Restaurant: Hunan Chili King
Location: 534 E Valley Blvd. San Gabriel, CA 91776
Date: December 23, 2012 & August 9, 2015 & September 1, 2017 & August 19, 2018 & June 13, 2021
Cuisine: Hunan Chinese
Rating: Great, spicy, cheap
Way back in the day, Hunan Chili King was only the SECOND time I went to the SGV for Chinese food with the Hedonists! And twice in one week, I was invited to head back east into the San Gabriel Valley for some more Chinese (my earlier adventure can be found here).
This time we tackled the hot and spicy cuisine of the Chinese heartland, the Hunan province.
Here is just a sampling of the pickled chillies and vegetables they make here for use in this smokey, earthy, inferno hot style of Chinese cooking.
Hunan style cold cucumber salad with marinated cucumber, Wood Ear/Black Fungus, shredded Broccoli stems, Cilantro, and chilies (everything has chilies). This was really tasty, and one of the least spicy dishes. The marinate lent it a slight cool quality.
Hunan spicy chicken. This roast then chopped chicken was served cold. Super tasty and enjoyable, except, perhaps, for that oh so Chinese need to chew around all the bone bits.
This particular dinner was sort of 25% hedonist in that it had some members of my hedonist wine club. There were a lot less bottles than at a full fledged event, and because of the spicy food we went mostly with sweet whites like:
From my cellar: Incorporating fruit principally from Wehlener Nonnenberg, Graacher Himmelreich, and Bernkasteler Johannisbrunnchen, the generic Prum 2011 Riesling Kabinett displays an archetypal Mosel Riesling nose of fresh apple, lemon, and clover allied to faintly cheesy, leesy youthful “stink”; and comes to the palate bright and zippy, with hints of wet stone, and prominent cyanic piquancy of apple pit invigoratingly extending its mouthwateringly juicy, if tart and relatively simple finish.
Lobster head, tofu, meat, and noodle soup. Really yummy, with noodles underneath the broth. After the chillies and the heat of the soup my head was really sweating.
Fried lobster with chilies. A superb lobster preparation, like a spicy version of Lobster Causeway Style.
From my cellar: A fine combination of textural creaminess with refreshment and lift characterizes the Weins-Prum 2009 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, which combines lusciously ripe, fresh pear and apple with vanilla and marzipan and finishes with both soothing and stimulating length. This impeccably-balanced, textbook example of its site and style ought to retain its allure for at least two decades.
Flavor intestine. Not my favorite conceptually.
Hunan steamed fish head. This is a Hunan classic. The fish is very soft and full of all sorts of weird cartilage texture.
Fish Filet with Hot Sauce. Easier (and maybe tastier) to eat than the head. Note that this 6/13/21 version was served in that annoying post pandemic era when many restaurants seem to be using take out containers instead of actual plates.
Sautéed frog. Tasty, lots of bone bits. The Christmas theme to all the food isn’t seasonal, it’s just all the chillies!
A chardonnay someone else brought.
Shredded squid with bamboo shoot. Tasty.
Sautéed whole “crystal prawns,” Hunan style. These were great and an expensive specialty shrimp.
Hunan chicken (8/19/18). Chicken in a similar mix of red and green peppers. Very tasty.
To go with the meat we step up the intensity a bit.
Parker 91-93, “The extraordinary 2007 Cotes du Rhone-Villages Rasteau offers up aromas of chocolate, black cherries, dusty, loamy soil, scorched earth, garrigue, and spice. This full-bodied, powerfully concentrated, meaty, expansive, substantial wine should age well for a decade.”
Chicken with potato. Also very good with a nice soft texture and mercifully no bones.
Cumin beef with snow peas. Some though the beef itself was too tough, but it did have a lot of flavor.
Cumin lamb. A nice version of this classic dish.
Braised fatty pork with mountain yam and preserved vegetables (9/1/17). Super tender and really interesting complex pickled flavor.
Snails with preserved vegetables (8/19/18). This dish was amazing! Sure it’s an “advanced” dish, and incredibly spicy. Hottest dish we had that night by far. Super deep potent heap. The combo of the chewy snails and the unusual pickled green beans (with their crunch) was stunning.
Sautéed long beans with Pork. Note that this 6/13/21 version was served in that annoying post pandemic era when many restaurants seem to be using take out containers instead of actual plates.
Sautéed cauliflower. Had a very nice crunch. Note that this 6/13/21 version was served in that annoying post pandemic era when many restaurants seem to be using take out containers instead of actual plates.
Sautéed Bean Curd with Leek. Note that this 6/13/21 version was served in that annoying post pandemic era when many restaurants seem to be using take out containers instead of actual plates.
Special fish in brown chili sauce. Looks almost like a sweet and sour but it was salty and spicy.
Extra chilies, just in case. Fire in the hole!
Chicken fried rice. Really yummy and served nicely to cool stuff off at the end.
Fried banana and fried pumpkin. Really hot (temperature and yummy). Sometimes called “toffee banana” or similar.
But wait, you thought we were done? Let’s start all over with an entirely different array of pepper dishes 2.5 years later (August 2015):
Pickled turnip or potato and peanuts.
One of the few repeats: Hunan style cold cucumber salad with marinated cucumber, Wood Ear/Black Fungus, shredded Broccoli stems, Cilantro, and chilies (everything has chilies). A welcome relief to the heat.
Skewered frog legs with chilis (15 and 9/1/17). Delicious. Really delicious, but lots of little bones. The “sauce” is crunchy chili garlic.
