The Atomic Spice bomb cuisine at San Gabriel’s Yunnan Garden

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Are your taste buds resistant to hot, spicy food? Do you love offals? Well, my friends, the food at Yunnan Garden is the place for you. Bring your own fire extinguisher and Ruth Bourdain, because a glass of ice cold water or a cold shower is not going to extinguish you at this place!  
Last year, I spent most of my dining excursions eating my way through Los Angeles’ Koreatown trying many wonderful delicacies like Spicy Crab Soup at On Dal 2 and Bossam at Koobawoo House. I think for year 2012, I’m heading back to the San Gabriel Valley to spend my time reacquainting myself to all the wonderful Chinese and Taiwanese restaurants that seem to be setting the pace for the Foodie adventures in the Los Angeles area.  Oh yes, from what I’ve observed for past 12-month, the restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley are becoming more interesting by the second. The trend for exotic food in the Los Angeles area is like the wine craze that has hit the newly middle class and upper middle class Chinese. Once you have your taste for it, all you want is more of it. Dig!
image#98 Lamb witth Cumin and #31 Cubed Goat in Hot Pot CNN’s Derrick Chang best describes China’s spiciest cuisine regions in his web article 10 of China’s Spiciest Dishes, “China has numerous regional cuisines but the spiciest dishes are from Sichuan, Hunan, Chongqing, Guizhou, and Yunnan.”   In Southern California specifically the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles, where there is a high congregation of Chinese immigrants, you’ll find many restaurants that specializes in cuisines from the spicy hot cuisine regions of China. One such interesting place is Yunnan Garden where the cuisine is from the Yunnan region of China. New Year’s Day 2012 was my first dining experience Yunnan Garden. I found each dish incredibly flavorful with floral aromatics, garlic, lots of dried red hot chillies and red chili oil. 
Every dish at Yunnan Garden had atomic levels of spicy heat that would make you make your skin color pink for about two and half hours. If the mounds of dried red chilies were numbing your taste buds; some 5 seconds later, the red chili oils and fresh chilies would creep up on you too by adding the tingling sensation at the tips of your ears. It’s a good thing that I’m pretty resistant to spicy food as I grew up eating all types of chilies as if they were popcorn. (I blame my high school best friends for our weekly chili eating contests.) So, no temporary color changes or burning tingling sensations for me. Sorry to disappoint you folks. 
Yunnan Gardens’s menu is heavy on beef, chicken, lamb, goat, and pork. It’s a haven for Carnivores so leave your Vegetarian and Pescatarian friends at home to complain all by themselves. About every dish that I tried had an 7-alarm rating on the Richter scale of spicy heat. Unfortunately, I was dining with a group of diners so I couldn’t tell the manager that I wanted a “mind blowing” 10 to 12-Richter scaled spicy heat instead. My amusement for the evening was watching a few people at my table complain about one simple green chili and then watch them cry their eyes out. Actually they cried their eyes out for all the wonderfully, eclectic dishes that we ate.  Among the other dishes to try at Yunnan Garden is the #31 Cubed Goat in Hot Pot and a stir fried #39 Chungking Fried Chicken Cubes with Hot Pepper is wok tossed with dried red chili flakes (pictured below). This dish would be the perfect accompaniment with a cold beer and a football game. 

image#36 Chungking Fried Chicken Cubes with Hot Pepper. 

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Got a liking for Offals? Yunnan Garden is also heavy on the offal selections from their cold deli. They have a magnificent variety of offals and obscure Asian vegetables dishes that I’ve ever seen from of all the restaurants that I’ve dined at in the San Gabriel Valley. I think they literally have every offal imaginable and its spicy version too. Care for beef tongue? Yes, they have it and a spicy version too. They also serve pig ears, tripe, sliced beef heart, and a Dim Sum classic, Chicken Feet. They also carried spicy chicken feet. My favorite was the awesome Deep Fried Duck Neck delicacy that I happily nibbled in delight. Obscure vegetable delicacies like Spicy Bitter Melon and Lotus Root were also among the items in the cold deli menu. I think my future return visit to Yunnan Garden will involve tasting the Lotus Root, more garlicky seaweed, Spicy Intestines, and the Spicy Beef Tongue. Four selections from the cold deli costs a whopping $4.00. That’s pretty inexpensive for exotic delicacies, don’t ya think? 

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All of the menu specialties were either stews or stir frys. I fancied the #98 Lamb with Cumin, which was out of this world. I would not have guessed that it was a lamb dish if no one told me that it was. Another one of my favorite dishes was the #49 Fat Pork Slices with Garlic (pictured above); a dish of boiled pork belly (thinly sliced like bacon), fresh garlic, and drowned in red chili sauce that would frighten any vampires back into hibernation or hex you on Valentine’s Day. The spicy heat did not over power the tender pork belly, but the fresh garlic did. It was a happy marriage.  

imageFish with Tofu was a remarkably great seafood dish that I had on my return visit.Hopefully the photos and descriptions provided in my blog post will help you place your order when you dine at Yunnan Garden. The surprising news about this dining establishment is that they do take credit cards whereas most other Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley area are Cash Only.  No reservations is required at Yunnan Garden; it’s first come first served seating. Group dining of more than 10 people is not recommended unless you want to be separated into two tables. Service is friendly yet slow sometimes. Oh, and expect a language barrier when you order. Happy dining!

Yunnan Garden
545 W. Las Tunas Drive
San Gabriel, CA 91775
626-308-1896