In a dining galaxy of Sichuan delights, can a Shanghai star shine as bright?

The menu at WangJia in San Gabriel has nearly 150 items. It can be an overwhelming document of dry, fiery, or light stir-fries; soup and noodle selection of dozens; and micro-survey of some Chinese dishes in the region. However, there is a shortcut to a focused and satisfying meal.

Lulu Luo, the 3-year-old restaurateur, and her family are from Shanghai, and if you ask for directions, they’ll show you their favorite dishes.

The cuisines of the metropolis of Shanghai and the surrounding Jiangnan region – demarcated by the Yangtze River Delta, a fertile region that also includes the culinary traditions of many of the smaller neighboring cities – are never complete. fully immersed in the same focus for the nuanced Sichuan fire dragons that dominated the San Gabriel Valley’s Restaurant Culture for the last decade, nor the Cantonese and Taiwanese standard-bearers that preceded them. surname.

Recent meals at WangJia remind me that the varied, often subtle, traditional Shanghainese cooking has their place in the mix. My conversations with the staff around what to order always end with one of their clear recommendations: xian rou cai fan, bacon and greens fried rice.

Lulu Luo, left, and Jack Ma, right, with their son Kevin Ma, center, at WangJia restaurant.

Lulu Luo, left, and Jack Ma, right, with their son Kevin Ma, center, at WangJia.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Like many sustainable comforts in the global norm, its ingredients are few and technical is everything. Chunks of diced pork roast sizzling in a carbonized skillet, aided by a bit of oil or (more traditionally) lard. The types of greens can be different. At WangJia, the choice is tatsoi; Its leaves soften in heat faster than bok choy, a close relative of brass.

These two key ingredients enrich short grain rice, cook it first, and let it sit in the pan long enough to absorb the exhaled smoke. A few grit here and there, but the overall texture is still soft rather than crunchy. What’s most remarkable is the elegance of the spice: The rice’s flavor is amplified, as if its pure, sweet flavor is conveyed through the flavor equivalent of surround sound, and the occasional chunks of pork do bursting with delicious drops of salt.

Whatever else you ask for – a selection of cold cuts that are part of the Shanghai repertoire, variations from the signature shrimp or eel specialties, braised beef and pork – fans of xian rou cai can trend comes last on the table. Use chopsticks to pinch each piece of meat to roll up the crumbs and thicken the sauce on your plate. However, in the end, like me, you can see that the clear taste of the homemade rice dish is completely satisfying.

Steamed Pork Dumplings at WangJia Restaurant in San Gabriel on Tuesday, September 20, 2022. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Steamed pork dumplings at WangJia.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

A table at WangJia restaurant, left, their fried shrimp dish, right.

A table at WangJia Restaurant, left, their fried shrimp, right.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

WangJia is located in the heart of a strip mall, flanked by Bubble Republic tea shop on one side and D’ange bakery on the other. Luo took over the space, which was previously taken over by Q38 Noodle House in 2019. Like many other business owners, Luo relies on fulfillment and delivery to cycle through the impossible months of 2020 without fail. She could not have foreseen.

Two years later, it’s hard to predict when the long, thin dining room with its burgundy walls will fill up and when it will be quiet, although the quality of the food has remained steady over recent meals. regardless of the crowd.

If you’re already with the same group, consider settling in with a few cold appetizers: drunken chicken paired with nutritious Huadiao wine, perhaps, or smoked fish with a small network of bones that ensures a diversion for food. sweet taste like meat, campfire. They are generously sized, so if you go solo or in pairs, you may have a lot of leftovers.

You can easily head straight for the restaurant’s version of dongpo pork, one of the famous versions of the “red-braised” repertoire that turns everything in its path a bright red-brown. Pork belly softens while simmering in wine, soy sauce, spices, and sugar. Usually the meat is served over a steamed vegetable; Instead, WangJia combines pork into a trio with chewy squid and filamentous tea tree mushrooms. Every drink brings a new study of texture.

The lion’s head meatballs, another signature pork dish, come in their most classic form: a handful of large, raw orbs, the meat is minced but perfectly lush, covered in cabbage leaves and pickled. in a thick, thick sauce. Back, spicy increases the lightness of the dish significantly.

Among the soups, I was part of the rich, rich duck pho of duck pho with freshly cooked bamboo shoots. Another had a bowl full of sauerkraut and thin threads of lamb; star ingredients come together harmoniously in brightly colored bites, though the broth has less overall depth.

Yan du xian – a Shanghai staple of unpacked bacon and pork belly, greens and twisted tofu skins – appears on WangJia’s menu as the English name. “Shanghai salty pork soup”. It also has wan broth, and it reminds me of a richer, more upscale performance at Jiang Nan Spring, another Shanghainese specialist, five blocks away. That said, I like the pork dongpo at WangJia; Both places should be on the map for their best food.

Small crystalline shrimp sauteed with longjing – the highly prized nutritious plant-based green tea, also known as Dragonwell, whose leaves are plucked in the spring while they still have thin buds – are another regional necessity and very much appreciated. Hard to find in America. WangJia makes dishes except longjing. It may be said to be too subtle for some tastes. I like shrimp with almost no garnish, and I follow the instructions of my Chinese friends to eat portions of xian rou cai fan in small bowls after they finish their soup and dip the shrimp on top.

Crab with Shanghai Rice Cake at WangJia restaurant in San Gabriel.

For a mouthwatering, eye-catching finale, see the whole crab in a sauce that tastes great with crab eggs.

(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

For a mouthwatering, eye-catching finale, look at the whole crab, dissected and almost submerged in the wonderfully flavored sauce of crab eggs. Chao nian gao (thin, smooth, oval rice cakes) also slide around the bowl. You’ll eat half with chopsticks and half with your hands, gleefully dipping sauces everywhere; well worth asking for a tool to help with crabs.

I should probably tell you that the extensive menu includes an extensive section of Sichuan dishes. Luo’s son, Kevin Ma, mentioned a meal they had brought from previous restaurants in the space and said Asian customers regularly order the dish.

One of these days, I’ll go for the restaurant’s fish in hot chili oil, or pepper beef, or fried chicken with Sichuan peppercorns. There is a sentence in the book “Land of Fish and Rice”, authored by Fuschia Dunlop, a book about the cooking of Shanghai and surrounding provinces, which always resonates: “A good meal in Jiangnan should be left behind. gives a person a feeling of comfort and well-being.” That’s true for me at WangJia, and until I complete a quiz for Luo and Ma about their regional dishes that I haven’t tried, I’ll follow their suggestions.


800 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 872-0618, wangji

Price: Soup $11.99- $26.99; dumplings, noodles and fried rice $5.99- $14.99; most palatable dishes $11.99-$35.99.

Details: Open daily, 11am – 8:30pm No alcohol. Road and parking. Take out available.

Recommended dishes: Xian rou cai fan (on the menu it’s “salty rice with pork and vegetables”), crab with rice cake, stewed duck soup, stewed pork and squid with melaleuca mushrooms, lion’s head meatballs. In a dining galaxy of Sichuan delights, can a Shanghai star shine as bright?

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