Hunan chicken. The “classic” combo of red, green, and orange with boney bits of chicken. Flavor was fabulous though.
Hunan bacon. Slices of cured pork belly — delicious smoky bacon — with peppers!
Chili-King Crispy Pork Fat. Like little mini chicharrónes. Great texture. Note that this 6/13/21 version was served in that annoying post pandemic era when many restaurants seem to be using take out containers instead of actual plates.
Giant Hunan fish head. Again.
Hunan frog. More frog, which brings up one of the better quotes of the night, “How many frogs had to die for this dinner?”
Glass noodles with garlic and gizzards. Sounds scary, but this was a delicious dish with a good bit of Szechuan peppercorn heat.
Hunan hotwings. Not much meat, but a lot of taste.
House Special Duck. Came a bit cold so we had to send it back for some more heating. Tasty, but a touch off-putting. Note that this 6/13/21 version was served in that annoying post pandemic era when many restaurants seem to be using take out containers instead of actual plates.
House special lamb (12? 15, and 9/1/17). A repeat, but a good one. This is one of the better cumin lambs I’ve had. I like how the cilantro is used as a green, almost like a salad.
Beef with celery. Note that this 6/13/21 version was served in that annoying post pandemic era when many restaurants seem to be using take out containers instead of actual plates.
Cabbage. I loved this, particularly with the sauce from some of the other dishes. Really nice crunchy texture.
Braised eggplant with garlic (15 and 9/1/17 and 8/19/18). A delicious eggplant with the texture I like, soft but not slimly. Great flavor to the sauce with lots of garlic. Very nice version of this spicy dish. The Hunan version of eggplant. A bit less chili oil than the Szechuan version (which I guess is usually fish flavored eggplant). There was a version with 1000 year-old eggs that would have been even better.
Pork belly and tofu. Thick fatty pork belly and bag like tofu. Not everyone liked the soft mushy type of bean curd — but I loved it.
Mapo Tofu. A bit of numbing, no obvious meat. Note that this 6/13/21 version was served in that annoying post pandemic era when many restaurants seem to be using take out containers instead of actual plates.
Crab. A little hard to get into, but the body meat on the end could be eaten like a lolipop and had a delightful flavor.
Egg fried rice. Straightforward but cut the heat.
Shredded potato. Nice crunch. I loved this covered in the eggplant sauce.
Lobster. More peppers! Actually we didn’t have this dish, but I saw it and had to photo it.
Glass noodles with ground pork (8/19/18). Tasty dish with nice textural contrast between the crumbly meat and silky noodles.
Beef in chili sauce. Sort of a Szechuan dish, but the Hunan variant.
Noodle soup with fish balls, mushrooms, and meats of an indeterminate nature.
Spicy pickled eggs (8/19/18). Interesting. Event eggs can get the Hunan treatment! Quite good actually.
Scrambled eggs with peppers (8/19/18). Usually in China this dish is with tomatoes. Hunan people can’t resist the pepper.
Cauliflower (8/19/18). Very nice. Not really spicy.
Vegetable buns. Interesting source green flavor, but nice.
Sweet egg drop soup. A sweet soup with goji berries and balls of tapioca. Not bad, for a weird sweet soup.
Sweet bean buns. Chinese desserts. Know them. Don’t love them.
A variant on a house favorite: Triple Milk Chocolate Cloud (8/19/18) – the base made with Valrhona 40% Jivara Chocolate (usually I use 63%) and then layered with Dark Chocolate Creamcheese Ganache and Belgian Chocolate Thins (3 flavors, for triple on triple action) — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato.
And some house made butterscotch in case the above wasn’t rich enough.
Together it’s amazing.
Grapefruit Aperol Tarragon Sorbetto (6/13/21) — Cold pressed Fresh Grapefruit juice from my garden, Aperol and fresh Tarragon! — made by me for @sweetmilkgelato — Unique and bracing — #SweetMilkGelato #gelato #dessert #icecream #FrozenDessert #nomnom #dessertlovers #dessertporn #icecreamlovers #gelatoitaliano #foodporn #gelatolover #food #foodgasm #foodblogger #dessertgasm #desserttime #foodphotography #gelatoartigianale #gelatomania #dessertlover #icecream #icecreamlovers #sorbetto #grapefruit #aperol #tarragon
This was an awesome pair of meals and very different than your typical Cantonese American. Traffic isn’t bad on Sunday night, but during the week it took me almost two hours to get to this area. Hunan Chili King isn’t where I’d take Chinese food novices. EVERYTHING is spicy. In fact, a few people obviously didn’t read the warnings on the meetup because they couldn’t handle the heat. Someone said of the heat, “I feel like I’m going into menopause.”
The flavors and proteins are a bit weird by American standards. But this is my favorite SGV Hunan so far, and I really like it for the variety compared to some other regional cuisines. At the restaurant itself you have to take some care to end up with different flavors, as there are a lot of dishes with the “usual” tri-color pepper melange (tasty as it is). But great stuff.
And as usual, we even went next door afterward and got a Chinese massage for $15 an hour! Just the perfect thing to work out the hedonistic over-indulgence!
Adding in a note based on 6/13/21, Hunan Chili King was (as of then) still operating in a half “take out” mode with very few people in the restaurant, and using only takeout containers and styrofoam plates with plastic silverware. The kitchen seemed about 90% back up to snuff, but the disposable plating really reduces the enjoyment (and appeal).
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On our August 2015 visit, Totoraku chef and sometime Hedonist joined us. He was not prepared for the heat!