Wednesday, March 2, 2011

[南加州- 羅蘭崗] 臭豆腐大王 - The Royalty of SKANK in Rowland Heights, Southern California

Whoa, did GOOGLE open up in Rowland Heights before Mountain View?

A bootleg Chinese version?

Naw...none of that sort. Don't let that GOOGLE looking logo fool you.
It translates to the phonetic pronounciation of FORMOSA.

Oh yes....old school. The great eats of Taiwan, old school classics, right at Formosa. But also right in.... Dynasty Plaza? Identity crisis?

So Google (not Formosa), lists this place as Tofu King. Non Chinese speakers might call this restaurant "Dynasty Plaza" out of confusion. But the locals? It is the King of Stinky Tofu 臭豆腐大王. Try finding this kind of shop in Northern California, I dare you.

"No MSG" in English, "This store does not have MSG" in they do not use it in/on the restaurant? It's like a Confucian mystery. But yes I really think they don't!

Old school basically means, "we don't invest in gimmicky upscale digs and decor", "we do things OUR way, screw you if you don't like it", "the food speaks for itself", etc.

The storefront is really small, maybe 3 tables on the inside with several tables outside. All Chinese menu plastered on the walls, and a separate laminated menu double sided with English.

This place is run by a very friendly older guy owner who we heard speaking Taiwanese (Ming nan yu / Hokkien) to an adjacent table. Seems like a family business on top of that as well.

They have two kinds of fried tofu, the regular one (stinky signature), and one called 一口吃 (one bite), which I assume is bite sized. The waiter explained that the latter was designed for non Taiwanese eaters who basically cannot stand the taste nor smell of the original stinky tofu.

We got one order of their signature stinky tofu to share. Three giant pieces of deep fried goodness that at least to me did not stink that bad. Came with the obligatory chili sauce in the corner, spicy pickled cabbage (Taiwanese kimchi if you will but different) or pao tsai 泡菜, and a small pool of sauce at the bottom. When I took in a bite, and savored in the flavors and textures, it really did remind me of the stinky tofu I had in Taipei night markets (Shihlin 士林 and Lir Hua in Yongho township 樂華). Not oily or greasy at all, with a nice toasty crunch on the outside, and a perfect inside. The stinky tofu they used had a very different texture than other they appear to use freeze dried tofu (commonly used in hot pots to absorb broth and quite delicious), where the interior is chewier and denser. While the 泡菜 could have been  better (unusually sweet and not terribly spicy), the whole combo was excellent.

Their stinky tofu does smell, but it doesn't smell that bad. I've smelt worse. For hardcore skank stink fans, you might need to look elsewhere if skank (scent) is more important, but for a taste of home (if Formosa island is yours) look no further.

A-tsai/A-choy came with some minced pork on top (rou zhou) on top. The pork was a tad bit too salty.

Their Gong Yuan Hao sour plum drink 公園號酸梅湯 is named after a very famous sour plum drink shop in Taipei with over 50 years of history, and was the best rendition I've had in California to date. I wish I could have purchased a bucket to bring home. Extremely refreshing, and sadly not enough to last the 8 hour drive back home.

It turns out this place has a few additional killer moves.

We picked up some frozen goodness to go

Hsin Chu style meatballs (新竹貢丸)

Fuzhou fishballs (福州魚丸)

Pork and cabbage dumplings

and had them at home after the long drive (in our own ice chest of course).

Fantastic, all of them.

Bouncy chewy meatballs, tasted virtually like the kind from the local market in Yongho township. The Fuzhou fishballs were excellent too, especially the juicy soft porky interior. Lovely pork and cabbage dumplings that surpassed even the best dumpling restaurants in NorCal, with a homey taste to boot.

What is it about pork in SoCal? You guys grow better swine?

Apparently this eatery's next best seller is their minced pork rice, of which the owner claims he goes through 5 pig's worth a week. He also relies on no advertising and word of mouth just spreads amongst the Taiwanese community, and gets a lot of visitors from Northern California as well.

I was very amazed at how this man's eatery was able to replicate the flavors of Taiwan, a feat that I practically gave up hope on in Northern California. No wonder why so many Taiwanese expats in NorCal are willing to brave the drive to SoCal to eat the good stuff.

LA may have the smog and Hollywood nitwits, but they sure have San Francisco Bay Area beat in Taiwanese, Korean, and Japanese food.  This place is a stellar (yet simple and humble) example that one man and his small pop shop can recreate the flavors of Taiwan. Can we clone him and his shop up in Northern California PLEASE?

(Stinky) Tofu King - 臭豆腐大王
18414 Colima Rd
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
(626) 964-6250