best thing to do would be to think about your previous experiences with Chinese food and give the board an idea of what you're looking for, such as dumplings and noodles or a Cantonese seafood lunch. You mentioned dim sum and the SGV has plenty of that. New Capital Seafood is right in the middle of San Gabriel Square. Not to say it's that great, but it's a centrally located place which explains the massive wait since everyone in the immediate area goes there despite the existence of much better places in other parts of the SGV. So give it some thought and get back to everyone.

        1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

          Yes, the San Gabriel Valley is a Chinatown that goes on for miles and miles, so it's not like a central city core Chinatown, and there is no single destination location. You might consider a restaurant and grocery store crawl, which besides letting you taste the wide variety of highly authentic Chinese food, will also let you experience the expanse of the Chinese community. Sorry to hear about the demise of dim sum in Jacksonville. Was that Silver Star?

          1. re: Chandavkl

            No - it was Bamboo Creek in Tinseltown (if you're familiar with Jacksonville). Not to be confused with Blue Bamboo (an Asian fusion place run by a Chinese/American CIA grad that is not too far away and apparently doing fine). Robyn

    2. Being that it might be your first visit there, it may be a real eye-opener for you folks. As taiwanesesmalleats points out so well, I think it's more convenient than it is a destination. It's pretty much an outdoor mall that caters to the local Asian population which is mostly Chinese-speaking. Across the street on Del Mar is Hawaii Supermarket which is seriously ethnic, and across the street on Valley is the famous trio of xiao long bao places - Mei Long Village, J & J (Jin Jian) and Dragon Mark. I could easily spend a few hours between these various locations.

      6 Replies
      1. re: bulavinaka

        What is a xiao long bao place? Robyn

        1. re: pvgirl

          You'll get lots of differing opinions on this, but for my money - I lived in Hong Kong for many years, spent a great deal of time in both Taiwan and Shanghai - my favorite in town is J&J, 301 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel. It is the second shopping mall west from Del Mar Avenue, on the north side of the street.

          Dragon Mark and Mei Long Village are both in the same strip mall, but I prefer the XLB at J&J by a long shot.

          1. re: pvgirl

            Oh, I think I misread your post. XLB are sometimes referred to as soup dumplings, or juicy pork dumplings. They are a type of dumpling that has juice inside with the meat filling, that squirts out when you eat it. They tend to be associated with Shanghai and there are several places that are famous for them in Taiwan. Most places offer them as either pork dumplings, or pork and crab dumplings. I love both kinds at J&J.

            1. re: pvgirl

              Xiao long bao are otherwise known as Shanghainese soup dumplings. Here's a wiki:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xiaolongbao

              Xiao long bao are typically identified as xlb on this board. For a town to have one or two xlb places is probably unusual. What speaks to the depth of cuisines in the San Gabriel Valley is that there are a number of xlb places in this general area. Here's a sample of threads that are on just these places that serve xlb:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/385477
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/359048
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/580142

              The beauty of the three places that I mentioned above is that they are all located practically next to each other in the same shopping plaza. All three are considered to be some of the best in the San Gabriel Valley at what they do, so doing a xiao long bao crawl would be a cinch.

              -----
              J & J Restaurant
              301 W Valley Blvd Ste 109, San Gabriel, CA 91776

              Mei Long Village
              301 W Valley Blvd Ste 112, San Gabriel, CA 91776

              Dragon Mark (Yitiao Long
              )301 W Valley Blvd Ste 110, San Gabriel, CA 91776

              1. re: pvgirl

                My fave for XLB is J&J as well.

                1. re: J.L.

                  I just had the Shanghai and crab and pork XLB at Mei Long Village and was not terribly impressed although the skins were nice and delicate there, I wasn't wild about the stuffings. I did notice a line outside of J&J (not so at MLV)

            2. when we have out of town visitors and plan a day in sgv, we usually do:
              - dim sum for lunch at elite or triumphal palace (triumphal palace has a new name and owner now though i believe)
              - afternoon at the huntington (norton simon also a good idea)
              - dinner at din tai fung in arcadia for xlb. dtf has likers and haters on chowhound, but all of our friends who visit from out of town like it a lot and always insist on going there. it's high quality.

              if you want chinese seafood or some other type of chinese cuisine for dinner, you can do either dim sum or dtf for lunch, then hit one of the places in san gabriel for dinner.

              4 Replies
              1. re: jackt

                We've been to the Huntington before. So I was thinking of the Norton Simon Museum - and some time in the SGV for lunch - perhaps some sightseeing (such as it is). I get the impression that a place like San Gabriel Square - while perhaps a good place to shop (if you're buying groceries - which we won't be doing) - isn't is interesting as older Chinatowns were in their heydays. I guess it's just the way most people - including me - live today. More suburbanized. But just to get one thing clear. It *is* worth a trip to the SGV to eat lunch - yes (as opposed to eating Chinese food in other parts of town)? Robyn

                While I'm on the subject - is the "Chinatown" in Los Angeles worth a look and a lunch (can't recall ever going there)? Robyn

                1. re: pvgirl

                  We think it is - one of our favorite things to do when we have a day free is to take the Gold Line from Pasadena to Chinatown, and just spend several hours shopping, eating and hanging out in odd gift shops. These last range from very old-fashioned high-end art and jade places, through the usual cheesy souvenirs, to the very cool vinyl-toys establishment Munky King. Our lunch choice is typically someplace funky like the Vietnamese-Chinese place in a minimall building on Alpine, but the Sam Woo barbecue and Pho Hua (both of which get dissed here, sorry) also get our business. I wish I could remember which of the "radio" restaurants (ABC, NBC and CBS) had such good dim sum - I'm sure someone here can set you straight (or contradict me utterly). Lots of people like Yang Chow, an excellent choice for old-fashioned Yankeefied Chinese food, but if we want that we'll go to the one in Pasadena, thanks.

