Jonathan Gold | Los Angeles Times — My first restaurant column for The Times, written when I was still a music writer who answered his phone “Guns N’ Rosesdesk,” was about the concept of single-dish restaurants, places like Lawry’s, Shiro and Philippe, whose menus may be as long as a remix of “November Rain” but which might as well serve just the one thing they are famous for. I was writing then about El Parian in the Pico-Union district, still the best place to go in Los Angeles for a bowl of Jalisco-style birria, but the single-dish principle is universal. As a waiter at the original Palm was once reported to have said, “Sure, I’ll bring you a menu. But first, tell me how you’d like us to cook your steak.”
The Asian swath of the San Gabriel Valley is, of course, a hotbed of single-dish restaurants, from the spicy fried lobster at Tan Cang Newport Seafood to the Beijing duck at Beijing Duck House, the spring rolls at Golden Deli and the roast catfish at Phong Dinh. Din Tai Fung in Arcadia is where you go for xiao long bao, soup dumplings, although the menu lists dozens of other things; 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra is where you go for flaky, crunchy beef rolls, although it opened as a restaurant dedicated to the cult of De Zhou chicken, a famous dish from Shandong.
Hui Tou Xiang Noodles House is a tiny new restaurant in a San Gabriel mini-mall, a few steps from the only restaurant in town serving a proper version of Nanking duck, and right next to Luscious Dumplings, an insanely popular noodle shop beloved for its crusty pan-fried dumplings. In the first months of Hui Tou Xiang, it was not unusual to experience a 45-minute wait at the established restaurant while the newer place sat empty. The first time I visited Hui Tou Xiang, tipped off by blogger Louise Yang, at least three people asked me if I’d wandered in by mistake; whether I had just given up on the line next door….