High-end, "fusion" Chinese food gets a bad rap around town. It makes sense. Angelenos can get the real thing for half of the price point -- just trek on over to the San Gabriel Valley for proof. There's a repertoire of high quality dishes there: tea-smoked duck that takes a grand seven days to make and finely pressed noodles soaked in a dark, earthy beef broth.
These traditional dishes are great, but there are a handful of innovators out there rolling out unique riffs on traditional Chinese food items, and their wares are both respectable and overlooked.
Here are our five favorite picks that can't be found at your typical mom-and-pop Chinese eatery:
Sweet Flatbread with Vanilla Ice Cream from Pingtung Eat-In Market ($4.95)
Pingtung is an Asian fusion joint on Melrose sporting dim sum, Taiwanese plates, and Japanese specials like sushi rolls and tonkotsu ramen. Skip straight to their dessert menu and order the sweet flatbread. The bread is essentially a laobing (烙餅) -- rolled and layered unleavened bread that is fried to a crisp, and normally a savory dish. Pingtung tops theirs off with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream and a sprig of mint. Order to share.
Crab and Uni Yang Chau Xiao-long Bao from Chi Lin ($15)
The price on this dish will undoubtedly leave a dent in your pocket, but if there's a xiaolongbao that screams fine dining -- this is it. The bao is stuffed with crab and pork meat and topped with uni mousse, of all expensive things, and finely sliced pieces of ginger. On the side is a pink ginger vinaigrette in a pipette. No this isn't a lab experiment, but the eating process is admittedly a five-step process. How to eat this gem: Plop it on your spoon, top it off with a couple drops of pink vinegar, bite off a piece of the skin, suck the soup out, and enjoy the rest. The soup has a mild hint of sweetness to it, which is always an indicator of a xiaolongbao done right.
Shaobings (燒餅) served Taiwanese-style are traditionally large, baked flatbreads decorated with sesame and stuffed with thinly sliced flank steak, cilantro, and julienned scallions. It's the Chinese equivalent of a breakfast sandwich. In his version, Taiwanese chef Yujean Kang transforms this item into miniature hot pockets without compromising the classic crisp texture. It's not sandwich anymore -- it's a pocket and you stuff them yourself with Northern wok-fired minced lamb, garlic, and pickled mustard greens. Add chili sauce for an extra kick.
Alcoholic Boba from Boba 7 ($8)
Boba are dark, chewy tapioca balls used in tea-based drinks. It's a Taiwanese-born concoction with infinite amount of variations and flavorings, but few places spike it with liquor. Entrepreneur Elton Keung is making a niche for himself by doing just that. His bar is called Boba 7, a hidden "speakseasy" located in the back of Thai restaurant Soi 7 in downtown Los Angeles. The drink in question is the Bobagasm. It's similar to the Screaming Orgasm (a.k.a the White Russian) but there's a twist. The difference? Soju and boba. The Bobagasm is one of Boba 7's specialty drinks. It's topped with Kahlua and Irish cream-flavored milk, with brown sugar and honey boba on the bottom. You drink it with a boba straw and no, take-out orders are not allowed.
A list of unconventional dishes in Los Angeles wouldn't be complete without a mention of at least one of Bazaar's quirky offerings. These miniature buns are a modern and seafood-centric take on the gua bao (刮包). Gua baos are traditionally stuffed with fatty slices of pork, pickled vegetables, and cilantro. The Bazaar instead adds fresh uni and creamy slices of avocado. One bite into this fantastically creamy sandwich and you'll taste the subtle heat of the chili complemented with a slight hint of ginger.
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