Wu Han Cuisine at Tasty Dining

Now that the weather is getting cooler, it’s okay to eat hot pots placed on open fires. One place for hot pots on open fires that recently opened up is Tasty Dining, located in the plaza across the street from a shady looking Chinese bar where women in short skirts and men with fancy cars frequent.


Will ordered the “Wuhan Hot Noodles with Sesame Paste” which apparently is a Wu Han speciality. It translates to “warm, dry noodles” which is pretty descriptive of what comes to you in a bowl. The noodles are slightly sauced with sesame paste, a little soy sauce, pickled vegetables and ground meat. Order it without the meat if you want a vegetarian version. It goes pretty well with the fried, spicy, peanuts that were brought to our table.

Shown on the walls next to our table were large steel bowls of assorted things and chili peppers. These are what the menu calls “Griddled Cooked Foods.” I ordered a “Griddled Cooked Cat Fish” which was catfish, not cat and fish. The waitress asked what spice level I wanted it and I told her “medium.” Unfortunately, the small size of the dish is not available at dinner, so either come with a friend and a big appetite, or come for lunch if you want a small. The medium size is going to last me a whole week.


The waitress brought out a chafing dish and placed the already hot steel bowl of food on top. The “Griddled Cooked Foods” is known in Chinese as a “dry hot pot.” Not to say it’s completely dry, because it’s too oily to be considered actually dry, but it’s not soupy like hot pot places like Fat Little Sheep. My bowl contained chopped pieces of tender, flavorful catfish, cauliflower, celery, plenty of garlic cloves, and thick slices of potato. The potatoes were the best vegetables in there because the hot, spicy, oil cooked them into a melt-in-your-mouth consistency with plenty of flavor.

From what I’ve read of these dishes, they’re supposed to be a little numbing, but I found mine to be mainly spicy. Maybe I didn’t get to the numbing part yet, since I was the only one tackling a pretty large bowl of catfish, but it was definitely not the most mala dry hotpot I’ve had. The medium spice level was perfect for me, but for people who aren’t used to spicy foods, there’s a “small spicy” level available as well as a “no spicy” option.

We were there during some grand opening promotion where they were offering free glasses of cold chrysanthemum tea. I strongly suggest people take advantage of this since the cooling beverage will come in handy after eating too many bites of chili pepper.


Vegetarian Options

The menu doesn’t boast too many vegetarian things, but a few dishes could be made vegetarian with modifications. The wuhan hot noodles with sesame paste can be made sans ground pork. I tried both versions and they tasted fairly similar, other than missing ground pork.


There’s also a dessert-type pastry called “Pumpkin Cake” on the menu. These are chewy flat discs of pumpkin and sticky rice that are deep fried and covered with sesame seeds. They’re best eaten while still hot.

Although it’s not on the menu, the restaurant can also make a vegetarian dry hot pot. Just ask for it and specify what ingredients you want from the “Side Dishes” part of the menu. Also make sure to ask them to leave off the chicken-flavored MSG since that’s in the seasoning by default. There’s so much fresh chili, ground chili, garlic, and ginger in the oil that a vegetable-based hot pot will probably be as flavorful as a meat based one.

Tasty Dining (一品香)
301 W Valley Blvd
Ste 101
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 570-1234

Banh Cuon Tay Ho

Do you like chewy, slippery goodness? What about the savory taste of ground pork or shrimp?  And the pungent room-temperature funk of fish sauce?  If you, like me, answered yes to all of the above, then you might find yourself enjoying warm plate of banh cuon from Banh Cuon Tay Ho.

The old neighborhood staple may be hard to find because it’s tucked into a strip mall that doesn’t exactly face the street. In fact, it’s so hard to find that I forgot completely about it for years until it recently popped back into my mind like some repressed memory.  I remembered my mom buying plastic boxes of banh cuon from them, packed full of the slippery white sheets, warm bean sprouts, and crispy sweet potato fritters.  This place was frying sweet potatoes long before sweet potato fries was a thing.

banh cuon tay ho

My go-to plate right now is 6A, which is banh cuon filled with ground shrimp. It also comes with a couple pieces of shrimp paste (think shrimp-flavored meatballs), and a healthy handful of par-boiled bean sprouts and julienned cucumber.  My old favorite was the banh cuon dac biet (the special) which comes with ground pork instead of shrimp. For a few dollars more, you can also get the sweet potato fritters, a deliciously mysterious deep fried mung bean ball, and slices of cha lua (or what I like to refer to as Vietnamese ham).

