Yunnan 168 seems to be the newest restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley to realize that there’s something about spicy Chinese food that keeps people coming back for more. Maybe it’s masochism and maybe it’s a way to show off one’s masculinity, but all I know is that when I get the craving for something spicy, it doesn’t leave till I get it.
Upon entering the clean and spacious space that Yunnan 168 popped up in, I was immediately drawn to the cold plates display table. There were the usuals: thin sliced spicy beef, pickled cabbage, and cucumbers. There were also a few other dishes that caught my attention like the cold fava bean and the cold noodles (called ling fen noodles in Mandarin).
For about $4, you can get a combination plate of three appetizers, which is a decent deal. I picked the thinly sliced spicy beef, the pickled green beans, and the fava beans. The beef wasn’t as spicy as I’d like and a bit too heavy on the salt, but not a bad rendition of the classic cold plate because it still had that distinct peppery flavor. The pickled green beans tasted fine and had that strangely appealing ashtray smokiness, but the texture of some pieces were too soft. I prefer them fairly crisp. The fava beans were alright but nothing compared to fresh fava beans. Next time, I’d probably order the cold noodles in their place.
Although I had wanted to try a spicy casserole dish or maybe dry stir-fried beef, I was really in the mood for noodles, so I ordered the house special Yunnan rice noodles. The dish came in three separate serving vessels: the noodles in a large bowl, a plate of assorted meats and green onion, and finally the soup. The waitress combined all of them at the table into a big bowl of chicken-flavored deliciousness.
The soup was great with the green onions rounding out the richness of the chicken. The rice noodles were slippery and not too soggy at all. The thin slices of meat, which tasted like a more delicate char-siu pork, were perfectly seasoned. The slices of chicken leg were what really stood out in this dish. They were flavorful, juicy, and perfectly tender. I hadn’t had chicken cooked so well in a long time.
The BF ordered the restaurant’s home-style tofu, which came in a surprisingly orange color — surprising because I had expected it to be red from the chili. While it wasn’t as spicy as the home-style tofu at Yunnan Garden on Las Tunas, the flavor of the wok qi was strong and the tofu was fried on the outside and still custardy inside, which is the ideal consistency. I enjoyed the fact that the dish had that lingering taste which I associate as a precursor to a spicy bite, but the bite just never hit.
We also shared a shredded potato dish, which was also good. The green jalapenos really work well in enhancing the wok flavor in this dish. It’s simple, but always a favorite.
The service at Yunnan 168 was fairly good for a Chinese restaurant. Our waitress gave us a couple of smiles and seemed to take the BF’s vegetarian requests without too much trouble. She even gave us two glasses of the restaurant’s cold qi tea to combat the spicy dishes. Even though the dishes weren’t that spicy, the tea was appreciated. It was slightly herbal with the flavor of chrysanthemum and the strange maple-syrup taste that wintermelon tea usually has. I liked that it wasn’t overly sweet.
Although I haven’t yet tried the seriously spicy dishes at Yunnan 168, if they’re as good as the noodle soup I had there, I’ll be happy to be a returning customer, The interior and decor reminds me of a TGIFridays or a Denny’s, but it’s fairly clean, which means if I bring my mom, she won’t have any complaints about the restaurant’s sanitation. I’m not a big stickler about that, but I know a lot of people are.
Yunnan 168 [map]
1530 San Gabriel Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776