Bon Marche Bistro in Monterey Park

DSC_5278When I picture a restaurant named Bon Mar Che Bistro, I picture a small cafe with cozy tables covered with white tablecloth where I can order a charcuterie plate, a glass of wine, and relax with a good book.  That’s absolutely *not* what Bon Marche Bistro is about.

Instead, it’s a small, family-owned restaurant tucked behind a strip mall in Monterey Park.  It’s famed for ‘home styled’ Chinese food and more specifically, a dish which involves lots of cooked food layered in a wooden bucket.  Unlike other Chinese restaurants in the area, Bon Marche’s kitchen is fully visible, taking up one half of the restaurant.  Standing up and looking over the counter topped with plastic baskets of produce, you can watch the chef toss sizzling bits of food in the wok with expertise.  It reminded me a little of the hole-in-the-wall eateries in China where there was just a giant wok in the middle of the sidewalk.


On my first visit to Bon Marche, the woman working there was enthusiastic about the menu and the food offered.  I was still perusing the menu while waiting for my dining companions to arrive when she came up and explained their bucket dish and suggested I order it.  But I was really in the mood for claypot rice!

Luckily, when the BF arrived, he ordered a vegetarian version of the bucket dish, so the pressure was off me and the lady let me order the claypot rice with beef and egg.  Our dining companion got stir fried shrimp after helpful suggestion from the lady again.


The claypot rice arrived and I learned my lesson.  The rice to topping ratio was very skewed — a giant pot of rice and a few pieces of beef, a fried egg, and a small dish of sauce.  If I was given more sauce, which tasted great, the dish would have been better; as it was, it was lacking. The beef was tough and had a strange, unfresh taste.


The stir fried shrimp dish luckily was better. It tasted just like something my mother used to make for dinner.  The sweet shrimp and the salty sauce played on each other nicely.  When the woman delivered the dish, she exclaimed how special it was because no other restaurants served it and that other restaurants tended to overcook the shrimp.  It was a good spiel and all, but the shrimp was a bit overcooked and while it tasted good, it wasn’t something that I’d never had in any other Chinese restaurant.


Then came the highly acclaimed (by the staff anyway) bucket dish. The restaurant’s specialty. Was it all that it lived up to?  Well, considering we got a vegetarian version of it, it’s not really fair to judge, but it certainly was the best dish of the visit.  Layered on top of vermicelli noodles were baby bok choy, mushrooms, tofu, and sauce.  Everything was cooked perfectly and the sauce dripping down to the noodles underneath made them a treat to slurp up.

Despite its shortcomings, Bon Marche Bistro lives up to its “home styled” Chinese food description.  None of the dishes we ordered then and on subsequent visits were spectacular, but they certainly tasted like something that could be made at home.  A couple of dishes I got on a later to-go order had some weird tasting meat, but maybe that was just the danger of a to-go order. People visiting the restaurant shouldn’t expect fancy, banquet-style Chinese food.  The restaurant’s menu is full of unpretentious, simple, home-cooking dishes that may not look great, but at least it tastes home-made.

331 W Garvey Ave
Ste D
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 236-3932

Cook’s Tortas (Monterey Park)

Cook’s Tortas has been open for a year, but I haven’t had a chance to visit until this weekend. It’s in the same spot that used to be Paul’s Kitchen, for you old school Monterey Park residents. When I walked in, I was faced with a huge chalkboard full of all sorts of wonderful torta combinations. The restaurant boasts of handmade bread baked every morning and fresh ingredients, which is one reason why I was excited to try it. It also seems vegan and vegetarian friendly, always a plus in my book.

Cooks TortasI ordered the ‘mojito’ torta, which contains roasted pork, garlic mojo, and slow cooked onions ($7). The pork was tender and fell apart easily. The garlic mojo was light and if I didn’t know it was there, I wouldn’t have noticed. It isn’t a punch-in-the-face amount of garlic, which is nice sometimes. The onions were soft and sweet, but don’t expect carmelized onions because they’re not.

The star of the torta was the bread. It had a slightly crispy exterior which gave way to a chewy, delicious interior. It was the perfect texture for a torta.

Cooks TortasThe BF ordered a modified grilled veggie torta ($7). It usually has mayonnaise and cheese on it, but he just asked them to leave it out. The resulting torta had garlic mojo, tomatoes, roasted bell peppers, onions, and zucchini. I had a bite of this and thought it was pretty good as far as grilled veggie sandwiches go. It would have been better with a healthy smear of veganaise on each side of the bread. And maybe an avocado or a grilled portabello mushroom. Despite that, I think the BF was pleased with his sandwich.

