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Jun 10, 2010 05:43 PM

Best Cantonese dinner

Brief background: raised in LA but have lived in DC for the past 6 years.

The Cantonese food here is dreadful in DC. I always go out for Cantonese food when I'm back in town. I've had great dim sum and like many chowhounds, I love Elite and Seafood Harbor on Rosemead.

But I've been bitterly disappointed when it comes to Cantonese food for dinner. So what's the word? I need to have a great dinner when I get back next week. In December, I went to Top Island and that was pretty good, obviously much better than anything I'd get in DC but still it wasn't great.

My mom, who should know better, is forever recommending places from ads in the Chinese newspapers. She loves checking out new places, and she's always a sucker for any special deal and/or specialty dish. Problem is that these places have been crap!

Finally, I wish I could say money is no object.... it is. I'm not looking for two buck chuck, but it shouldn't be in the triple digits for a couple of people. I know ordering lots of seafood would be tough.

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  1. Paul's Chinese Kitchen on San Pedro, south of 9th St. Possibly one of the last of the old timers that still does a decent job.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Hughlipton

      Thanks Hugh, but like I said I'm looking for something more than decent. Would you say Paul's is great? I'm not familiar with Paul's but from what I read it's seems to be a popular place for old school Chinese-American...which I'm not a big fan of.

    2. Go to Elite or Sea Harbour. Can't go wrong with either.

      Fresh, live seafood (prawns, crab, fish, geoduck, abalone, etc.)
      Shark fins soup with fish maw
      Roast duck
      Sea turtle soup
      and on and on.

      Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant
      3939 N. Rosemead Blvd., Rosemead, CA 91770, USA

      4 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        There is an obsession in western and high end dining to follow a chef, but not so much in Chinese food circles (except perhaps only within Chinese communities). In NorCal, the Cantonese speaker VIP golfer types are in a clique of their own and most of them do not post on the boards or blog (or are not of that age). We have this one chef who actually runs his own restaurant, who came out of retirement from years of cooking, from his humble beginnings in Hong Kong at some forgotten eatery that specializes in old style traditional rustic Cantonese, to his overseas gigs at Chinese restaurants in Japan and Indonesia, to executive chef gigs at Grand Hyatt Hotel (HK) as well as 5 of our best Canto seafood restaurants. This guy is even endorsed and praised by local Chinese journalists/freelance food writers for newspapers, but yet in the online world he is unheard of. The best part is that when it comes to this chef, it is more about the food than the restaurant as a whole. And as he is in charge, he can do stuff that is less flashy, more authentic, and his cooking skills shine. And we have another guy who's also a legend, also trained in Hong Kong and has a ton of experience under his belt. However due to numerous problems with former business partners and mismanagement, he currently doesn't have a proper chef gig, but once was easily considered the Cantonese community's gem in the Canto fine dining circles.

        I'm curious if there are SoCal equivalents of such Cantonese chefs, and whether they are holed up outside the seafood giant places.

        1. re: K K

          Not that I know of.

          I am pretty familiar with the management and staff (both front and back) at Sea Harbour, and know for a fact that the ktichen has gone through several iterations of personnel, and it has never deterred me from going back.

          I think part of the reason is that the majority of the menu items are pretty similar, esp. when it comes to seafood and fowl dishes. Your basic stir fry veggie dishes are what they are -- and their excellence will really depend on the freshness of the product.

          With the price-cutting frenzy that is going on now with dim sum, I think there is even less inclination to follow a particular chef. For better or worse, I think Chinese diners are much more practical than emotional when it comes to dining dollars. They'll go where the food is not just tasty, but also a good bargain, and won't necessarily be romanticized by the allure of a "name" chef.

          I think the only area where diners will follow a particular chef is not with banquet style Canto restaurants, but with regionalized cuisines -- e.g. dumpling houses, noodle houses, etc.

          That's just my 0.02.

          Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant
          3939 N. Rosemead Blvd., Rosemead, CA 91770, USA

          noodle house
          46 W Las Tunas Drive, Arcadia, CA 91007

          1. re: ipsedixit

            A very interesting observation, although perhaps not a parallel.

