Westside Chinese Finally Brings the Heat

Spicy lobster and fragrant soup dumplings aren’t limited to the San Gabriel Valley anymore

Dining in Los Angeles often means factoring in degree of difficulty. We consider travel time, whether a restaurant takes reservations, how easy it is to park, and the likelihood of friends being eager or even willing to join us.

Craving Chengdu-worthy noodles or a steamer of Hong Kong-style dumplings? Yes, it can be fun and perhaps even a vital L.A. experience to drive an hour and 15 minutes and then wait in line. But what’s even better is not having to do this.

For years, Westside residents, despite all their chest-pumping about proximity to the beach and Gjelina and Bay Cities and Roy Choi brunches, had to deal with the indisputable fact that getting decent Chinese food was an ordeal. It meant going to the San Gabriel Valley, or at least Chinatown. It meant committing your day or evening.

But in the last year, a handful of standout Chinese restaurants have opened on the Westside. Go to any of these and you’ll invariably hear diners say something like, “It’s not the SGV, but it’s close enough.” That’s usually followed by, “I’m never driving to the SGV again.”

These conversations have been happening the most at New Port Seafood Beverly Hills, an outpost of a prodigiously popular restaurant with spicy lobster that’s been a SGV sensation for nearly two decades.

The Beverly Hills location, which opened in late August with ample parking and OpenTable reservations on the La Cienega restaurant row where you’ll find Matsuhisa, Scratch Bar, and Genwa, brings SGV-level heat with its signature lobster: heavy on the chiles, garlic, and black pepper along with the scallions. And while the French-style beef loc lac doesn’t quite reach the tenderness and flavor of the SGV, it really is close enough.

Also close enough are the noodles at the even newer Qin West, the Westwood branch of a Chinatown restaurant. Qin West, which opened in October, serves regional Chinese food the Westside hadn’t previously seen, like a spicy Guilin beef noodle soup with pickled chinese cabbage. Pro tip: The Saozi noodles with diced pork, potato, and tofu are offered with or without soup. Getting this without soup lets you truly savor the flavor and chew of the excellent noodles.

Even better are the dandan noodles at Meizhou Dongpo, an outpost of a Beijing-based chain that brought serious Szechuan food to the Westside when it opened at the Westfield Century City last December. The noodles, a blissful union of pork, chili oil, broth, and the mouth-numbing ma la that comes with Szechuan peppercorns, are as explosive as any special effects you can see at the mall’s movie theater after dinner. The restaurant’s Chongqing chicken oddly includes potatoes, but they’re actually good, and the heat and crispiness of the fried, surrounded-by-chiles chicken is Szechuan splendor. Meizhou Dongpo, with sprawling, elaborate indoor and outdoor seating, might feel like a big corporate restaurant compared to Chengdu Taste or Szechuan Impression, but it’s also good for a beer and dumplings while you watch an NBA game at the bar.

For Zach Brooks of Midtown Lunch, who’s probably devoted more time and meals to tracking the exciting progression of Westside Chinese than anyone else, even West L.A.’s year-old Moon House gives him all of the feels. Moon House serves the kind of sweet, sticky Americanized Chinese food that, Brooks wisely notes, is prevalent in NY but can be a challenge to find in L.A. In an April post about how Westside Chinese “can’t be called terrible anymore,”  Brooks summed up Moon House’s appeal perfectly: “Because sometimes you want to sit and eat Chinatown-style chow mein, pork fried rice, and walnut shrimp in a place that doesn’t have a cartoon bear on the sign. Oh, and if you want to reenact A Christmas Story’s peking duck scene, this is your place.”

For Westsiders just looking to reenact a meal at Din Tai Fung, though, the solution is ROC, a pioneering restaurant that opened on Sawtelle in 2012 and is expanding to Runway, a new Playa Vista development expected to open early next year. ROC’s scallion pancakes, crab fried noodles, shrimp fried rice, and pan-fried dumplings are popular, but everybody knows the soup dumplings are the thing.

Do the crab and pork soup dumplings taste as good as Din Tai Fung’s? No, of course they don’t, but as you dip one, hold your soup spoon, take a careful bite, start slurping, and taste the flour, meat, seafood, broth, ginger, and vinegar, you happily realize that it’s close enough.

redarrow New Port Seafood Beverly Hills, 50 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310-855-0088

redarrow Qin West, 1767 Westwood Boulevard, Los Angeles, 310-478-8829

redarrow Meizhou Dongpo, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-788-0120

redarrow Moon House, 11058 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 310-966-9988

redarrow ROC, 2049 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles,310-235-2089