ChefBox Brings Gourmet Meals on the Go to the SGV

January 5, 2018 by Kristie Hang

The folks behind the 626 Night Market–Albert Chu and Patricia Huang–have a new takeout concept that functions as a creative platform to showcase local chefs by bringing healthy and delicious food to the community.

ChefBox, which opened this past November in South Pasadena, is stocked daily with an array of prepared meal bento-like boxes filled with a variety of cuisines ranging from modern Filipino, Caribbean, Puerto Rican, Southern, and Asian. Options include organic, sustainable and clean eating foods (perfect for fitness buffs), gourmet soups, and many vegan and vegetarian choices.

“Life is always busy and we’re always on the go. People have been coming here everyday because there’s always something different to eat. They don’t get sick of it and they don’t have to go through the hassle of cooking,” Chef Maithy Ngo told me as she unloaded her freshly made meals for the day.

“We also have a few concerned mothers from out of state that use our service to make sure their adult children that live in the area are well-fed,” Chu adds.

ChefBox currently has 17 different chefs that make fresh, gourmet prepared meal boxes. The store offers anywhere from 35-50 items at a time depending on chef and day. Not just any Average Joe can get their food in these coveted shelves. Albert and Patricia both personally get to know each chef, their unique story, and then interview and taste test every potential applicant.

Their current roster includes Chef Luis Castro of Patina fame who currently runs his own catering company, Chef Billie Sutton, a former Le Cordon Bleu chef that specializes in world cuisine, and Chef Philip Kwan of Mama Musubi, a veteran of the 626 Night Market and local farmers market scene.

Along side those already successful chefs, ChefBox has also taken on a few talented newbies such as Chef Maithy, an award-winning design engineer turned culinary creator. Her tasty and aesthetically pleasing Vietnamese meals have been top sellers, highlighted by sweet crab and creamy avocado spring rolls accented with edible flowers. The food isn’t limited to humans either. There’s even one chef offering human grade gourmet dog food.

Boxes typically run in the ten dollar (and up) range. For example on my latest visit the shelves included a chicken and wild rice box for $9, a vegetable pastel for $10, and seared salmon for $11.95.

Cutting the overhead that comes with opening an individual shop is a win-win for chefs who want to serve delicious food at fair prices.  So far the concept is working. Despite only being open for a couple of months, ChefBox is already selling out frequently. Many of the chefs are doing so well that they are considering making ChefBox their primary business.

ChefBox Shelves

A fully stocked ChefBox display. Photo by Kristie Hang

“ChefBox gives the chefs more creative freedom than their typical catering jobs. Allows them to embrace their passions,” Huang told me.

As a vendor representative for the 626 Night Market, Huang’s job included nurturing small businesses to help them succeed at the night market, but she quickly learnt that there were many factors that could go wrong for a small business tackling an event that large.

“Doing the 626 Night Market is a big opportunity, but if you did something as small as getting your banners wrong or not getting your batch of food quite right, your business day may have been ruined. ChefBox allows the chefs to constantly adjust and try new things. They make small batches and can really focus on the quality of their ingredients.”

ChefBox owners

Albert Chu and Patricia Huang, co-owners of ChefBox. Photo by Krisite Hang

Chu and Huang are putting their extensive experience towards the new concept, and based on their past success the future is bright. The last 626 Night Market broke records with its 117,000-person attendance. But the 626 Night Market only happens a few times a year. ChefBox is what they consider the retail version of the Night Market. Huang adds:

“Every community has extremely talented chefs. At the Night Market, we pull from the community and introduce them to their chefs and local food entrepreneurs. Just like how the 626 Night Market is a platform, ChefBox is as well. We draw from the local area and the money would feed the local vendors and community, something we are very committed to doing.”

ChefBox is located at 434 Fair Oaks Ave. South Pasadena, CA 91030. Guests can order in person, online, or go in and pick up from the store. Delivery is planned for the near future. Operating hours are from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.


8 Spots For The Best (Legit) Chinese Food in L.A.

March 30, 2017 by Kristie Hang

If you live in Los Angeles and you’re still ordering your Chinese food from Panda Express, you are seriously missing out. The San Gabriel Valley is the Chinese food capital of Southern California. But with approximately 600 to 800 Chinese restaurants in the area — 200 on Valley Boulevard alone — you may wonder how to tackle this intimidating food scene.

Have no fear, because we’ve got a handy little shortcut to researching your next meal out.

Here are eight rock solid recommendations for where to get the best (legit) Chinese food in the city of angels. Enjoy!