            The examples of the one or two chefs I listed probably represent a very tiny segment of the entire Cantonese dining community and are actually anomalies, but are culinary treasures in their own right. There are other celeb type Chinese chefs that are active and known in our local Chinese media (newsprint or TV stations), local functions, fundraising/charity type stuff, but they are more like fixtures in the Chinese food landscape, rather than destination dining (although when it comes down to it, I'm sure they can cook a decent plate of food). The other tidbit is that the NorCal Cantonese restaurant community/circle is somewhat small, so it's pretty easy at times to recognize former personnel at some of the Elite or Sea Harbor equivalents at some of the lesser known or newer places.

            But what you say is true in NorCal or SoCal...generally people look for price to performance ratio and of course hype and cheap prices are alluring too (part of it is definitely in the culture!) The clique that is more interested in the fine dining aspect, try to get the best attention, service (but not necessarily paying a premium) and do a lot of schmoozing to get the good stuff/treatment are exceptions, and definitely not sustainable in the long run.

            I'm also curious if the SoCal Chinese (Cantonese or Taiwanese run) newspapers cover any solid recommendations of Cantonese restaurants (beyond Elite or Sea Harbor) by their local food writers (e.g. Sing Tao, World Journal etc). I agree that the ads are more hype (and disappointment) just to generate foot traffic and make use of marketing buzz words (e.g. in house freshly made bamboo pole noodle, "authentic" regional Cantonese chef with HK experience).

            1. re: K K

              There are food reviews in the local Chinese language fishwraps, but they are superficial -- laughably so, unfortunately. The same with the food reviews on Chinese TV and radio stations. It almost makes you wonder if they abide by the old newspaper adage of "separation between editorial and marketing divisions" ...

              Most new restaurants get their pubilcity by newspaper ads (as you mention) and grand opening specials and/or coupons.

      2. I'm a bit surprised that you have eaten at Elite and Seafood Harbour but either have not had or do not like the dinners there. You can feed two people quite easily for less than $100 in both places. I personally like Elite's dinners better than Seafood Harbour, but you really can't go wrong with either one. If they are too expensive, you can try NBC, Empress Harbor, or Miriwa/Ocean Star (I don't remember which name they use now) in Monterey Park. If you want Cantonese/Chiu Chow, try Seafood Village in Temple City or 888 in Rosemead.

        The places that have good dim sum usually have good dinners. Dinners and banquets are where the restaurants earn there reputation and money in the Cantonese community. Tasty dim sum is just a pleasant bonus.

        3 Replies
        1. re: raytamsgv

          Ray, I'm assuming your post was directed towards me. I no longer live in LA and Elite/Sea Harbor have hit their stride during my absence--as far as I can remember. So when I do come back to LA, my meals out are limited especially as I try to hit all the stuff i miss, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, Korean, etc. All the stuff that I think is much better in LA than DC. And since I have friends and family in LA, I also have to save some meals for home cooking. So if I'm in LA for 5-10 days, I may only have one or two full on Cantonese dinners out. If we've already hit Elite and Sea Harbor for dim sum plus another visit for cart style dim's hard to get back around to them for dinner.

          In addition, I have to acommodate my friends. Not all of them want to eat Cantonese food nor do they want to drive out to SGV. So sometimes, I end up eating so-so Mexican or Thai food in Laguna Beach, but hey I get to hang out with my childhood friend for a day.

          As mentioned before, my mom also likes to try out new restaurants and is a sucker for all ads. And as you know, there are so many restaurants in's hard to hit the same ones over and over again especially if you're only around for a week or two twice a year. But yes, next week, I'm going to insist that we hit Elite or Sea Harbor for dinner.

          1. re: tdonline

            I understand about the coupons and ads--my mom is the same way, and we have often ended up in some half-rate restaurant. I hope you enjoy your brief return here.

