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Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: Arcadia

Wealth, it seems, has a history in Arcadia. Many of the residential streets today are lined with multimillion-dollar homes with a Mediterranean flair, recently a lot of them bought in cash by Chinese nationals.

The town used to be part of the stomping grounds of the opulent Ellas "Lucky Baldwin" -- a real estate tycoon in the 1870s. In 1875, he bought Rancho Santa Anita, which included the present day cities of Arcadia, Monrovia, Sierra Madre, Pasadena, and San Marino. Baldwin also founded the Santa Anita racetrack, the winning grounds of the famous Seabiscuit and -- at one point -- the largest assembly center housing Japanese Americans before they were sent to internment camps during World War II. Today, it still operates as a horse racetrack.

Today, the town is still populated by well-off Southern California families, just of a different demographic. According to the most recent census, the Asian demographic in the city is a whopping 59.2%. It's predominately wealthy -- a quick drive in town will affirm that.

But unlike the homes, the restaurants in town aren't as ostentatious. The dining scene has always been rather modest and it's evolved to accommodate the changing demographics in town.

 

The Derby | Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Derby | Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Derby Restaurant

The Derby is Arcadia's historic gem. It's been at this location since 1931, intended as a dining destination for jockeys and their fans. It's adorned with memorabilia that gives an insight into the height of the horse racing in America. Food-wise, the Derby is by and large a steakhouse. It's one of the few places in town left to get a classic slice of meat. They've got thick cuts of wagyu and hanger steak, or tenderloin medallions and prime rib. Pair it wine a glass of deep, red wine. A seat inside Derby's bright red booths and white tablecloths table makes you feel like you're in another era. 233 Huntington Dr., (626) 447-2430.

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Rod's Grill
Established in 1946, Rod's Grill is an old-school diner that will have you transported back to a time when waitresses took their time with the small talk and remembered how you liked your eggs. The upholstered teal booths and wood paneling is a flashback to the 1960s and the music reflects that era as well. The food is typical diner grub and breakfast is the most popular meal of the day. There are bacon and eggs, biscuits smothered in gravy, and huge old-fashioned omelets supplemented with unlimited refills on coffee. Fun fact: an episode of Mad Men was shot here. 41 W Huntington Dr,; (626) 447-7515.

 

Din Tai Fung
No other restaurant is as paramount to modern Arcadia as Din Tai Fung. The Taiwanese chain opened in 2000, pushing out stacked bamboo steamers stuffed with handmade soup dumplings. The dumplings are so addictive that 15 years later, there are still consistent lines out the door. The Arcadia branch marked Din Tai Fung's expansion into the United States and though dumplings are their specialty, the noodles are just as good. Go for a bowl of beef noodle soup. The beef shanks, kissed with star anise, are marvelous. 1088 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007; (626) 574-7068.

Tasty Garden | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Tasty Garden | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Tasty Garden

Opened nearly a decade ago, Tasty Garden is the neighborhood favorite. It's what Rod's Grill was to the city back in the 60s, but instead of coffee, it's Hong Kong milk tea, and instead of pancakes, they have Hong Kong-style waffles. Tasty is a Hong Kong cuisine establishment, popular because they sell quality family-style dishes like beef cubes, honey walnut shrimp, and crispy seafood noodles. They don't do breakfast -- but they are opened until 1 a.m., which makes it the ideal destination to hit up after a late night in town. 1212 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007; (626) 445-9388.

 

Pork chop rice at Sinbala | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Pork chop rice at Sinbala | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Sinbala
Arcadia has a strong Taiwanese community and Sinbala caters to that population. Opened nearly a decade ago, their Taiwanese sausage is the best in town and so beloved that they have it vacuumed-sealed and ready to go for anyone who wants to buy a package to take home. They're a champion of lunch and meals come with a side of braised egg or a bit of sauteed cabbage. I like the sausage over rice, which has all of the above and a bit of corn. Most of their meals are bento meals (a fixture in Taiwanese culture since the 20th century via Japan), without the actual box. 651 W Duarte Rd, Arcadia, CA 91007; (626) 446-0886.

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