[RELATED: 8 Spots for the Best Dim Sum in Los Angeles]

1. Happy Table

Grilled lamb chop with cumin. Amazing!

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Want a dish that will knock your socks off? Head on over to Happy Table and order their special grilled lamb chops with cumin. Their impressive rack of lamb comes with four dipping sauces: garlic, spicy, garlicky, and sesame. The lamb’s skin is extremely crispy and the meat, seasoned with cumin and spices, falls right off the bone and melts in your mouth, with a spicy kick that will tantalize your taste buds.

Happy Table is open late (until 12:30 am) and has lots of affordable lunch specials. If the large order of lamb isn’t enough for you, make sure to try their garlic eggplant. -> More information

2. Szechuan Impression

Sichuan cuisine has been all the rage the last few years — there’s just something about that unique “mala,” aka numbing spice flavor, that keeps people coming back for more. Szechuan Impression is one of the more modern Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. Though the restaurant is on the smaller side, it does have indoor and outdoor patio seating.

Standout dishes include the cold, translucent mung bean noodles called Impressive Bean Jelly, Smoked Pork Ear, and Impressive Cold Noodles, made with garlic, bean sprouts, and spicy sauce. The most unique item on Szechuan Impression’s menu is their Tea Smoked Ribs, which consists of a rack of baby-back ribs with meat so well-smoked, it falls off the bone. -> More information

3. E & J Yummy Kitchen

Noodles and rice rolls.

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E & J Yummy Kitchen is a tiny mom-and-pop shop with only a few tables. E & J serves traditional Hong Kong-style comfort food, such as wonton noodle soup, congee, and lo mien. But if there’s one dish you must order at E & J, it’s their famous, unique rice rolls unlike those of any other restaurant. Unlike the rice rolls typically served at dim sum, E & J’s version has a crumpled- up texture, with your choice of meat twisted into the little pieces. There’s even the option of adding an egg to your rice rolls.

Advice? Always add egg! Worthwhile mentions: the $3.99 wonton noodle soup, milk tea with red bean, and sanpan congee made with dried fish, chicken, and meatballs. -> More information

4. Hui Tou Xiang

Hui tou pan fried dumplings.

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Hui Tou Xiang, which literally translates “to return to its fragrance” in Mandarin, is truly a dumpling powerhouse. Your meal begins with their housemade Chinese-style kimchi. The restaurant’s namesake dish is the hui tou, Chinese-style meat “blintzes” that you won’t see at other dumpling houses. The dish, made with your choice of beef or pork, is Hui Tou Xiang’s unique variation on pot stickers.

In addition to their unique dumplings, they also offer various noodle dishes. The beef soup noodles and dry tomato noodles are tasty, but if there’s one must-order dish, it’s the pork hui tou, hands down. -> More information

5. Harlam’s Kitchen

Grab some cash and head over to a run-down food court on the corner of San Gabriel Blvd and Garvey Ave where you’ll find Harlam’s Kitchen. This food stall specializes in Hong Kong-style breakfast foods like noodle soup, wonton and dumplings, and noodles. Harlam’s Kitchen is no-frills. Pay for your food, then search for an empty table.

Don’t expect any ambience, or even any silverware, as the food here is served on paper plates with plastic utensils. All the dishes range in price from $3-7, making it very wallet-friendly. The dumplings and wontons are made fresh on the spot, as are the steamed rice sheets that wrap the Chinese donuts. The beef brisket is tender and the congee always hits the spot. -> More information

6. Chengdu Taste

Cumin lamb toothpicks.

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For the last few years, Chengdu Taste has been the hottest restaurant around, both literally and figuratively. They’ve been so successful, they’ve opened up multiple locations as far as Las Vegas and Hawaii. Unfortunately, their quality (although still good) is not quite on par with their earlier days.

As with all Sichuan food, expect most of their dishes to be mouth-numbingly spicy. The toothpick lamb with cumin is a must-order, as is the the cold noodles with garlic sauce. Other favorites: chili oil wonton, mapo tofu, lion fish (secret dish), and the water-boiled fish filet. -> More information

7. Happy Harbor

New menu item from Happy Harbour. Nomming on some crystal noodles in tomato broth with BBQ pork and duck. #sgv #cantonese

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Happy Harbor is known for its Hong Kong-style cuisine. The affordable breakfast and lunch specials bring in the crowds, so be prepared to wait if you come in during peak hours. Breakfast specials run from 8 to 11 a.m., while the afternoon lunch specials run from 3 to 6 p.m. Breakfast or afternoon lunch sets come with complimentary milk tea, lemon tea, lemon-honey drink, or Chinese tea with free refills. $6.99 or $7.39 deals come with a hot drink, and there’s even an option to add another item for $1.89!

