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.

Benten Ramen

It’s not easy being a noodle shop next to the always packed Golden Deli. When Ton Chan ramen closed its doors and Benten Ramen opened in the same spot, I didn’t pay much attention.  When I read that Benten served tsukemen and it was a hot day, I was more intrigued.

Benten is minimalist in its offerings: 4 types of ramens on the menu, 3 mocktails, and 2 types of complementary iced teas.  It’s a good menu for someone  with menu fatigue.  Sometimes, you just know what you want, and today, all I wanted was refreshing glass of iced tea and tsukemen.

Organic iced rooibos.

The organic rooibos hit the spot with its slightly herbal flavor.  It immediately made me think of the Chinese grass jelly drinks.

The tsukemen came with a pretty tray of add-ons: soy sauced seaweed, bonito flakes, and spicy miso.  Not sure if the add-on was for the noodle bowl or the dipping sauce bowl, I did a little of each. Spicy miso in the dipping broth, bonito flakes sprinkled on top of the noodles, and I ate a piece of the soy sauced seaweed straight.

Tsukemen for lunch.

The dipping broth for the tsukemen was rich and porky with a decent texture. I actually liked that it wasn’t a pork-bomb like the one that Tsujita serves. I always get a little grossed out when that broth cools and there’s a thin layer of congealed oil at the top.  The small slices of pork in the sauce could have been improved. They had decent flavor, but each piece was too dry.

The noodles were a nice chewy texture and picked up the broth wonderfully.  There was a decent amount of bamboo shoots, which I enjoyed. They cut down on the richness of the broth and noodle combo.  The egg was deceptive.  What I thought was a regular hard-boiled egg was actually a perfectly cooked soft boiled-boiled egg injected with some sort of soy sauce so that when I bit into it, savory, rich yolk leaked out.  I’d break this on top of the bowl of noodles or the extra bowl of rice they offer you as a way to enjoy the extra yolk that leaks out.

Benten Ramen is an improvement to the old restaurant in the exact spot.  The noodles may not be the same as Tsujita’s (Benten’s is a different style) but it’s nice to have a place for tsukemen in the neighborhood.  If their hot ramen offerings are as good as the tsukemen, I will be a repeat customer.

Benten Ramen
821 W Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776

Tiger Skin Peppers from Hunan Mao

A lot has been said about recent San Gabriel Valley spicy restaurant darling Hunan Mao. This Valley boulevard restaurant, not to be confused with its old incarnation a few doors east, is all new and modern looking, but still carries the familiar flavor of Hunanese cooking.

Tipped off by my friend Jason, we ordered the tiger skin peppers dish as part of dinner and was blown away by how delicious it was. On paper, the dish sounds ordinary: spicy green peppers blackened in a pan and stir fried with garlic and black bean sauce and then hit with a splash of vinegar.  This is truly a dish that’s greater than a sum of its parts.  The balance of sour, spicy, and that savory charred green pepper skin made it easy to polish the entire dish off.

Tiger skin peppers from Hunan Mao

Hunan Mao
8728 Valley Blvd
Ste 101
Rosemead, CA 91770
(626) 280-0588