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    Of the dim sum places available in Chinatown, I'd pick CBS. It's mostly the standard fare at a decent price. They also have a takeout side deli if you want to get your things to go in styrofoam containers. They offer a good number of the dim sum menu in addition to other things in steam trays (chow mein, stir fried veggies, bbq pork etc.).

                    If you want a nice sitdown place, I'd recommend JR Bistro which shares the building with Ocean Seafood but is on the first floor. The interior is very nice and clean with good service. The food isn't as good as what I can get in San Gabriel but it's your pedestrian Cantonese style with sprinkles of other cuisines. The lunch special are reasonably priced, most $6-10 each.

                    Chinatown in general is a better place to just walk around, explore and shop if you wanted to do that. The food pales in comparison in taste and number of options but it's definitely more catered towards tourists.

                    1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

                      That's the one! That takeout counter has an awful lot of good stuff; if I hadn't been so stuffed myself I might've had to get some.

              2. So here's the thing. It is not some central place, there are not lots of tourist attractions, but you can certainly hang around, though an hour is pushing it. You can cross to the Hawaii Supermarket, which is certainly fun to look around, and there are other plazas, but a better place to walk around and absorb the culture would be to walk around on Garvey near Garfield in Monterey Park. There are plenty of very good restaurants and also lots of shops and teahouses and you can certainly kill an hour there.

                And me, I would eat at Giang Nan if I were in the vicinity of Garfield and Garvey (it is two blocks north on Garfield).

                1. I am going to be dissenting a bit from the general opinion here and say that indeed, San Gabriel Square, including the couple of blocks along Valley Blvd., is a fun place to spend a couple of hours. There are many shops to browse and different restaurants and Chinese bakeries to try different Chinese cuisines. You can park your car and do a walking tour and easily spend 2-3 hours.

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: PeterL

                    I would agree, especially if you toss in the Hawaii supermarket across the way and the three Chinese strip malls just slightly west - easy walking distance - along Valley Blvd.

                    1. re: PeterL

                      It's been my experience that you can spend the better part of an hour just finding an unoccupied parking space there! For that reason, we tend to bundle our activities: a meal, a stroll around, wasting time in the various Hello Kitty-type stores (Mrs. O's idea of fun) and the 99 Ranch market (mine!), just so we don't have to park and re-park. The Garvey/Garfield suggestion is a good one, especially for exploring various kinds of distinctly Chinese and/or other Asian stores. There's a bakery about half a block west from Har Lam Kee, one of our favorite restaurants, that has splendid cookies, and other things such as herbal stores and odd groceries, vegan and otherwise.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        May I suggest that you think outside the box (or rather, outside the shopping center) when it comes to parking at "Chinese Disneyland"? The street parking options are often overlooked by other shoppers, and as a result, spaces are often available.

                        1. re: J.L.

                          Also the spaces behind the restaurants (not visible from the main parking lot) tend to fill up last.

                          1. re: J.L.

                            Street slots is actually what we usually do. The lot itself can induce deep misanthropy in the most genial soul...

                        2. re: PeterL

                          Yeah, I'm quite surprised that there are so many people saying that it would be difficult to kill an hour looking at all the different menus, unusual Chinese DVDs and gifty things, etc.,particularly if you're from a city where Chinese culture is an exotic curiosity. Really, an hour is nothing if you're an explorer like me, and are really fascinated to see how other people live.

                          There are several large minimalls all next to San Gabriel Square, and about 500 foot massage places (1 hour for $15... no kidding! I like the one on the ground floor, perpindicular to Mei Long Village-- they give you a buy 10 get one free card, and it's actually more like 30 minute head, shoulders, back and legs and 30 minutes of feet, all while watching impenetrable Chinese dramas and variety shows).

                          So if you're looking for a real SGV Chinese experience, I can't think of a better way than a good meal, walked off with some window shopping, and then a nice foot massage to soothe those achey footsies. (and then maybe a Beard Papa cream puff for dessert... but be warned, they close a little early).

                          Mr Taster

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            There's like four foot massage places in that Mei Long Village mini mall.

                            1. re: monku

                              Business model: Copy someone else's original concept, make no alterations to it, open the exact same business a few doors down from the original, and start a price war.

                              1. re: J.L.

                                The foot massage market in the SGV is oversaturated. They used to be $10 when they first came on the scene. From what I understand you don't need a masseuse license or whatever is required from the police department like they require for a regular massage parlor.

                                Poster MT above said he liked a particular foot massage perpendicular to Mei Long Village and there are at least four in that mini mall alone, there might be more now (that was a month ago I was there.....at J&J, not for a foot massage).

                                1. re: J.L.

                                  Best description of Chinese business owners--"Copy the guy they think is a success." The good thing is that ordinary Joes can afford foot massages--it's not a luxury. And you must admit this can lead to ridiculously competitive prices at the restaurants.

                                  1. re: Chandavkl

                                    I missed the boat on that foot massage craze...
                                    8 years ago my wife and daughter were in China and had it done for $10 and I thought they were crazy. They thought it was so good they also tipped the masseuse $10.