Restaurant: Cui Hua Lou [1, 2, 3, 4]
Location: 920 E Garvey Ave. Monterey Park, CA 91755. 626-288-2218
Date: May 13, 2018
Cuisine: Szechuan Chinese
Chinese food is incredible regional, and we are blessed in SoCal with a lot of very specific restaurants (mostly in the San Gabriel Valley). My Hedonist group has returned to this little known spicy Szechuan in the corner of an undiscovered Monterey Park strip mall. We love Szechuan for its spicy/smoky flavors. This is a cuisine that packs a real punch and is one of my favorites in China and CHL is seriously “local.”
The storefront, as usual, isn’t much to look at.
A menu with fairly literal translations.
And the usual minimalist decor.
But we weren’t even in the restaurant proper, but across the parking lot in “the shed.”
Inside they’ve actually cleaned it up (significantly) since last time we were here (2 years ago) — back then there was a bunch of junk in the room including a band saw!
Szechuan pickles. Lots of garlic and some chili oil. Great stuff.
Cold beef tendon with chili. Nice and chewy with that hot chili oil flavor.
Vegetables. For plain steamed veggies these were actually excellent. Mildly pickled.
Cumin mushroom and snausage skewers. The mushrooms are pleasantly chewy and the little dogs delicious and a touch sweet.
Spicy Turtle Hot Pot. This Szechuan stew of turtle, chicken, tofu, and veggies was quite good. Though I’ve had better broth here (with the lame stew) and the turtle meat itself wasn’t doing it for me. I mostly ate tofu, veggies, and the sauce.
Lamb and gizzard skewers. Both good.
Sweet and sour pork ribs. Super yummy intense sauced pork niblets (with the bones).
Another view of the lovely room. Again, it’s much nicer now!
MaPo Tofu. A very good rendition of this classic dish.
Lobster. Not usual at Szechuan places.
Beef with green onions. Very tasty.
Fish filet boiled in chili sauce. The sauce for this dish was much hotter, more numbing, and better than the turtle broth.
Mixed noodles. We sorta wanted dan dan mein and they brought these, saying they were better. I’m not saying they were better but they were actually really good for this sort of simple fried noodle dish. Really good.
But we got the dan dan mein anyway. Very vinegary version, different, not so nutty, but delicious.
Three flavors of gelato by Sweet Milk Gelato (me):
White Chocolate Lime-Berry – lime infused milk blended with Valrhona Ivoire white chocolate and laced with frutto di bosco coulis.
Gianduja – Valrhona chocolate with Hazelnut Regina (the queen) from Turin
Black Madeira – Blackberry Madeira sorbetto
I have to regale you with the lovely bathroom!
Check out the mirror!
In conclusion, Cui Hua Lou, while apparently totally undiscovered, offers up some fabulous traditional Szechuan fare. Yarom thinks this is the best Szechuan in the SGV. I’m not sure I’d go that far, as it’s a little too home-style, but it’s certainly one of my favorites. They don’t use MSG. The flavors are great. It has a slightly different mix of dishes than some. But I like a lot of the top Szechuan places, and they are each a bit different.
The service is really friendly, particularly as Chinese restaurants go. Our hostess really took care of us, spacing out the dishes, bringing us whatever we needed.
We went crazy overboard and ordered up about 50% more food than we needed, still this feast, including tax and tip, only set us back $25 a person! If you like spicy, you should try this place. It’s not big, but it was still busy at 10pm!
For more LA Chinese reviews click here.
or more crazy Hedonist dinners here!
Wines pictured below: