Jen: It’s an incontrovertible fact: to get excellent Chinese food you have to go outside city limits and head to Alhambra, San Gabriel Valley, Monterey Park, Rosemead, El Monte or something very east side. Even Chinatown/Downtown doesn’t cut it anymore, as evidenced by the recent closure of dim-sum behemoth Empress Pavilion after 25 years in business. But, if you are unwilling to drive east and will settle for decent Chinese food, then ROC Kitchen in the Asian-enclave of Sawtelle, West Los Angeles is the long awaited answer.
ROC stands for Republic of China, as in Taiwan, and the restaurant specializes in xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings. I haven’t counted to see if their xiaolongbao bear the requisite 18-folds, as demonstrated here by Tom Cruise at Din Tai Fung, the gold standard for soup dumplings the world over, but the dumpling dough is definitely delicate and translucent yet strong enough to withstand the piercing of a novice chopsticks-user—not me, of course, but my gui-lo dining companions ;).
They have 6 or so varieties of soup dumplings on the menu, but I would recommend going simple and ordering the pork. Their panfried dumplings are a little dainty for my taste, but, still, I order them. The crab fried rice is very flavorful (I think it’s the addition of white pepper, which instantly makes anything taste Chinese) and the stir-fry veggies such as bok choy, Chinese spinach (空心菜; kong xin cai–literally meaning empty heart vegetable), shishito peppers and pea shoots are a great accompaniment to the meaty dumplings. The scallion pancake is oily and crunchy, as it should be, but it’s also a little thin and therefore not as satiating as the traditional versions you may find at east side Chinese restaurants or even in the freezer section at the Asian markets. I respect ROC for making the dough in house, though.
I’ve been here at least 6 or 7 times in the last few months—not because it’s that amazing, but it does satisfy my yearning for good Chinese food until my next trip to to San Gabriel Valley. If you find yourself in the SGV, remember to avoid the A-grade restaurants and go for B or even better yet, “C for Chinese“!
David: I’ll defer to Jen and so should you on the legitimacy of this place (she’s Chinese). I grew up on mostly Americanized Chinese food like General Tsao’s chicken so i won’t claim to be an expert.
Here’s what they have going for them. They really are the only good Chinese outside of Monterey Park or Alhambra and for that reason alone it’s worth going. Much like the deli in LA, the Chinese food in this town leaves much to be desired.
Start your meal with a scallion pancake. Crispy on the outside and doughy on the inside, this is one of the best things on the menu.
Try a few orders of the soup dumplings. Not sure if they are the perfect 18 folds like the ones at Din Tai Fung but they’re soupy and have a generous portion of shrimp, pork, lobster or combination of each depending on what you order. They come 8 per order and make sure you eat ‘em hot, they are kinda gross once they cool down.
Get: scallion pancake, soup dumplings, pork panfried dumplings, crab fried rice, chicken & rice cakes, red bean dumplings (for dessert).
Skip: any vegetable (why bother? It’s not healthy anyways and just takes up space on the table), steamed pork buns, popcorn chicken.
It’s way pricier than anything in the SGV but it’s convenient for those of who would rather not make the trek (especially on a weekday). It’s great for a craving but be prepared to pay about double what you would out there. I’ll be back on numerous occasions I’m sure. I like Chinese ;)