Links: e*starLA Elsewhere in 2015

Catch & Release, Marina del Rey

Apologies for not updating the blog, but here’s a post to push its revival into the New Year. Here I come, 2016! This week, I’ll be posting a round-up of sorts on 2015 and noteworthy dishes at noteworthy restaurants.

In any case, feel free to catch up with a few of my freelance articles, and my comments forthwith, that I wrote for other online publications the latter half of 2015 here. Also, a plug to follow me on other social media channels, which I’ve been updating pretty regularly: Instagram, Twitter, and eventually Snapchat (@estar_la)!

Happy reading. I’ll catch you guys with another 2015 update tomorrow.

Bánh Mì My-Tho
304 W Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801

3300 Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Catch & Release
13488 Maxella Ave
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

Langer’s Delicatessen
704 S Alvarado St
Los Angeles, CA 90057

Wexler’s Deli, GCM
317 S Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Old Country Cafe
2 E Valley Blvd #1e
Alhambra, CA 91801

Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village
250 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776

Zankou Chicken
5065 Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Hai Di Lao: The Disneyland of Hot Pot

Dancing Noodles at Hai Di Lao

In partnership with Westfield Santa Anita.

Memories of hot pot have always involved family and friends around one or two boiling pots of broth on hot plates, set upon the dining room table and enjoyed over conversation, often during the holidays such as Lunar New Year. Sometimes, it was simply the way my mom handled a meal when there were going to be a lot of people coming over for dinner. Raw cut meats, vegetables, bean thread noodles, and tofu were laid out on the table, waiting their turn to get dunked, cooked, then retrieved before being dipped into a personal bowl of XO sauce
beat with a raw egg, and eaten.

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Open House at Vertical Bistro: Taste New Menu Items, Beers & Cocktails for $25


If you live in Pasadena or the surrounding San Gabriel Valley, it will be worth your while to drop into Vertical Bistro tomorrow night between 7 – 10 PM. Chef Laurent Quenioux has some new dishes up his sleeve that he would very much like to share with you. And for $25, you can taste a few of them as well as wash them down with some new beers and/or cocktails.

Not a bad open house for the locals.

Make sure you RSVP to the appropriate email address below to reserve your spot. I expect there to be some real tasty French bites awaiting you tomorrow inside the newly renovated Vertical Bistro. There is even a new “library” for you to check out. Now there’s bookshelves in this wine bar thanks to the new addition, which is a 60-seat dining room. The space now overlooks historic Raymond Avenue. This open house sounds like a great opportunity to try the renovation on for size.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

7 – 10 PM

Cost: $25


RSVP: [email protected]

Vertical Bistro
70 N. Raymond Avenue (upstairs)
Pasadena, CA 91103

Taiwanese Burgers at Bun Bun Tea House, Arcadia

Black Pepper Rice Bun Burger

Perhaps the Taiwanese burger is so-named more because of Bun Bun Tea House’s location in Arcadia than as a result of its origin. Modeled after MOS Burger, which is popular in Taiwan but originated in Japan (and is now the second-largest fast-food franchise in Japan after McDonald’s), the burgers at this Arcadian tea house are a delight.

Spicy Chicken Rice Bun Burger

It’s no matter that no one else in California even does these burgers – or maybe it is. They’ve got the monopoly on Taiwanese burgers but the ones I’ve tried at Bun Bun are solid. I really enjoyed the crispy textures of the rice bun and the “patties” were chock full of flavor. There is no ketchup and mustard in this burger (though they are available if for some reason you should want them); instead, you’ll find your burger seasoned with either their house aioli or with its burger-specific glaze.

You can get a regular fresh-baked-daily bun at Bun Bun, but the rice buns are rationale for my trek out to Arcadia. My personal favorite was the combination of the crispy rice bun with black pepper steak. And maybe it should be disclosed, here, that I have a love-hate relationship with black pepper steak: It was the best prepared dish at the lone authentic-ish Chinese restaurant in Milwaukee my parents and I frequented during my childhood (we had to order it every time). Without implying that it’s a difficult thing to prepare, this black pepper steak certainly topped that. The beef was tender and not over-peppered. There was just the right amount of sauce – and since I only had a bite of a dining companion’s, I will certainly order this on my next visit.

Bun Bun Storefront

I did enjoy my spicy chicken “patty,” or filling, as well – but there’s just something about the combination of the black pepper beef with rice that sings. Do beware of the American cheese, however, as a topping on the other burgers. I’m not sure what it is about a prevalent fascination with generally low-quality, oily cheese in Asian cuisine, but Bun Bun Burger is not exempt. I’m Asian – but I’m also from Wisconsin.

The fries are of no detail. They’re skinny and they’re delicious. They’ll have you reaching from the table to your mouth with faster frequency than even your $4.50 almond milk tea. Yes, the fries are really that good and yes, your tea (with or without boba) will cost you half as much as your burger-fry combo ($8.50). But that’s okay in Taiwanese burger land, because how would they otherwise make their profit margin what is a sit-down tea house experience without tea?

