The other week I had dinner with a veteran Chinese restaurant owner and offhandedly, I asked him what his favorite Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles was. Serial diners usually struggle with this question -- but not Sam.
"Dai Ho Restaurant," he said without a moment of hesitation. "Here's the thing, they're only open from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and unlike other Chinese restaurants, the menu is very small."
"Why do you think that is?" I asked.
"Quality," he explained. "At those restaurants that have hundred of items of their menu, it's really difficult to keep the ingredients fresh. But at Dai Ho, there's only eight or so selections. The inventory is simple. Nothing goes to waste and nothing is left sitting out for too long."
Located in Temple City on Las Tunas Drive, Dai Ho (?å??, da he) Restaurant has been open for 28 years (with a previous location in Alhambra). The two Chinese characters in the restaurant name translates to "big" and "gather," respectively.
"We wanted this restaurant to be a big gathering of people," owner May Ku explained. Dai Ho is only opened 3.5 hours each day, Tuesday through Sunday, but has had enough patrons to sustain itself for nearly three decades. It's a small window of time for customers to drop in, but May and her husband Jim are at the restaurant as early as 6 a.m. for prep work.
Around town, Jim is infamously known as the "Noodle Nazi" -- a nickname earned from his snappy retorts and demands that patrons enjoy his noodles his way. May has some of the same mannerisms, but they're tempered with an extremely sweet and almost maternal way.
"Eat it immediately," she advised the moment the plate touches the table. We hover a bit to take photographs of the food but within minutes, May takes it upon herself to serve us the noodles -- mixing in the ground pork and sprinkled scallions, swirling it a bit and portioning it all into four small bowls.
May has a good reason for the rush. The noodles are best when eaten immediately or else they soak up the sauces and lose their "Q" (the Chinese equivalent of al dente) texture. Though people can often be taken aback by her hands-on approach, it's really just Chinese hospitality.
Everything at Dai Ho -- from the food to the restaurant itself -- is meticulously thought out. The floors and tables are scrubbed clean. Nothing is ever too oily. May had no hesitation letting me behind the kitchen (something many Chinese restaurant owners have qualms about); there was a massive bowl of paocai ?è? (the Chinese equivalent of kimchi) sitting over a strainer back there. "We're doing this to get rid of the excess oil," she said.
The beef shanks for the beef noodle soup are cooked for four hours and then marinated overnight before they make it onto a customer's table. The noodle dough is kneaded five times to obtain the perfect texture, boiled, and then fan-dried to cool. The strands are the ideal texture: chewy but not too gummy, firm but not at all slippery.
The noodles are made to order and leave a clean taste in your mouth -- even when drenched in a heavy peanut-based sauce.
Here's a breakdown on their top menu items.
1. Sesame Sauce Dry Noodles (Large: $8, Small: $6.50)
May's family used to own a Sichuan restaurant in Taiwan, so she's always more than willing to douse your bowl of noodles with a heap of homemade chili oil if you ask for it. The sesame sauce dry noodles, known commonly as dandan mian (æ??æ???) is served Taiwanese-style, which just means that sesame paste, rather than chili oil, is the primary ingredient.
2. Pork Bean Dry Noodles (Large: $8, Small $6.50)
The pork bean dry noodles consists of ground pork mixed with a zhajiang (é?¡é?¬) paste. Zhajiang is made with fermented soybeans. It's similar to miso paste but blindingly salty on its own.
3. Minced Meat Dry Noodles (Large: $8, Small: $6.50)
This dish is devoid of messy sauces, making it the way to go if you're looking for a clean and simple dish. The toppings: ground pork and diced scallions.
4. Beef Stew Soup Noodle ($9.00)
Beef noodle soup is a popular Taiwanese dish and the Kus do it justice. Resting in a dark, earthy broth, the beef chunks are remarkably tender, a result, undoubtedly, of hours of prep work.
5. Beef Tripe with Spicy Simmered, Dried Bean Curd and Pork Shank ($16)
At $16 for a platter, this is the restaurant's priciest dish. But you really get what you pay for. The beef tripe and bean curd come marinated in a light chili oil accompanied by braised pork shanks that have been sliced thinly and are perfect to pair with your bowl of noodles.
6. Peanut Appetizer ($6)
May likes to recommend this appetizer for diners. It's peanuts served with small silverfish, fried and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. "We use fresh fish," May said. "This is exactly how it's done in Taipei."
Dai Ho Restaurant
9148 Las Tunas Drive,
Temple City, CA 91780