This is the dish you aren’t eating at Mian

Spicy Tofu Custard
With all the hype about their saucy noodle soups and savory wontons, it’s understandable that you overlooked the Tofu with Minced Pork in the appetizers section of the menu. Don’t let the unexciting name put you off though, because the Tofu with Minced Pork is one of the best dishes on the menu.

Warm, custardy tofu comes topped with bits of pork, crispy fried noodle, a savory sauce, and the perfect sprinkling of peppercorn, sugar, chili flakes, and a scattering of vegetables. Every spoonful of this dish is a disco in your mouth. The fried noodle is reminiscent of the crumbs of at the bottom of a package of instant ramen. The crunchy vegetables are a necessary counterpoint to the softness of the tofu. This definitely isn’t the mild, comforting doufu hua you’re used to eating from the northern Chinese restaurants in the morning.

Jian Bing is a Don’t Miss Breakfast in Shanghai

Living in the SGV, with its dizzying selection of regional Chinese restaurants, has its benefits, but there are some things I still miss from Shanghai. One of these things is the jian bing, a savory egg crepe that’s best eaten seconds after it comes off a hot plate. I feared that the fast modernization of Shanghai which was quickly replacing the old style tenements with luxury apartments would be the death of street food like this. I was grateful that on my last trip to Shanghai, there was not only still jian bing to be had, but that it was only a block away from where I was staying.

The telltale sign of a jian bing vendor is a large, round hotplate. It’s something that can be spotted from far away. The small crowd of people waiting for their breakfast is also a good sign. For less than one US dollar, I got a crunchy, savory breakfast that I had been looking forward to for years.

The jian bing vendor, a woman with a friendly but no-nonsense face, was a seasoned pro — quickly manipulating a thin layer of batter onto the hot, coal-heated hotplate. While the wheat batter cooked to a crisp, she broke an egg over the top, quickly spread and scrambled the egg before it set, smeared on a sweet and salty bean paste, some thin, spiced potato strips, a sprinkling of cilantro, and then a deep fried wonton wrapper. With her hands and a spatula, she deftly turned up the edge of the crepe, rolling it over itself into a long tube. Then “crunch!” as she used the edge of the spatula to crease the middle of the crepe, folded it in half, placed it into a thin plastic bag before handing it to me. She told me to eat it on the spot, reminding me to bite through both halves in one go. Still steaming from the heat, and pungent from the spiced potatoes, it was a great start to the morning.

On subsequent mornings, it became fascinating to watch the different customizations of jian bing customers were getting. Some prefer the added crunch of adding a you tiao (fried crueller). While she has a handful of you tiao (for 1RMB) for those who prefer it, one can also walk across the alley, buy a freshly fried you tiao from another vendor, and bring it over. One customer who lived nearby brought her own egg, saying she had extra at home, and got a 1RMB discount on her jian bing. Another brought his own sausage to add inside. And another wanted a cucumber inside. The customization options are endless. The jian bing vendor also remembered the preferences of her more frequent customers: less sweet, or no cilantro, or extra egg.

When she was done making all the jian bing orders of the morning and the customers were gone, the vendor packed up her stuff to go off to her second job, cleaning the house of a tenant of one of the luxury apartments nearby.

Honey Badger Restaurant

When I was walking back from lunch on Saturday, another storefront caught my eye.  The exposed Edison bulb chandeliers and dark wood surfaces made me think this was going to be a hip coffee place on the rejuvenated Main street in Alhambra, but it was actually Honey Badger — yes, the same Honey Badger as the popular coffee, tea, and study spot just a few blocks down on the same street.

Honey Badger Restaurant, unlike Honey Badger Cafe, has more of a focus on food. Their specialty is their house-made noodles, and you know how much I like noodles. So much that I returned to the same area for dinner just so I could try out the restaurant, even though it was in their soft-opening* phase.

From the limited menu, Will and I ordered the Honey Badger wings, roulette peppers, garlic noodles, and eggplant noodles.

The roulette peppers are fried shishito peppers tossed with a savory, slightly tangy sauce. None of the ones I had were all that spicy.

The Honey Badger wings was my favorite dish of the night. The sauce was garlicky, salty, with a slight tang that made it hard to resist licking my fingers after the wings were done.

The man who took our ordered recommended the garlic noodles only if we were garlic lovers, and boy, was right about that. The bouncy, chewy noodles were doused in a lot of garlic.  So much so that it was almost too garlicky for me, and I do love a bit of garlic.

The eggplant noodles were a little more muted in comparison. I liked the slightly sweet taste of the eggplant noodles. While the noodles were of a great texture, even slightly stretchy, the slight sauce on the noodles made them a bit too sticky for me.

To drink with our meal, Will ordered an iced chrysanthemum herbal tea, light on the sugar.  It was shaken with crushed ice and was a wonderful refreshing drink to have with the meal.  I went with the classic almond milk tea (also light on sugar) and it definitely hit the spot.  If the mug looks large in the picture, it’s because it is very large.

It’s nice to have a new, different spot to dine at in the neighborhood and I’m curious to see what their more established menu will bring.

Honey Badger Restaurant
555 W Main St
Alhambra, CA 91801
(free parking in a lot right next to the restaurant)


* Here’s my gripe about soft openings:  I understand that they’re useful for restaurants that want to try out their menu and staff, or still have a few kinks to iron out, but if that were the case, then the restaurant shouldn’t be charging full price.   If you want diners to help you test out your restaurant, then give them a discount, or make it free.  If that’s not financially feasible, then open it to only friends and family at a discount.  It seems like restaurants use the ‘soft opening’ term so that people are less critical about their dishes. I think it’s only fair that if a restaurant is charging full price, then it should be critiqued under the same standards as fully-opened restaurants.  It’s not a criticism of Honey Badger specifically — just restaurants who hide under the ‘soft opening’ term.