          2. re: raytamsgv

            Not to discount the merits or in some cases over-representation of SoCal's finest high end seafood Cantonese, but are there any other non seafood themed Canto joints that are slighly downscale, but not nitty gritty HK cafe or Sam Woo type deli that do really great stir fry and non congee/rice plate/noodles/ho fun dishes?

            Bon Marche, while rustic regional Cantonese in nature (Hakka Cantonese / Poon Choy or Wai Chuen choy) with a non upscale environment to boot, strikes me as an example of something unique and rare, and potentially very good if not excellent, provided you order the right things (ie not the dim sum dishes). Surely this is a more interesting experience than salt and pepper this, typhoon shelter that, and/or running the risk of getting an oversteamed old but buff like Arnold piece of seafood?

          3. Ray, I've eaten at the other places you mentioned. Too many years ago to remember if the meals were good or not. I had read that Elite or SH were the top choices mentioned in passing...thought I'd post my question for confirmation and also if there were any other that warranted serious consideration.

            1 Reply
            1. ahhh yes... I feel your pain. I worked in DC and lived in Arlington for a 6 mo time period. How can a big city have a chinatown that has no good chinese food? oh wait, that's LA's chinatown. ;+) Mark's Duck house and Full Kee were the only places that kept me sane. well, and the blue crab.

              So I think your post highlights a huge problem with LA Chinese food. There is a serious lack of quality Cantonese food. Of all the Chinese restaurants in SGV it really only boils down to Elite and Sea Harbour. Newport does have their lobster but everything else falls short. SGV seems to be more interested in opening cafes and XLB joints. And don't even get me started on the lack of quality won ton mein and jook.

              The post really should be: Who Beats Elite and Sea Harbour. Whether traditional or innovative, I would love to see better preparations of geoduck, live king crab, and live fish (ie: sturgeon, ling cod) cooked 3 ways. Elite and SH do a pretty darn good job at these. and it's not such a bad thing to keep going back every visit back home.

              Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant
              3939 N. Rosemead Blvd., Rosemead, CA 91770, USA

              20 Replies
              1. re: awwwyeah206

                I like Elite the best, but I have had many fine diners at other Cantonese restaurants. It really is an issue of how much you're willing to pay for dinner. Usually, I pay an arm and leg because the dinners are usually at wedding banquets. But to each their own, I suppose.

                1. re: awwwyeah206

                  I would add Happy Harbour (Rowland Heights) to Sea Harbour and Elite among the pantheon of great Canto restaurants in SGV.

                  Also, I'm curious as to what you mean by "better preparations" of live king crab and live fish? Whether those dishes are good really depend on the quality of the seafood, and less on the preparation. Good fresh fish will be good even prepared in the worst of ways; fish trapped in a tank for weeks on end cannot b saved even with the strokes of a master chef.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I agree it's about the freshness but there are still different ways to cook. For example, live dungeonous crab can be cooked with ginger scallion, steamed with garlic, or deep fried with garlic. My favorite is steamed w/ garlic and I haven't had a good one in LA. Geoduck (non-sashimi) can be sauteed a couple different ways. Most fish should only be steamed, but some like sturgeon and ling cods can be prepared across 3 dishes (soup with head, fried rice, steamed meat). SH and Elite both do a pretty darn good job I would just expect more considering how much competition there is with the number of restaurants in SGV.

                    When referring to traditional Cantonese I am just surprised that SF has so many more wonton and congee houses than LA does. If May Mei, Sam Woo, and Har Lam Kee are supposed to be the best then that's sad. For example, Fat Wong's in San Bruno beats all three and they are a hole in the wall.

                    Sam Woo Cafe
                    727 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                    Har Lam Kee Restaurant
                    150 E Garvey Ave, Monterey Park, CA 91755

                    May Mei Restaurant
                    639 W Duarte Rd, Arcadia, CA 91007

                    1. re: awwwyeah206

                      I don't think Sam Woo is considered to be among the best, just the most convenient due to numerous locations. Try Noodle Boy in San Gabriel before dismissing wonton/noodles down here. Also, L.A. is much better than the Bay Area for Chinese noodles--but a lot of the good noodle places here aren't Cantonese.