Happy Harbor also has great congee/porridge, as well as a Chinese BBQ section where you can dine in or buy BBQ to go, such as suckling pig, BBQ pork, chicken, and more. -> More information

8. Atlantic Seafood and Dim Sum

Satay hot pot with fatty beef. 🐮🍲

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Atlantic Seafood and Dim Sum Restaurant is located in the hustling, bustling Atlantic Times Square plaza. Though known for their dimsum, their dinner menu is equally impressive. Atlantic Seafood changes over to their dinner menu once the morning and afternoon dim sum is over. They offer great dinner and late-night deals that go on until closing time at 1 a.m. If you order three dishes, you get your choice of a lobster or Peking duck sliced right in front of you for $9.99 — dinner and a show!

Dinner includes a complimentary Chinese dessert like hot sweet red bean soup. The standout dish is the steamed egg  with clams or dried scallop. The egg is so soft, it tastes like flan and melts in your mouth. A must-order! Other must-order dishes: steamed egg with dried scallop, BBQ pork cha siu, beef stay hot pot, ma po tofu, fish maw soup, and geoduck. -> More information



8 Spots for the Best Dim Sum in Los Angeles

February 2, 2017 by Kristie Hang

The San Gabriel Valley is home to some of the tastiest, most authentic Chinese food in the United States, so it’s no wonder that the best dim sum spots in Los Angeles are all located within the famed 626 area code. For those new to the art of dim sum, you’ll want to know that there are two ordering systems.

Traditionally, dim sum dishes are offered by ladies pushing carts of food and are priced according to small, medium, large, or special. The cart ladies put a stamp on your tab corresponding to that dishes’ price.

Newer, more modern dim sum restaurants offer made-to-order dishes that you request by marking your choices on a piece of paper. These modern eateries are more expensive than traditional restaurants.

Keep in mind that dim sum prices are slightly lower on weekdays than on weekends and holidays. Now that you’ve had a quick intro, here’s where to find the best dim sum in Los Angeles.

[RELATED7 Spots for the Best Ramen in Los Angeles]

Killing my long weekend with great dim sumssss. 😝

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1. Sea Harbour

Sea Harbour’s food is delicious, but can you stomach the wait? Weekday or weekend, there’s no avoiding waiting for a table at Sea Harbour. From the outside, the restaurant looks run-down, but that doesn’t stop the lines from circling around this Rosemead eatery. There are no pushcarts at Sea Harbor, and no dishes are steamed until you order them. Their dumpling skins are thin and translucent, just like in Hong Kong’s high-quality dim sum restaurants. Sea Harbour offers all the traditional favorites, as well as some creative fusion items like shrimp and roe dumplings, egg tofu in abalone sauce, green spinach pork buns, and deep fried fish paste with chives, to name a few. The food is scrumptious, but it’s on the pricier end of the spectrum for dim sum in the area.

Favorites: Baked BBQ pork with sweet French-style topping, salt and pepper calamari, steamed rice noodles with shredded chicken and bitter melon, green milk tea bun, deep fried chicken knees, steamed buns with preserved salty egg, durian pastries, BBQ pork pastry, and the dessert of sticky rice ball stuffed with salty egg yolk.

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No Christmas leftovers yesterday means Dim-Sum for lunch today.

A photo posted by limer35 (@limer35) on

2. King Hua

King Hua’s dim sum is also on the higher end of the price spectrum, as are Lunasia and Elite. King Hua has a wide variety of dim sum and lots of different dumplings and buns to try, but they’re no competition for Sea Harbour. There’s no pushcart service here, but staff do walk around with a few fresh-out-of-the-oven dishes on trays. King Hua offers their own take on some traditional dim sum items, such as their Egg Custard Tart with Bird’s Nest, with custard that’s lighter and less sweet than traditional egg custard tarts. Another standout is the Glutinous Rice Ball filled with salty egg yolk cream.

Favorites: Shrimp and chive dumplings, three different varieties of barbecue pork buns, durian pastry, steamed milk buns with a crispy crust, taro roll, coconut baked roll.

