The advantage of having friends with cars, who are foodies, is the near-unlimited opportunities that arise forpursuing delicious eats and drinks. In Southern California, this means good Asian places around the Monterey Park area in terms of food, and a plethora of boba tea shops in terms of drink. My current car-owning friends are mostly vegetarian so it isn’t often that I can bribe them to take me out for meat-heavy Chinese food, but every time the recently-graduated alumni return to visit, we go out to our favorite haunts.A time-withstood favorite of ours is this place called Spicy City in San Gabriel, California.
Spicy City serves Szechuan food – savory, mouthwatering (literally, from all the spice), and glorious. Szechuan is a province in China known for eating spicy things; since it is very humid and hot there, the spice is supposed to make you sweat out all the toxins, sort of like a gastronomic sauna. Here in the US the spice is toned down to suit the American palate, but it’s still pretty darn hot for most of us.
Spicy City is a family-style, sit-down restaurant, with white rice and tea to accompany the rest of the food. We brought along a party of 9, which was nice since that meant we could order many different dishes. Below is a picture of my plate with a little bit of everything we ordered:
I start by describing the favorite dish of my friend Daniel: la zi ji, which translates to spicy seed chicken (A). It is small pieces of chicken deep-fried and mixed with chili oil, peppercorns, and red chilis. This is the dish that numbs the palate, so that after you eat it, clear water tastes sour, everything else tastes bitter, your tongue is on fire, and the only thing that even remotely helps the pain is the hot tea.
Next we have spicy lamb on skewers (B). I think I prefer the other lamb dish I’ve had, cumin lamb, but this was pretty good. Savory, both in smell and taste, with a hint of pungent herbs and spice.
(C) Rice. Here, more than at any other restaurant, this stuff is absolutely necessary.
Next is my roommate Sandra’s favorite: mei gan co rou, which is some kind of braised pork belly stewed with pickled dried vegetables (D). It has a heady flavor and is very nourishing and filling. The stewed vegetables have a slightly sour taste. Not spicy.
(E) Spicy cold chicken. This dish was ordered by my friend Patrick. It’s a cold dish, of sliced chicken with the bones still in, rubbed and marinaded in spicy chili oil and other herbs. Only mildly spicy, so relatively edible compared to the spicy seed chicken.
(F) Shui zu niou, "water-cooked beef," spicy stewed beef slices. This dish is tender beef in spicy soup, well-flavored, with chili seeds just swimming casually around. Still not as spicy as la zi ji.
(G) Gan bian si ji dou, or garlic-fried green beans. A crowd favorite. We get this dish every time. It’s not spicy, but so savory that if it were not for the fact that we liked meat so much, we’d probably be perfectly happy eating only this dish and rice each time. It has garlic, maybe a hint of ginger, mixed in a heavenly blend.
Not pictured–soup. I don’t remember the name, but it had big pieces of cod stewed with sour pickled cabbage and thick mung bean noodles. Mmm!
Another one of my favorite dishes is shui zu yu, "water-cooked fish," spicy stewed white fish, similar to exhibit F. My family ordered this dish all the time when I was a kid back in San Diego.
An excellent point of the great Asian restaurants in the Los Angeles suburbs is that competition keeps them at reasonable prices. At Spicy City we usually end up spending $12-15 per person for dinner. It’s more geared toward non-vegetarians than vegetarians, but if you go in a big enough group, there are also a decent amount of vegetarian options for the splitting. That being said, do not go if your spice tolerance is low, because you might cry a little.
The downside of being in Chicago next year is the lack of good Asian restaurants. Even my alumni friends from the Bay come down just to eat here. If you’re ever in the area, Spicy City is worth a try. Thanks for reading!
Till next time,