I've traveled to Yunnan once before, where I stayed in the ancient city of Lijiang. Nicknamed Shangri-La (a synonym for paradise), Yunnan is one of the most gorgeous provinces of China, highly praised by poets and landscape artists for its sweeping topography and deep blue lakes. Cool fact: It is also the home to the highest concentration of ethnic minorities in China.
The buildings in Lijiang, under a government mandate, were preserved to reflect its 800 year old history. It's a place of cobblestone streets, courtyards, curved Chinese roofs, and more importantly -- pungently spicy cuisine.
The food is marked by a liberal use of spices, fresh produce, and a mind-boggling array of wild mushrooms that are able to thrive simply because of the nearly pollution-free landscape.
While the American rendition of Yunnan cuisine hardly compares to what you can actually get in Yunnan itself, it's the closest we'll ever get to Shangri-La.
The list is below.
Yun Noodle House
Located inside of a food court, Yun Noodle House is Yunnan cuisine done fast and easy. They specialize in crossing over bridge noodles, a dish akin to America chicken noodle soup, but with rice noodles instead of wheat. Yun's rendition contains all the essential ingredients: chicken slices, bean curd sheets, and bean spouts in a fragrant chicken broth. Ingredients are prepared separately and combined tableside.1220 S Golden W Ave., Ste E, Arcadia, CA 91007; (626) 446-1668.
Yun Chuan Garden
Yun Chuan consistently remains the best place to get Yunnan bites in Los Angeles. This Monterey Park location cooks up an amazing spicy chicken cube platter, spiked generously with dried peppercorns. Another crowd favorite? The cured pork with mushrooms. The pork has a jerky-like texture and is sauteed with a generous amount of leeks, fresh peppers, and mushrooms. Beware, it's extremely spicy. 301 N Garfield Ave, Monterey Park, CA 91754; (626) 571-8387.
Yunnan Garden used to be affiliated with Yun Chuan Garden, and so a lot of their menu items are the same. If we had to pick one item, though, it would be the sour white pork, pronounced suan ni bai rou in Chinese. The pork is sliced so thinly it resembles wax paper. It's layered on top of bean sprouts and then topped off with a heap of chili oil and vinegar. 545 W Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, CA 91776; (626) 308-1896.
Honorable mentions: 168 Garden in San Gabriel is another restaurant dedicated to spicy, Yunnan fare. Spicy City, also in San Gabriel, though dedicated to Chonqing cuisine, has some Yunnan specialty items like crossing over bridge noodles on their menu.