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Atlantic Times Square

Photo Credit: Kristie Hang

3. Atlantic Seafood & Dim Sum Restaurant

Located at Atlantic Times Square Plaza above 24 Hour Fitness is Atlantic Seafood, a dim sum restaurant with a good ambience that’s also quite affordable. If you’re a wine lover, you’ll love the grandiose displays of expensive wine. If you have a larger party, big private rooms are an option. Unless you go on a weekday, expect to wait in line. There’s a lot nearby to do and see — it’s hard to be bored in Atlantic Times Square, which also boasts an AMC theatre, a slew of Korean skincare shops, and tons of other shopping and food choices. Although most the dishes here are above par, the hands-down star dish is the mini salted egg yolk pineapple buns that are carried out on trays.

Favorites: egg tarts, mango pudding, steamed and fried turnip cake, mini salted egg yolk pineapple buns.

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China Red

Photo Credit: Kristie Hang

4. China Red

Located in Arcadia, China Red’s dim sum is traditional meets modern. You won’t find any ugly, outdated red and gold dragon phoenix decorations here. China Red is all about classy and modern, and that extends to their food too. There are no pushcarts here, but they do have the traditional dim sum favorites, as well as fun, inventive fusion dishes. All dishes are clearly labeled on a paper menu. There are no pictures, so you’ll need to study up on your dim sum dishes before going. Dumpling skins are delicate, thin, and chewy, and the buns have lots of flavor.

FYI: Parking may be tough, but there’s an additional lot located next door that many people don’t know about!

Favorites: Green spinach flour dumplings, pan-fried pancake with sweet paste and crushed peanuts, baked BBQ pork bun, multi-layered sponge cake.

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Elite Dim Sum

Photo Credit: Kristie Hang

5. Elite

Elite in Monterey Park is another higher-end dim sum restaurant. Ordering is done via paper menu, rather than from carts, but they do have staff walking around with trays of fresh dim sum. Elite’s dumpling portions are bigger than average, so you do feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. Whereas most dim sum restaurants only have the typical BBQ pork, shrimp, or beef rice rolls, Elite has all that, plus their own take with a shrimp-and-asparagus rice roll. In addition to their traditional buns and dumplings, Elite also has fusion items such as fried taro cake with pork with a crust that will fall apart and melt in your mouth, a pork and wood ear mushroom-stuffed bean curd wrap in oyster sauce, scallop dumplings, and fried shrimp dumplings that other places don’t typically serve.

Favorites: Snowy mountain bun, Macau roast pork, “shark fin” and red clam dumpling in soup, white almond fluffy bun, steamed turnip cake, pork dumplings, baked durian pie, BBQ pork pastry puff.

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Dim sum on 12/25 is always a good idea… Merry Christmas//Happy Chanukah friends!

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6. Lunasia

Want dim sum day or night? Lunasia is your answer! Usually, dim sum is only available as breakfast or lunch, but Lunasia is the only dim sum restaurant in the SGV that serves dim sum all day until 10 p.m. At Lunasia, there are no pushcarts, and they don’t steam dim sum until you order it. The venue is grand and ornate, and their dim sum are on the bigger side, including jumbo-sizes of the traditional har gow (shrimp dumpling) and siu mai (pork dumpling). There are two locations: the original Alhambra one and the newer, hipper Pasadena location.

Favorites: Almond milk soup served with egg white and topped with a flaky puff pastry, jumbo spinach & shrimp dumplings, coconut-filled sweet bread, purple taro-filled sweet buns, salty egg yolk “lava” buns, Hong Kong-style pork soup dumplings.

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7. Ocean Star

Ocean Star has reasonable prices, a big variety, and the classic cart-pushing experience. The restaurant is gigantic — it can host more than 300 people — so wait times are quite reasonable. Ocean Star’s dim sum gets the job done. The restaurant has a team of 12 people whose job it is to work solely on dim sum. They offer a few unique dishes, such as their snow bun with sweet taro paste, but for the most part Ocean Star’s forte is doing right by the traditional must-haves, such as shrimp rolls, siu mai pork dumplings, beef and chicken buns, and BBQ pork buns. The easy-to-read menu is loaded with tons of pictures. The large $15 crispy lobster noodle lunch special can be ordered during dim sum hours.

Favorites: Chinese crueler wrapped in rice noodle, almond milk puff pastry.

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Dimsum lunch in the 626.

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8. NBC

NBC has been around for ages and is one of the area’s eateries still offering the pushcart experience. The extensive menu offers lots of variety, and pictures of each dish are labeled in both Chinese and English for easy ordering. Go before 11 a.m. for the best variety and minimal wait times. Dim sum is average, but the restaurant has remained an SGV staple for decades. The standout dish at NBC is their steamed yellow Malaysian sponge cakes.

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