Arcadia, the city where I grew up, and the San Gabriel Valley as a whole, is home to hundreds of Asian Americans and immigrants, which in turn means excellent ma-and-pop restaurants. Of the approximately 525,000 self-identified Asian Americans that call the SGV home, almost two thirds of them were born elsewhere, according to a report by KPCC. And although a good portion of them are Asian -- specifically Chinese -- it’s important to note the regional diversity of the many cuisines. There are Sichuan specialty shops with oxymoronic spicy and numbing cold noodles. There’s Cantonese soup dumpling restaurants where the liquid-filled parcels are hand-wrapped, and Taiwanese cafes that feature porkchop rice.
There are other surprising favorites, too, beyond the explosion of Asian flavors. A local Hawaiian restaurant run by a hardworking and stubborn auntie. A place where Hainan chicken is the well-known specialty, but Italian food favorites -- like creamy baked halibut and mushroom pizza -- are also worth a shot. A late night taco truck where people of all backgrounds gather for dollar tacos and slender glass bottles of Mexican Coke. A Japanese-American owned donut shop that’s open 24 hours a day, and produces one of Jonathan Gold’s favorite donuts. A burger spot that’s been open for over 50 years, where locals still sit in the no-fuss swivel bar stools and dive into fresh, beefy patties and pie.
The San Gabriel Valley -- and the food within its confines -- has a quiet magic to it. The primarily homestyle cooking teems with the experiences of its creators. The more upscale spots are trendy yet unpretentious. As an Angeleno who’s rendezvoused at the Beverly Hills steakhouses, eaten fresh fish on the ocean-hugging west side, and watched the sunset on rooftops in Downtown LA, I can confidently say that no other neighborhood in the city of angels has the same heart as the food in the San Gabriel Valley. I mean, I guess there’s no place like home.