Also check out this great Q&A of co-owner Calvin Yao by Duke Chao on

Tue – Thu 11:30 AM – 10:30 PM
Fri – Sun 11:30 AM – 11:30 PM

Bun Bun Tea House
651 W Duarte Rd, Ste C
Arcadia, CA 91007

Favorite Dish: Shanghai Rice Cakes With Sponge Gourd at Ding’s Garden

Shanghai Rice Cakes With Sponge Gourd

I’ll be up front about it: We had the stinky tofu, too. It did not quite make the “favorite dish” descriptor.

But it’s an experience worth having if you haven’t, already. Just bring friends to prove you did it.

As far as what I actually liked (and not ordered with purposes of boosting street cred), I have to say that the Shanghai Rice Cakes tossed with sponge gourd (or luffa) were a standout at Ding’s Garden during our Taiwanese (and dare I admit, yes, derivative Chinese) food crawl. Perfect for reheating at home, this dish had gummier rice cakes than those at Din Tai Fung and also had a lighter sauce – and less of it. Shreddings of pork provided the flavor, and the sponge gourd was a nice recall to the xiao long bao I had at Su Hung in Taipei that were filled with this veggie in addition to pork - instead of just pork. (Su Hung is the alt. to waiting 2 hours for a seat at DTF – Taipei, by the way.)

I love this vegetable because it’s somewhat sour and unexpected, but it’s still subtle and therefore palatable to those who are curious about uncharted Asian vegetables. The gumminess of the rice cakes might put some off-guard – especially those first introduced to rice cakes by DTF – but glutinous rice is really so commonly used in the cuisine that I’m more apt to consider DTF’s over-cooked, perhaps. But, if you like the sweeter variety, stick with the always-reliable Din Tai Fung.

Try many things at Ding’s Garden, but definitely make one of those dishes these particular Shanghai Rice Cakes. You can never have too many.


Mon – Sun

11 AM – 10 PM

Cash only

Ding’s Garden
18922 Gale Ave
Ste A
Rowland Heights, CA 91748

Class 302: Where Ice Is Turned To Shaved Snow

Green Tea Shaved Snow With Mochi and Red Bean

With Southern California “June Gloom” wearing off now thanks to July, it has me craving cold dessert. Cold as ice – or, cold as snow in this case.

Mango Shaved Snow With Mochi

I had heard about the “upgrade” to traditional Taiwanese shaved ice from Danny, Cathy and a few others, in that the condensed milk is actually folded into the ice for some serious creamy-sweet-cold integration. Whereas the plastic tops sealing cups of milk tea at boba shops were probably the last technology in Taiwanese desserts I was aware of, this one seems to be an actual revolution of dessert itself.

I can get behind that.

Pudding Shaved Snow With Syrup

When I saw that the snow actually came out in sheets, each dish was a massive landscape and sweet firestorm to behold. No more crunchy ice or uneven distribution of condensed milk from bite to bite. Just good ol’, cold, sweet, soft and creamy (yet airy?) goodness. You can get varieties with caramel pudding on the bottom and syrup on top, another with strawberries and mango. My personal favorites, though, were the mango-flavored snow with mangos and mochi (for some potent mango goodness) and the green tea-flavored snow with red bean and mochi topping (expressly for your matcha tooth).

On the weekend, you’ll be waiting quite awhile for a table at Class 302 (which is Taiwanese school code for 3rd grade, 2nd class) as they also serve food, but snow is hands-down the thing to get here. You’ll want some as we head deeper into the summer. Just remember: It’s even hotter in San Gabriel Valley, so bring friends to share flavors.

More Taiwanese discoveries to come at later dates… A girl’s gotta reconnect with her blood-native cuisine, right?

Mon – Sun

11 AM – 12 AM

Class 302
1015 S. Nogales St.
Rowland Heights, CA 91748

Six Taste Food Tour: Taiwanese Food in Arcadia

Dry Wontons in Spicy Oil and Minced Garlic

There is a short list of reasons I will get up before 9 AM on a Saturday morning. A very short list. Of course, I wouldn’t be a food blogger without a few of those having to do with food (e.g. beating the dim sum crowd), and I’ve just added “Taiwanese food tour” to that list.

Juicy Pork Dumplings - Din Tai Fung

So if you choose the “Delicious Dumpling” Six Taste food tour, be prepared that Arcadia is where you’ll have to drive on a weekend morning – but you can rest assured that the trip is well worth it. You won’t have to get in your car again until the conclusion and when you do leave, you’ll be properly sated as you depart (unfortunately, this does not apply to vegetarians).

Arcadia is the 3rd largest Taiwanese population outside of the native island, with San Marino to the north being the 2nd (meanwhile, my own Taiwanese parents decided on Wisconsin). As always, it’s best to go to the source, or at least where a majority of ex-pats migrated to from the source.