                      Sam Woo Cafe
                      727 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                  2. re: awwwyeah206

                    Even a joking comparision of DC Chinatown to LA Chinatown is unfair. We ate 3 meals last week in DC Chinatown--two at Ruby Tuesdays and one at Legal Seafood (the Boston seafood chain), as I consider Chinese food in DC Chinatown to be toxic. And the new fair haired suburban Canto leader in Falls Church, X O Taste Seafood, was pretty bad. But the fact is that if you're comparing LA Cantonese to Hong Kong, Vancouver, or top end Toronto, we're way back of the pack. But better than SF and much better than NY and the east coast.

                    Ruby Tuesday Restaurant
                    2200 S Azusa Ave, West Covina, CA 91792

                    1. re: Chandavkl

                      Chandavki, I agree with you. The dim sum at Ruby Tuesdays is better than any other (except, possibly, the baked pork bao and chicken feet at a modern Denny's). Or maybe I misread your post. ;-) Seriously, what local Cantonese restaurants beat SF and NYC in your estimation?

                      1. re: hnsbmg

                        D.C. Chinatown is funny--the area has been taken over by downtown workers who have turned Chinatown into an after hours location. All businesses are required to have Chinese signage, even though places like Hooters, Fuddruckers and McDonalds that don't purport to serve Chinese food.

                        While I don't think anything in LA surpasses Koi Palace in Daly City, as a group the Chinese restaurants in the LA area, particuarly the San Gabriel Valley, both Cantonese and other regional styles, are a bit better than the Bay Area, though I would be happy if I were limited to either one. I think this thread pretty much lists the good places down here--there really are no secrets as to what the good places are. Manhattan Chinese food is several steps behind the West Coast--pretty much what we had here in the 1990s. A very few of the 300 or so Chinese restaurants in Manhattan Chinatown are as good as "average" quality San Gabriel Valley restaurants, i.e., better than L.A. Chinatown. The one really good Manhattan restaurant, Chinatown Brasserie, is not in Chinatown and is prohibitively expensive. Flushing Chinatown has some pretty good Cantonese restaurants, again in the average SGV quality range.

                        Koi Restaurant
                        600 Pacific Coast Hwy Ste 100, Seal Beach, CA 90740

                        1. re: Chandavkl

                          I don't want to turn this into a DC Chinatown bashing sub-thread, but for a major metro area it is really really really sad. I think calling it ChinaTOWN is actually an insult to towns all across the U.S. ChinaBLOCK is more apt.

                          You know it's a sad state of affairs when the best restaurant in DC Chinatown is a pizza joint (Matchbox).

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Actually the best place to eat is a rice noodle factory on 6th St. that has a couple of tables and a nice selection of fun. The short answer is that hardly anybody lives in Chinatown anymore except a few old timers, but don't forget that's sort of where Los Angeles Chinatown was in the early 1960s before the influx of immigrants brought L.A. Chinatown to life.

                            1. re: Chandavkl

                              Do you mean China Boy? Fresh, handmade and handcut noodles?

                                1. re: Chandavkl

                                  Despite being handmade, they lack the requisite chewiness (or Q-ness) you typically find in good handmade noodles.

                                  Fresh soymilk on hand, however.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    Actually I like it because both the noodle and the meat are different from what we see here.

                    2. re: awwwyeah206

                      "So I think your post highlights a huge problem with LA Chinese food. There is a serious lack of quality Cantonese food"

                      It's a given that Vancouver is better, but in the US, what cities would you say have better Cantonese food than LA (i.e., more than one or two restaurants that are better than the two or three places that are most people's favorites here)? Not trying to argue - just curious.

                      1. re: will47

                        I am curious too...because whenever someone wants Cantonese/good Cantonese, automatically the usual seafood restaurant suspects are immediately named.

                        Perhaps it is true that there are better and cheaper Cantonese dim sum seafood restaurants in LA than in San Francisco Bay Area, but there may be a few oddball, off the radar, only gourmet Cantonese golfer types in the know places that could actually surpass what LA has.

