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Jul 19, 2009 04:03 PM

Chung King, San Gabriel - revisited

I just recently got back into town and after a bit of hesitation (I live in China and wasn't looking to eat Chinese food quite so soon) decided to go back to an old favorite, Chung King. In the past I found Chung King to be pretty much the best Sichuan in the area after Oriental Pearl closed, so I was hoping the quality hadn't gone downhill. I'm sorry to say that my meal was less than exceptional.

First thing I noticed when I walked in on a Saturday night was that more than half the patrons were white. I thought to myself, bad sign. My friend and I weren't that hungry, but we wanted a good mala kick, so we decided to order a couple of basics, the water boiled beef, and la zi ji (spicy fried chicken), as well as the dan dan mian. The noodles were a complete bore. I mean, they tasted right more or less, but they were completely unispired. Okay, fine, I'd never ordered them at CK before so I got over it. I was looking forward to the other two dishes, which had always been solid. Wow, what a letdown. The chicken was nothing like it used to be, well, that's not true, it was something like it used to be, a variation of its former self, and not a good one, like an aged Elvis or Michael Jackson impersonator. But honestly, it wasn't terrible, just not great. The shui zhu beef was ok, more or less, but just like the dan dan mian it was uninspired.

What has happened??!! Am I the only one who thinks this place has faded? Was this a bad night or has popularity ruined the joint? Should I go back and order all my old favorites or should I move on and be happy with my memories?

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  1. Am I being too much of an optimist - maybe the chef was on vacation or..........?
    The SGV needs some new and better quality Sichuan restaurants. The best that I've had lately is at home using F. Dunlop's book.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sel


      Chung King Restaurant
      1000 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

      1. re: sel

        I heard this place was great so I drove all the way out there for some good HOT Chinese food. Very disappointing! The food was bland. Are ethnic restaurants "dumbing down" their food for white people? If so, that's a BIG mistake.

    2. It's my understanding that the original chef has gone off to San Diego or somewhere. Last time we were there our own favorite dish, the prickly-ash fried spare ribs, was no longer on the menu, and the bloom was definitely off the rose all around. Too bad - another favorite gone to Helena Hanbaskett.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Will Owen

        My last visit to Chung King was also disappointing. The dishes don't taste the same and are not as spicy as they used to be.

      2. Which location did you go to? I believe the owners sold the original location and moved to a new one a few years ago. The people who bought the original location kept the name and most of the menu so it can be very confusing.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Newkie

          As the title of the post says, San Gabriel. That is where they moved to. I have eaten at this location many times in the past, and I used to eat at the original location when they were still there.

        2. This is one of the most critical questions of the moment. I'm dead serious. I too have noted some slippage. Food is rather erratic, the kung pao is super sweet at times. Worried that my favorite Chinese place is going downhill. Has anyone been to the San Diego place the chef has decamped to? Is it "Ba Ren"?

          I still love Chung King in SG but worry about it! I went to Chung King in MP this weekend, it was quite mediocre IMHO

          6 Replies
          1. re: echoparkdirt

            I think this is our signal to drop their phone # from Speed-Dial and move on... tears optional.

            1. re: Will Owen

              I had a recent meal at the MP location, and while it was good enough, and I have always loved every occupant at the San Gabriel Blvd. location, I think I now prefer the China Islamic on Garvey on the very westerly edge of Rosemead/Monterey Park border. May go this week, in fact. The lamb dish is sensational, the onion pies very good, and who knew watercress could be so good, and all for less than $27 for Two!

              1. re: carter

                How is China Islamic comparable to Chung King in terms of regional Chinese cuisines?

                One is Northern Beijing; the other Sichuan.

                Both are unique in their own right, but to say one is a substitute for the other is rather odd.

                Sort of like saying it's no big deal that Pizza Hut is going out of business because I can always go to Burger King ...

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  It's just that having just returned from china, one can have all different kinds of tastes within the greater Chinese tastebud, much like you can within America, as an example. While my Taiwanese-born nephew's wife likes her chung king dinner, she now thinks her experiences at Islamic have taken over her tastebuds. I go through phases where my likes vary as well, and I am sure you do too.

            2. re: echoparkdirt

              I went to Ba Ren in San Diego recently with friends and it was indeed spectacular, as was the Chung King of days gone by. I too am very sad to hear of Chung King's demise... what is left of the great Sichuan restaurants?