Each sandwich also comes with a side which you can choose from in a glass display case by the cash register. The only vegan side seems to be the mixed fruit. I picked the potato salad, which was better than I expected. It was mixed unevenly so that there were some dry parts, but an extra dollop of mayo would have made it a pretty decent salad.

Cooks TortasCook’s Tortas is located in a convenient location right off of Atlantic Blvd. The food tastes fresh, the people are friendly, and their watermelon agua fresca (about $4 for a huge cup) is such a nice treat on a hot day. The prices may seem high compared to the other Mexican places around, but I’m willing to pay the extra buck for a place that has a vegan option.

Cook’s Tortas
1944 S Atlantic Blvd
Monterey Park CA 91754-6302
(323) 278-3536
Cook's Tortas in Los Angeles

Guilin Mi Fen @ Eight Cafe

8 cafeLike many of the tasty restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, Eight Cafe is easy to miss unless you’re looking out for it. It’s near the south east corner of the busy intersection of Garvey and Garfield, so I had to keep one eye on the unpredictable Monterey Park drivers and one eye out for the restaurant. Luckily, there was ample street side parking when we got there around 8pm.

The interior of Eight Cafe is very basic: a line of tables and chairs on one side, the cashier counter, kitchen, and display case on the other. When I arrived, a the surly waitress/cook told me to sit down and she’d bring the menu to us. A surly server at Chinese restaurants a always a good thing in my book. I get suspicious when the service is too friendly.

The specialty here is guilin mi fen, which is a local delicacy in Guilin. Typically, it’s a bowl of round rice noodles served with your choice of toppings. When the topping is almost gone, you get a bowl of broth to pour over the noodles to finish them off. This wasn’t the way it was served at Eight Cafe, and I’ve never been to Guilin, so I can’t testify to the authenticity of Eight Cafe, but I can say that the food was good.

The BF and I started off with two appetizer plates. Whenever I see a display case of cold appetizers, I can’t help but order some because I like tasting how each restaurants prepares the standard appetizers. The appetizers can be bought in two ways: a combination of 3 on a plate for $3.99, or one in a bigger serving on a plate for $3.99.

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We ordered a combination vegetarian plate that had pickled cucumbers and shredded tofu. We had originally wanted beansprouts as our third option, but they ran out. The pickled cucumbers were extremely crunchy and a bit sweet. They were great for cooling down my mouth after having a bite of something spicy. The tofu had a good szechuan peppercorn taste, but I didn’t think it was spicy enough.

The meat combination plate had slices of beef, tripe, and some other type of pork offal I don’t remember the name to. Like the tofu, there wasn’t enough spiciness in the beef, tripe, or mystery offal. The tripe was as tender as tripe can get, but lacked the oomph that a couple more chili-peppers could have added. My favorite part of the appetizer dish was the beef. It had a nice thin texture and was flavored well despite not being that spicy.

The appetizer plates might be the right amount of spicy for people who don’t usually eat spicy food, but compared to the heat at Chung King, they’re weaksauce. I’d consider this as training for Chung King.

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Eight Cafe has a few vegetarian noodles on the menu, with vegetarian soup noodles being one option. We asked the waitress if the broth was vegetarian and she said she could just use hot water to make the broth, which means that the broth probably isn’t usually vegetarian. She gave us the option of ma la (numbing spicy) broth or sour and spicy broth. The BF chose ma la.

The bowl of noodles came quickly and included lettuce, baked tofu, pickled vegetables, and of course, rice noodles. The broth was a little spicy, but not as spicy as I expected. It was a pleasant heat. I was surprised that the broth was so flavorful considering the waitress just used plain water. The pickled vegetables must have lent it some flavor.

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I ordered the spicy-sour noodle soup with slices of beef. The beef was thinly sliced, tender, and had just the right amount of tendon. The broth was the perfect balance of spicy and sour; every slurp made me crave more. I really liked the pickled vegetables, which packed a great sour punch in each small bite.

The noodles, the main reason why I chose to dine here, were exactly what I was craving. They’re not amazing, but comforting. They weren’t too soggy, had that wonderful slick noodle texture that rice noodles have, and went perfectly with the broth.

Even though there are tons of noodle places in the area, I can see myself returning to Eight Cafe. The appetizers aren’t anything special, but the rice noodles were tasty. The waitress was no-nonsense but accommodating to vegetarian requests, and eating there makes me nostalgic for the casual noodle restaurants that are always open late in China.

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Eight Cafe–Guilin Mifen
110 E. Garvey Ave.,
Monterey Park, CA, 91755
(626) 572-7688