Fried Pork Chop

Krista (Brand X), Marian (Marian the Foodie), Cathy (Gastronomy Blog) and I started out at J.J. Bakery, guided by Arcadia native Michael, our tour guide for the morning. We learned about common characteristics of Taiwanese pastries. Then, we moved on to the notorious Din Tai Fung, the definite focus of the tour. The Taiwanese dumpling chain known for their delicate skinned pouches filled with soup and pork rarely disappoints. Michael showed us tea etiquette and how to properly eat our shiao long bao, by poking or biting a hole into the dumpling and pouring out the soup onto our spoon. No soy sauce – just black vinegar and ginger – should accompany the bite-size dumpling.

Taiwanese Sausage with Garlic

Afterwards, we walked to the neighboring plaza to try out SinBala, so-named after the chantings of a Taiwanese dice game. Here, we tried Taiwanese sausages with various dressings, like traditional garlic slices, shredded basil and mango. We also tried chili wontons, an oyster pancake (a common Taiwan night market treat) and fried pork chop. Most were not too keen on the oyster pancake (in fact, I like the egg runnier than it was prepared) but the sausages and the wontons went over well.

Our last stop was a goods shop that shared a space with a Lollicup bubble tea store. Beef jerky and dried foods were stored in bins and we were free to taste anything that so pleased us. It reminded me of my last trip to Taiwan, when we visited a Hakka village with tons of dried goods. Preserved and pickled goods were made very popular when food was scarce since they were made to last longer.

Shaved Ice with Mango and Ice Cream

To close out the tour, we of course had some Taiwanese shaved ice with condensed milk, mangos and ice cream. It was definitely a treat – though it raised questions about the fluffier shaved snow. That will have to wait until our self-guided Taiwanese tour that a few bloggers and I will inevitably do another Saturday.

Though I’m Taiwanese in blood and have visited the Motherland enough times to count on both hands, I still learned a lot on the tour about Taiwanese food and community in Southern California (not being fluent or literate will stunt things in that area). Six Taste also conducts tours in so many other areas of Metro LA, with the Taiwanese tour being the east-most based tour. For the uninitiated, with visitors and residents alike, it’s a great way to get shown the ropes on the neighborhood you’re most curious about.

Six Taste Food Tours: Delicious Dumpling Tour

Select Saturdays


J.J. Bakery
1130 S. Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91007

Din Tai Fung
1108 S. Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91007

651 W. Duarte Rd., Ste F
Arcadia, CA 91007

Cabbin’ it in LA: It’s Text-a-Taxi


Photo credit to elakerfan on Flickr

I’m going to New York next week. Though I’m very much a subway girl while there, there will be a lot of taxis – and at that, ones you can hail. I doubt any of us ever instructed anybody to “hail a cab” as a means of getting around Los Angeles. Despite our best efforts, that is. But let’s get serious here. Outside the airport or hotel complete with taxi lanes, we’re most accustomed to calling one if we had planned to use a cab, at all. I don’t know about you, but I’ve experienced many a frustration with operators on the other line while trying to call one.

This Labor Day weekend might be prime time to try a new experiment. I know you’re on your phone texting your dogsitter, anyway!!

I may end up loving where I live even more (the key phrase for that would be, “central to everything”) because I just found out about a new service that makes cab service even more conducive for my friends and I to take around town. You can now text the address of your location to “777222” and GoFastCab will dispatch a cab directly to you, wherever you are in L.A. – even South Bay and Long Beach! Sweet!

After texting your address, you get a confirmation text back to you so you know they received it (and that your text didn’t get lost in outer space). If you change your mind, you can also text “CANCEL” to the same number and that will cancel your cab. If you’re wondering where your cab is before he gets to you, you can text “STATUS” for a status message back.

I think the best part about this, though, is when you’re out at the bar and not exactly sure when to cash out because you want to secure the cab you called – for fear of someone else snatching your cab from you. The service calls you when they’re outside!

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Magic Bags

Juicy pork dumplingsOnce in a blue moon, the sig. other and I will brave the wait for a table at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House. On a normal weekend, a typical wait to get seated will take up to an hour, so we’ll usually go on mornings when we wake up early enough to beat the mad rush.

Green beans sauteed with garlicThere’s really no good reason for it–it’s certainly not the cheapest place, but there are a few dishes we enjoy (*cough* fresh, bite-sized juicy pork dumplings made right there *cough* green beans cooked just perfect) and so we’ll savor food at that place, the only United States mainstay of the Taiwanese dumpling chain.

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The Chosen Ramen Dethroned

There comes a time when things you do with the sig. other’s parents convey a special bond between you and them.  Maybe it’s the first time you hug.  Perhaps it’s that first time his mom asks you if you gained weight.  Last night, though, a pinnacle was definitely meeting them to eat ramen. 

While a nice steak dinner is unfailingly impressive, there’s inevitably an air of formality to it because really, Who won’t come out to eat filet mignon or prime rib?  There is an event made out of it because someone is shelling out a decent amount of money so that everyone can eat cow and mashed potatoes.  Eating ramen together, though, is like gathering to eat folk food.  The camaraderie over simple food isn’t easily replicated.  As Rameniac puts it, we “went noodling.”

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