I believe in judging restaurants at their level. Meaning I expect attentive and pleasant service from a frou-frou upscale restaurant, but I don't expect the waiter to hover over me at a small mom-and-pop eatery. Generally, I'm not that picky as long as the food, water, or whatever comes when I ask. My pocketbook, or lack thereof, keeps me from dining at expensive restaurants, but I'm much happier with good, solid food at reasonable prices. Cleanliness is a given, but a slight hole-in-the-wall vibe is perfectly acceptable if the food makes up for it. So when Chubbypanda, concerned about the recent closing of several mom-and-pop restaurants in his area, tagged me for his meme on "Save Our Faves 2007," I knew exactly which one I wanted to profile.
My favorite mom and pop restaurant has good service, good food, good prices, and good, well, cleaniness? Work with me people, I was trying to keep up with the good, good, good, good theme. Did I mention I think it's really good? :P A month ago I had teased about my favorite dumpling house in Southern California.
Say that out loud.
Merely saying it is enough to make you salivate isn't it? Imagine plump morsels of seductively, sexy, juicy, deliciousness. And yes, they get mondo bonus points from me for such a clever name. :)
Luscious Dumplings Inc. is in a small strip mall in San Gabriel at the intersection of Las Tunas and Mission Drives. It shares the same parking lot as the newest branch of Phoenix Food Boutique. It is sandwiched between a Vietnamese cafe with blacked out windows that always seemed empty during the day (and I have no desire to see what occurs at night) and a pizza shop that features cheap carry-out specials and an intriguing $4.99 lula kabob combo plate. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch, and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. for dinner. The dumplings are made fresh before each seating. I recommend arriving during the first hour because if they run out of dumplings, you'll be greeted with a closed sign. The restaurant has only about a half a dozen tables. They push tables together for small groups, but this is not a place to go if you have a large party. On weekdays there generally isn't a problem getting a table, but go on weekends and you'll find the sight pictured below.
If you're waiting outside, you'll be given the complete half-page menu. The all-Chinese language combos are half-orders of various dumplings and the soups. But being the pig I am, I've always managed to finish whole orders of both dumplings and soup.
After you're seated, you'll be given a glass of water or tea in a styrofoam cup and a small dish of pressed tofu, celery, and boiled peanuts in a spicy chili and vinegar brine.
Aren't these the most adorable soy sauce and vinegar bottles ever?
Pour a little of both into your empty dipping saucer, along with some dried chili in oil. You can also request fresh chili and mustard if you wish. We ordered the shredded Sichuan pickle and pork noodles. I love the slight sourness of the pickles with the smoothness of the noodles. This is the smaller $4 bowl but was perfect for sharing amongst four people. We were saving room in our bellies for the dumplings. My cousin also really likes the stewed beef, which is a dark, braised beef.
First out was cabbage, pork, and shrimp steamed dumplings. An order of 10 is $6. They're a little lumpy, a little misshapen. Almost as if I made them at home. No perfectly fluted sides here. You can tell where the chef has pressed the edges together. That homey touch only serves to make these plump and luscious dumplings that much more special to me. Their imperfection lets me know they didn't come mass-produced. Just the sweet mom and pop in the back, who sometimes venture out during busy times to deliver a plate of dumplings to the tables.
A small dish of ginger accompanies...
Xiao long bao, or xlb, to my group of food bloggers who are all in search of the perfect Shanghai-style soup dumplings. An order of 8, as opposed to 10 for all other dumplings, is $5.50. These dumplings have a thinner dough than the other dumplings, are actually folded with some care for presentation, and are flooded with juicy broth. They're not the best rendition as I think the skins are too doughy, but they're still tasty nonetheless.
The "soup" comes from adding in cubes of congealed fat inside the dumplings so that they melt into a broth when steamed. Each dumpling rests on a small piece of napa cabbage to prevent it from sticking to the steamer. When removing the soup dumplings from the steamer, slide your spoon gently under the cabbage leaf so it doesn't break apart. Get your chopstick anywhere near it and one accidental poke will result in all the juicy goodness draining out.
One method of eating is to take a small bite, suck all the juice out, and then eat the dumpling. Luscious Dumpling Inc.'s xiao long bao have so much soup that that method merely results in juice dribbling down my chin and onto my shirt. I've found it best to add a sliver of ginger on top and to savor the whole dumpling in one mouthful. I poked a hole in the dumpling so you could see the juice but it overfilled the spoon and dribbled onto my bowl. Now if one of your measurements of good xiao long bao is lots of flavorful broth, you'll get plenty here.
But oh, this, just looking at the crisp pan-fried perfection of the napa, pork, and sole fried dumplings is enough for you to know why this is my very favorite. 10 dumplings is $5.50.
You can tell how large and substantial they are when half of the dumpling is the size of my spoon. Pan-frying makes them extra hot (temperature not spicy hot), but I can't wait for it to cool down before I bite into its chewy, crispy, juicy goodness.
Good service, good food, very reasonably priced, very clean. Is it any wonder I think Luscious Dumplings Inc. is good, good, good, good? So if you're in the area, go try Luscious Dumplings Inc. and let me know what you think.
And to keep this meme going along so you can highlight your favorite mom-and-pop restaurant, grocery store, or other food place, I'm tagging:
1. Tigerfish of Teczcape
2. Melting Wok
3. Henry Chan of Henry Chan's Food Videos
4. Yich of Sim Cooks
5. Budding Cook
So tag, you're it! Let us know about your favorite food gem, and tag 5 others so we can all share in the goodness. Read Chubbypanda's rules for the "Save Our Faves 2007" meme.
On a later visit, cousin Q and I got the braised beef noodle soup and shrimp and pork dumpling combo for $6.
And of course, no visit is complete without an order of potstickers.
Henry Chan's Food Videos became a fan after I took him here. UnHipLA never understood what all the fuss was about dumplings until I took her here. Now she says dumplings = love.
August 9, 2015 update:
Took my friend E(L) and her daughter her for lunch and we ordered the newish menu item of braised pork belly noodles. Luscious, silky, savory pork belly. We were about to dig in when...
...the waiter brought out another small bowl of just the braised pork belly. He said the pork belly in our bowl of noodles looked too fatty, so he brought us some pork belly that had more meat than fat. Now, that's what I call service!
And why I've been eating here for more than a decade.
Also on Main St./Las Tunas Dr.:
Aji Man Japanese Restaurant - San Gabriel
Golden Deli Vietnamese Restaurant - San Gabriel
Pho Super Bowl Vietnamese Cuisine - Alhambra
Vietnam House Restaurant - San Gabriel
Vietnam Restaurant - San Gabriel
Vietnam Restaurant (Bo 7 Mon (7 Courses of Beef)) - San Gabriel
Luscious Dumplings Inc.
704 W. Las Tunas Dr., #E4
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Lunch 11 a.m–2 p.m., Dinner 5–8 p.m.
Closed Mondays, lunch service only on Sundays.