Restaurant: WangJia Restaurant
Location: 800 W Las Tunas Dr Ste 300, San Gabriel, CA 91776. (626) 872-0618
Date: May 7, 2023
Cuisine: Shanghai Cuisine
Rating: Just pretty good
Another Sunday, another Chinese.
Wangjia is a 3 year old Shanghai style place on Main St (in Alhambra) that was written up in Eater. Somehow, probably because of the pandemic, it wasn’t on my radar until recently.
The Eater article made it sound “more upscale” but this is a narrow Mom & Pop place where the 20 year-old son (talking to Yarom) handles all of the front of house. He was very amusing actually. The place was very busy when we came in, but quiet by about 7:30 (Chinese eat early) and empty when we left at 8:30pm.
Jelly Fish with Soy Sauce. I didn’t actually see any Soy Sauce, but these were nice crunchy bits of jellyfish head with a very satisfying texture and a hint of something tangy, probably a vinegar.
Shanghai Style Smoked Fish. Sometimes this is warm, sometimes it’s cold. Today it was warm. There were some bones but it was tasty. The smoky taste wasn’t massively pronounced. It was drizzled with the sweet aromatic soy.
Black Egg with Seasoned Peppers & Choki Mushroom. The black egg was very mild but the peppers were decently hot, which enjoyed as it cut through all the sweet sauce left on my plate.
Shanghai Style Soy Sauce Duck. Braised duck drowned in sweet soy. It was actually very tasty as the sweet paired nicely with the rich bird.
Fried Fish Slides w/ Wined Sauce (aka Fish Filets with Fungus). This “wine sauce” tasted like really tasty chicken stock and a TON of “flavor” (MSG). It was actually delicious. The fish was soft and veyr pleasant. The wood ear mushrooms weren’t the best — and I generally do like them alot.
Fried Crab with Rice Cake and Ginger and Onion. The crab was a bit hard to eat but was delicious. The rice cakes were really good (if off diet) in the sweet brown sauce. Very classic Shanghai dish.
Stir-fried Baby Shrimp with Tofu. Very nice soft tofu texture and the shrimp, while few and far between had a nice snap to them. The soy beans (or similar) leant some textural contrast with a very pleasant crunch.
Braised Minced Eel in Brown Sauce. I asked the young server which eel dish I should order and he said, “I don’t eat eel.” He did suggest this one (which was the one I wanted anyway) because it had no bones. This is basically the same as pork strips in garlic broawn sauce except it’s eel (and maybe pork) in garlic brown sauce. It was sweet and garlicky and I very much enjoyed it.
Braised Meat Balls in Brown Sauce (aka Lionhead Meatballs). They do love the brown sauce at Shanghai restaurants. The meatballs themselves were very pleasant porky meatballs with a lot of good flavor. I also enjoyed the cabbage. This was a thinner brown sauce than the eels or eggplant, a bit less sweet, and more like a gravy. It was still kinda sweet though.
Red Pepper Fried with Cabbage (aka Cabbage Stir Fried with Red Pepper. haha). Great version of this dish. The cabbage had a really nice crunchy, that pork fatty greasy factor (good), and was actually quite spicy (also in a good way). First rate version.
Steamed Salted Pork with Dry Tofu Skin. Our server seemed agast at the idea that we would order this. He’d never tried it and declared that “no one had ordered it in 2 months.” As my intuition bore out this was a delicious dish. The stock was rich and full of “flavor” (MSG) and the very very fatty pork belly a bit, but not to salty and relaly delicious in that lardy way.
Braised Pig Knuckle in Brown Sauce. Here comes the brown sauce again. THis was the same “thinner” brown sauce as the meatballs. The huge hock of pig was jiggly and good as always. I do prefer the MSG and garlic version of this dish which you get at places with a bit more Beijing influence, but this was still piggy delicious.
Eggplant in Garlic Sauce (also brown). This sauce is very similar to the eel sauce. It’s thick, more than a little sweet, brown, and garlicky. Regardless, this was arguably one of the best dishes and a great eggplant dish. The texture was perfectly mushy and full of great garlic flavor. Not spicy. Sometimes this dish can be spicy in its Sichuan form (which I also like).
Shanghai Stewed Pork & Squid with Tea Tree Mushroom. The squid wasn’t obvious to me and this was basically the Dong Po (red) pork belly in sweet soy. Except it wasn’t red but was brown again. It was fatty and tasty and sweet and I very much enjoyed the texture added by the mushrooms.
Shanghai Style Fried Lamb. I guess they mean stir-fried. It seemed more or less like Cumin Lamb and not super Shanghaiese. It wasn’t my favorite. It was fine, but not that interesting.
Steamed Pork Bun (aka XLB). Always enjoyable. Took a second for the black vinegar to come. The skins were a touch thick but they were juicy and tasty.
Pan Fried Pork Buns. These were a standout here. They were slightly smaller than usual which was a good thing, with a nice crispy shell, lots of hot soup and a delicious porky center. The slightly smaller size made the dough less overwelming than at some places.
Overall, a total steal (at $45/pp all in) and tons of food. This is a more homestyle Shanghaiese place and family run. It’s not fancy but they are nice and the kitchen is quite solid. Yeah, Shanghailander and Shanghai Number 1 Seafood are more elegant and a bit better, but this is some really solid and well priced Shanghai style Chinese food. The menu is huge and there are also a lot of Sichuan dishes “left over” from the space’s previous incrnation as a Sichuan restaurant. Technically maybe the black egg and cabbage were Sichuan but I did try to order (almost) all Shanghai dishes.