              Mr Taster

              1. re: echoparkdirt

                OK. Since my original post, I've gone back twice. I've come to the conclusion that while not as great as it once was it's still got some good things. On the downside I've learned not to get the water boiled beef (sad thing for a Sichuan place); the gong bao chicken is sweeter than it used to be, and overall not as good, the yu xiang eggplant is also too sweet; the lazi ji is almost another dish now -not as good; and the noodles are to be avoided at all costs. The beef in small pot dishes are still quite special, as is the the steamed fish in chili sauce, which I thought was fantastic. These had the right ma-la kick and I was quite pleased. All in all it's still pretty decent Sichuan place, but definitely has declined. In the old days this restaurant could have held its own in Taipei and even Chengdu and Qongqing, now only a few things are that good.

                I don't go to the one in MP that took over the original's space there(went once-bad experience), so I won't comment on it.

              2. I go to the Chung King on Garfield, not the one on San Gabriel. The food is always good. The clientele are almost always Chinese. Near Chung King is another good Sichuan restaurant, Yun Chuan, which also has 95%+ Chinese clientele. There's nothing wrong with these restaurants; the food tastes like that in Sichuan Province.

                10 Replies
                1. re: aventinus

                  I just ate at Yunnan Garden in Hacienda Heights (related to Yunchuan Garden) and it was very good. You do need to tell them the magic words if you're not Chinese: wo bu pa la (I'm not afraid of spicy).

                  Sadly, though, none of these places measure up to Szechwan Gourmet in New York.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    I ate there today. Didn't utter the magic words. My ma-la dish was still reasonably spicy, but a bit underpowered by Sichuan standards. (At Yun Chuan Garden, dishes tend to be overpoweringly spicy, in a way I enjoy, without my saying anything.) The food and overall dining experience at Yunnan Garden were good. SGV Sichuan isn't the best I've ever had (and never tried Sichuan in NYC), but it's still delicious and a great value IMO.

                    I should order some of their Yunnan dishes. I actually didn't like the food in Yunnan Province very much, and I love Sichuan food, so I'll have to risk disappointment.

                    1. re: aventinus

                      at yungui - they only have a few yunnan dishes - cross-bridge noodles (which are popping up allo over the place) and the steam-pot chicken (qiguo ji). and a few others i guess. mostly, the menu is sichuan.
                      I also like the chung king on garfield. and the service couldn't be nicer.

                      fwiw - china islamic, i believe the owners are muslims from Henan, not beijing or hebei. Also, htaey now have paomo lamb soup, but they break the bread up into the soup int he back, and I prefer to breakitup myself.
                      Them's the breaks.

                      1. re: aventinus

                        Can anyone compare these places with Z&Y in SF, which also serves Sichuan and Yunnnan cuisine?

                        1. re: a_and_w

                          I explore all of the Sichuan restaurants in the SGV and while I have not yet been to Z&Y I have had better dishes at China Village in Albany a few weeks back and much better at Trend in Mountain View just a few days ago.

                          1. re: sel


                            Can you list the SGV sichuan places you do like? I'm particularly interested in some nice Chong Qing chicken. Is Chung King's the best?

                            1. re: a_and_w

                              Chung King in San Gabriel, and before their move from Monterey Park usually had great Chong Qing Chicken but I haven't had it in quite a while. I make F. Dunlop's version at home, quick, easy and very good! Generally Chung King has been good in the past but the last time I went in by myself I had Dan Dan Mien for a quick lunch and it was just ok. Water-Boiled Fish/Beef was ok on another visit but both dishes have been better at Hong Yei in recent months. Yun Gui Garden (or what ever the current incarnation is called) has always been pretty good for it's Sichuan dishes, cold appetizers, Ma Po Doufu's been too long but this place is worth a try! With the closings of Oriental Pearl, Lucky Dragon, Sichuan Best, Sichuan Express and others the current options are pretty limited. It's hard to say where to go because with the frequent movements of chefs a place that is great today may be mediocre tomorrow! Still planning on trying Ba Ren in San Diego where I read here that the original chef from Chung King ended up.

                              Chung King Restaurant
                              1000 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                              Hong Yei Restaurant
                              288 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                              Yun Gui Garden
                              301 N Garfield Ave Ste D, Monterey Park, CA 91754

                                1. re: a_and_w

                                  You're welcome and if you find ANY Sichuan restaurants that really rock your world please report back!

                                2. re: sel

                                  Lucky Dragon closed?!!!! Say it isn't so! waaaah!