cold sesame chicken noodles, Tasty Noodle House
It can be strangely difficult to find a good-quality, straight-up place for a relaxed Chinese dinner in the San Gabriel Valley. Dim sum is out; the dumpling houses are great, but the menu can be limited for several people dining together. Newport Seafood and its like is good for a group but gets pricey fast if the group likes lobster; the Sichuan places are likely to alienate at least one of your friends. Noodle Planet or Tasty Garden and the Hong Kong-style cafes tend to be heavy, greasy or bland or all three. Something like Mandarin Noodle Deli is about the right speed for a varied group of eaters.
This time our search led to Tasty Noodle House, one of Jonathan Gold's finds of last year, located in San Gabriel just a few doors down from Golden Deli. The small but comfortable minimall spot specializes in seafood-intensive dishes from Dailin province, but we were feeling less jellyfish and pork kidney-ish and more Chinese comfort food-ish, so the Dailin specialties like oyster soup and jellyfish head will have to wait for another time.
Tasty Noodle is one of a very small group of Chinese restaurants that aspires to higher-quality ingredients and lighter, less-greasy preparations, and it seemed like everything we ordered was a winner.
Jalapeno beef, Tasty Noodle HouseScallion pancakes (seen behind jalapeno beef in the foreground) are a million times lighter and less greasy than the usual version, though the scallion flavor isn't very pronounced, the flakiness more than makes up for it. Jalapeno beef wasn't especially spicy or complex, but the straightforward dish had clean flavors and the meat lover in our threesome claimed it as his own. Braised green beans were again much less greasy than usual, but still had the slightly charred wok hey that makes this dish work so well. Hot 'n sour soup gets an unexpected jolt of flavor from dried shrimp and sea cucumber, putting it right up there with the top hot 'n sours in the city.
Northern dough-intensive dishes like dumplings and bao are stars on the menu, and our pork/shrimp/leek dumplings somehow became twice as wonderful after sitting for a few minutes while the medium-thick, rustic wrapper rested and the flavors coalesced. Since it was a zillion degrees outside, we chose cold sesame chicken noodles over dan dan noodles, and the simple dish was perfect for a summer night. This was one of the most enjoyable meals I've had in a long time, and we'll be returning soon to try pan-fried pork buns, seaweed strips in garlic and vinegar, ma po tofu, and perhaps the sea snail with jellyfish and fungus.
Tasty Noodle House
827 W. Las Tunas Dr.