Chinese Cheap Eats in Los Angeles

Hainan chicken -- comfort on a plate at Savoy Kitchen.

LOS ANGELES and VICINITY — Hainan chicken is pure comfort food to me. It’s nothing fancy. But there’s just something wonderfully satisfying about a plate of tender poached chicken served with rice infused with the resulting savory chicken broth.

So, when Chef Will Pacio of Spice Kit in San Francisco and Palo Alto recommended Savoy Kitchen in Alhambra, famous for its Hainanese chicken rice, I knew I had to check it out.

With its European sounding name and bistro-type outdoor seating flanked by trees lit up with strings of blinking lights, it hardly resembles an Asian restaurant from the outside. Inside, the space is tiny, with just a few tables and some counter seating. It also has a rather head-scratching menu. Yes, there is the Hainan chicken. But there’s also escargot, sausage pasta, and conch pizza. Go figure.

We were there for the Hainan chicken, of course. For $6.95, you get an ample portion of chicken, served traditionally at room temperature, along with a mound of rice that has soaked up all that chicken-y flavor, and three dipping sauces: pounded ginger, chili with garlic and sweet dark soy. For $1 more, you can exchange a portion of the rice for a simple iceberg salad with tomatoes and a creamy Italian-esque dressing instead.

The white meat chicken was juicy, and the rice moist and slightly oily from all that chicken-y goodness. Smear some ginger sauce over it all and experience total contentment.

The place was packed on a Saturday night. There were plenty of folks picking up take-out, too. With chicken this good, who can blame them?

The Din Tai Fung dumpling mascot greets you at the door.

What I wouldn’t give for a Din Tai Fung in the Bay Area. But alas, this dumpling house out of Taiwan only has locations in the United States in Seattle and Los Angeles.

Whenever I’m in Los Angeles, I have to stop into the Din Tai Fung in Arcadia. Actually, there are two in Arcadia, practically right next to one another. There’s almost always a line to get in. But because they’re so efficient (think servers with headphones who roam the dining room while always in communication with the kitchen), the wait is never that long.

The lure? Soup dumplings also known as xiaolongbao that are quite possibly the best ones you’ll ever eat.

The dumplings are made in-house. In fact, you can peer into the kitchen to see a small army rolling out dough by hand.

The best soup dumplings ever.

Xiaolongbao are buns or dumplings with a filling of pork and aspic. As they are steamed, the aspic melts, creating a broth that is encased inside the dumplings.

Dip one in a sauce of vinegar and ginger, place it on a soup spoon, then carefully take a tiny bite to suck out the broth. Then, devour the rest of the dumpling with a big smile.

What makes these particular xiaolongbao so special is not only how juicy they are, but how gossamar the dumpling wrappers are. They are so delicate that you have to exercise care when picking them up with chopsticks or else you risk puncturing them and losing all that lovely broth.

Enjoy 10 of them steamed to order for $7.50.

Steamed dumplings filled with fish.

Anemone-like dumplings filled with Chinese sticky rice.

Din Tai Fung also makes variations on the traditional pork xiaolongbao, including one filled with crab and pork, and another with shrimp and bits of winter melon that give a subtle sweetness akin to fresh spring peas.

Truly, madly, deeply, it’s dumpling nirvana.

More: Three Places for Sweets in Los Angeles That Shouldn’t be Missed

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  • Torture! That hainan chicken dish looks so hearty and, of course, Din Tai Fung’s XLB is always crave-worthy. Let’s start a petition to get one open in the Bay Area! 😉

  • Din Tai Fung is my favorite place to visit from time to time. They are always good and never disappointed me. 🙂 hm….you’re making me craving for some crab dumplings now!

  • I adore hainan chicken, especially the garlic ginger sauce (which I could just eat with plain rice!). The XLB at Din Tai Fung are so delicious and I haven’t yet found a place that makes the skins as delicately thin as they do! 🙂

  • There’s so many things to see in Los Angeles. I’m planning to go there next year and already collect places to see and to go to 🙂 Nice recommendation!

  • Wow, all of those dishes look so great. And I can never resist a dumpling, so I’m green with envy! Love the little guy in the 2nd picture!

  • The wait is never long AND it’s delicious and cheap? Boy, I’m super jelly!!! The wait at my favorite spot is at least 2 hours on the weekends 🙁 Everything looks super delish!

  • I LOOOVE Din Tai Fung. It’s totally my family’s go-to restaurant for any occasions possible. lol. Too bad they don’t have one here in Vancity. 🙁 And Hainanese Chicken Rice is one of my favourites!! It’s my proud National Dish! hehe

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