101 Noodle Express
Fans of Chinese dumplings can indulge in 25 varieties at this utilitarian café, but they’re just sidekicks to the wildly popular Shandong-style beef roll, a burrito-like creation the size of an exhaust pipe and just $6.75. A pastry wrap encloses thinly sliced braised beef, pork, or chicken that’s slathered with a sweet-salty sauce. Cash only. » 1408 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, 626-300-8654.
Blue Ocean Seafood
The congee cart at this packed dim sum hall is a rolling firecracker spewing Sterno fumes. Lumps of saturated sticky rice come tightly wrapped in steamed banana leaves. The braised chicken feet are gelatinous marvels; the custard buns are toasty. Underscoring the point is the bill: It’s easy to eat for $10 a head. » 1412 S. Garfield Ave., Alhambra, 626-289-3018.
Din Tai Fung
The owners of Din Tai Fung recently opened a second location—one block away—just for the spillover. The dumplings are that good. Steamed buns (two to an order) are pillows of rice flour bearing bites of cooked-down pork. Sheer crab and pork purses erupt with juices at the first nibble. Service has a snap and an elegance, and though there’s always a wait, once seated at a table you never feel hurried. » 1108 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, 626-574-7068.
The Chinese dumpling is at its finest for an instant, and at this El Monte dumpling house, they are rushed to the tables with that in mind. Boiled rock cod pockets have a soupy, just-ladled potency. The steamed selections—pumpkin with shrimp is a standout—arrive in a cloud of vapor. Pair any of these with dishes like fiery strips of pig’s ear or the classic mix of peanut and dried fish. » 10053 Valley Blvd., El Monte, 626-350-0188.
You could dine solo on a feast of smoked fish or steamed pork buns at this white-tablecloth find. But bring friends and enjoy the House Special Braised Pork Knuckle, a moist hunk of meat that easily serves six. Along with a belly warming soup, a couple of stir-frys, and the tempura-fried yellow fish flecked with seaweed, the entire spread amounts to about $12 apiece. » 306 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, 626-573-3421.
Night owls keep this spiffy café buzzing, noshing on an enormous menu (100-plus items) of pan-Chinese comfort foods. Individual cauldrons of hot-pot rice are topped with ingredients like roasted quail and spareribs in black bean sauce. In the daylight, try the Hong Kong-style waffle, the peanut butter-filled flaky “pizza,” or an über-caffeinated blend of coffee and tea. » 288 W. Valley Blvd., Ste. 110, Alhambra, 626-300-8262; 1212 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, 626-445-9388.
Offering dishes from China’s three spiciest cuisines (Hunan, Szechuan, and Yunnan), this is capsaicin heaven. Start with snacks from the deli case, like seaweed salad and stewed pork hock. Move on to a bowl of Szechuan-style chili-sauced wontons redolent of mala, a spice that translates to “numbingly hot.” Cool your palate with bites of seasonal vegetables in broth. » 545 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, 626-308-1896.