Crying BING-O in Monterey Park

October 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

The most popular crossover dish in the San Gabriel Valley might be the formidable beef roll at 101 Noodle Express. The justly famous Shandong-derived snack has served to open many hearts and minds to the range of Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley. For the uninitiated, it may be strange to encounter Chinese food without rice, much less a bready creation that with the comfortable heft of a burrito. But the fist-sized package of sesame-seasoned beef and cilantro rolled up with chewy bread has spearheaded a wave of northern Chinese-style food popularity, some of it outside of the usual confines of the San Gabriel Valley. (Later this year, a gastropub featuring northern Chinese-style eats is slated to open on Spring Street downtown, and owners promise that a pair of chefs from Tianjin and Hong Kong will bring SGV-level of quality to one of the city’s high-profile dining districts.)

The beef roll is hardly the only transcendent northern treat to lurk in the warren of suburban strip malls in the San Gabriel Valley. The menu at Beijing Pie House offers a short survey of northern-style mainstays, including noodles, dumplings, and pancakes, but what’s worth a trip south of Valley Blvd. is its collection of bings, or pan-fried pastries. The meat pies known as xian bing are the justly famous stars of the show here. Roughly the size and shape of a swollen hockey puck, the round pastry is fried to a crispy, golden crust and yields easily once you set your teeth into it. Your first bite, if you’re not ready for it, can be alarming—a gush of hot broth seasoned by the lamb or beef fillings. Fortunately, the waiters recite a well-rehearsed warning of injury before they set down an order of four xian bing on your table so you’ll avoid an awkward scalding. Eating a xian bing is not unlike noshing on a xiao long bao, or soup dumpling, but the experience is a lot less delicate. After the initial messy explosion of juices, the combination of savory meat and bread is still a satisfying and hearty repast, even without the bitter chill of a Beijing winter.

House special xian bing aside, there are more bings than meet the eye here. While it doesn’t nostalgically remind me of home and hearth, the homeland meat cake (or jing dong rou bing) is as addictive as anything I’ve eaten in recent months. Resembling a scallion pancake in its long, thin shape , the homeland meat cake is fried until the dough reaches a perfect crunchy-chewy texture, which expertly contrasts with the thin alternating layers of pork and chewy pastry inside. The pork inside is reminiscent of a particularly satisfying wonton filling, pork moistly marinated with soy sauce and ginger to full lip-smacking effect—a taste of a homeland I’m eager to make my own.

Sweetly steamed on top of carrot slices, the soup dumplings at Beijing Pie House are good enough, though with orders of xian bing stacked high on every table, it’s easy to get lost in the dumpling shuffle. The wisdom of the crowd rules at this small and cramped spot, as it does at most Chinese restaurants. The popular prizewinner here—the robust and luscious xian bing—is already comfortable in the limelight.

Beijing Pie House
846 E. Garvey Ave., Ste. 3A
Monterey Park, CA 91755

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