Once the plate of your choice is placed before you, there are two forms of attack.  If you’re ravenous and don’t mind your food mixing together, you can ladle the fish sauce from the Kool-aid sized pitchers on the table into a small bowl, adding enough chili sauce to your liking, and then pouring it over your entire plate.  Mix well and you have a tasty and nutritious salad thing.  The second form of attack, which a refined lady like me uses, is to ladle the sauce into a bowl, throw in a handful of bean sprouts and cucumber, and dip individual pieces of banh cuon in there, picking up some sauce-soaked bean sprouts and cucumber on the way.  When I’m feeling extra fancy with my chopsticks, I spread out a piece of banh cuon, dip some bean sprouts and cucumber in the sauce, put it on said banh cuon, and with my chop sticks, fold it up into a taco and eat it that way. If you’re unsteady with the chopsticks, leave that maneuver for the pros.

Realistically, any plan of attack that ends up with the banh cuon in your mouth is a successful one.  There’s something satisfying about putting those warm, freshly-made rice-noodle-things into your mouth.  And when it’s coated in salty, sweet, garlicky fish sauce, it’s even better.  The sides are nothing to be scoffed at either.  The shrimp paste is deep fried to give a sufficient chew to the outside while still being tender and soft on the inside.  The sweet potato fritters have an unnatural ability to stay crispy, even after dunking in the fish sauce.  The mung bean ball thing makes me think of space-food.

And to wash it all down? The no-nonsense older guy who’s always there will probably ask you what drink you want. That’s the only sign of hospitality he’ll show you. After he takes your order, he’ll stand in the corner of the room and brood.  Order the lemon soda if you want something refreshing. It’s one of those drinks that’s greater than the sum of its parts.  Ice, soda, lemon, and a bit of salt and sugar may not sound good to you, but I never regret ordering it.

Vegan banh cuon from Banh Cuon Tay Ho

Most Vietnamese places are no-man’s land for vegetarians and vegans.  Not this one. Banh Cuon Tay Ho has a whole page dedicated to vegetarian plates.  An easy introduction to banh cuon for the vegetarian is probably their banh cuon with fried tofu.  They’re empty rolled sheets of rice noodle topped with deep fried tofu sheet, cucumber, and other tasty vegetable-based morsels. Instead of the cha lua, vegetarians are given curiously chewy deep-fried tofu.  The vegetarian plates even come with their own vegetarian (fish-free!) bowl of sauce. What more can an omnivore who’s married to a vegan ask for at a legit Vietnamese restaurant?

In a place like the San Gabriel Valley where restaurants open and close with a blink of an eye, Banh Cuon Tay Ho must be doing something right since they’ve been open for more than ten years. And the thing they’re doing right is fresh, simple, banh cuon.

Banh Cuon Tay Ho
1039 E Valley Blvd
Ste B103
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 280-5207

Pa Pa Walk

Pa Pa Walk may be hard to find because it’s tucked behind an elevator shaft on a strip mall on Valley, but it’s worth it on a hot day. It’s a small restaurant serving Taiwanese diner dishes like rice with sausages, noodle soups, stinky tofu, and dumplings, but what I really was there for was the shaved snow aka 雪冰.

Mango snow @ pa pa walk (芒果雪冰)

It’s different than shaved ice because it’s condensed milk frozen solid, and then shaved.  The mound of shaved snow can be topped with different fruits and items (like red bean and grass jelly), and then in case you don’t think it’s sweet enough, another squirt of regular condensed milk. It’s syrupy sweet, cold, soft, and icy. I’m not usually a fan of overly sweet things, but a mango shaved snow sure hit the spot this weekend.

Pa Pa Walk
227 W Valley Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776-3794
(626) 281-3889