                        If someone wants authentic salt baked chicken (Hakka style), affordable Cantonese BBQ/roasties, won ton noodle soup, clear broth beef brisket noodles or ho fun, a good plate of stir fry dai pai dong style, authentic congee that is creamy and has old and new rice mixed in like old school sushi rice and cooked in some base broth, is the answer to direct them to Elite, Sea Harbor etc?

                        I'm pretty sure Southern California's HK style cafe's/cha chaan teng are generally better (and cheaper) than in Northern California, but is there more beyond that?

                        So where would I find (in So Cal) the best

                        -preserved sausage/meat claypot rice (lap mei fan) regardless of whether the sausages are smoked in house or outsourced but prepped a proper way? Not the Taiwanese sausage like Sinbala, but the preserved smokey kind that includes duck versions and innards.

                        -anywhere in LA that does a Cantonese style fried chicken stuffed with sticky rice? Or other very labor intensive dishes?

                        - shrimp roe lo mein, like the kind that Samantha Brown and Anthony Bourdain had in Hong Kong?

                        -beef brisket (clear broth,stewed, and curry versions) and shui gow Cantonese dumplings (woodear funghi, pork fat, plump shrimp, bamboo shoot, and ideally duck egg for the skins?)

                        1. re: K K

                          Excellent questions, K K!
                          I look forward to some answers from thiose more in the know, but I fear that the answer is "no."
                          Especially, because none of our erudite Sino-hounds bit on your previous enquiry above: "...but are there any other non seafood themed Canto joints that are slighly downscale, but not nitty gritty HK cafe or Sam Woo type deli that do really great stir fry and non congee/rice plate/noodles/ho fun dishes?"

                          Sam Woo Cafe
                          727 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                          1. re: Ciao Bob

                            I can't think of any good Cantonese restaurant that is non-seafood, non-deli, or non-cafe. That's probably because in my mind, seafood and good Cantonese cooking are intertwined. There are some other hybrid Cantonese places, such as Chiu Chou-Cantonese. One example would be Kim Ky Noodle House in San Gabriel. I really like their noodle soups. Unfortunately, I was not lucky enough to purchase that winning $166 million lottery ticket at the restaurant last year.

                            Kim Ky Noodle House
                            1108 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                          2. re: K K


                            I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone of those items in the continental U.S.

                            Some of the things you've mentioned ilke the shrimp roe chow mein is probably an indigenous creation of Hong Kong that has yet to migrate to the States, or even Vancouver/Toronto perhaps.

                            I think in SoCal you'd be able to find a good proxy of preserved sausage in claypot at Bon Marché Bistro, which has a variety of claypot rice dishes with preserved meats. The sausages used certainly is not of the sweet Taiwanese variety.

                            Some of the Canto BBQ joints and restaurants (like Ocean Star or New Capital) will make you fried chicken stuffed with sticky rice upon request, esp. during Chinese New Years.

                            New Capital
                            8823 Garvey Ave, Rosemead, CA

                            1. re: K K

                              My parents are originally from H.K., and whenever they come for a visit, we always have to eat a few times at May Mei's in Arcadia (same mall as Sinbala). Very good homestyle Cantonese food. Several variations of the hotpot rice are great. The clams in black bean sauce are always meaty and fresh. My kids love the salt and pepper chicken wings and fried tofu. The parents love the healthy, herbal soups that are served free with lunch. Very reasonably priced, but cash only.

                              651 W Duarte Rd Ste F, Arcadia, CA 91007

                              May Mei Restaurant
                              639 W Duarte Rd, Arcadia, CA 91007

                            2. re: will47

                              I'm from Seattle so I'm with you on Vancouver having the goods (they even have Sea Harbour!). The SF and East Bay (Pleasanton, Dublin) have better Canto food than LA IMO. Sorry to be redundant to my other reply but all I'm saying is considering the amount of Chinese restaurants in SGV it really comes down to Elite and SH for the good Canto stuff and that just seems odd for me. and I'm pretty bitter that we don't have good wontons. Even Seattle has better wontons and their king crab or live shrimp is only $10/lb.