ALHAMBRA

Alhambra, positioned just south of Pasadena and eight miles east of the heart of downtown LA, is known as the “Gateway to the San Gabriel Valley” for very good reason. Because although the area of about 85,000 people is also known for things like its historical clusters of homes (any architectural buffs should take note! Craftsman, bungalow, Spanish Colonial, Mediterranean…Alhambra has it all), Alhambra is really the first stop in the San Gabriel Valley.

And the San Gabriel Valley (or SGV, as it’s widely called) is an area known for some of the best Asian eats in America. Chinatown and Little Tokyo? Those are great, but they occupy mere blocks within the city – the San Gabriel Valley spans about 200 square miles. That’s enough for an almost-never-ending MyBestLADay spinoff! Who wants to take the lead on MyBestSGVDay?! If you want an authentic Sunday morning dim sum experience, you head to the SGV. And beyond dim sum, you’ll find Korea tofu stews, Hunanese restaurants, Chinese dumpling houses, Taiwanese bakeries, Cantonese BBQ, and so, so much more. Alhambra boasts some mouth-watering Chinese food, but it really is just the beginning.

So come to Alhambra hungry. And remember to bring your keen sense of culinary adventure.

Stop 1: Bon Appetea Cafe

We didn’t know how badly we needed a basket of popcorn chicken and a thai tea boba until we walked through the doors of Bon Appetea Cafe. This cozy spot features a dizzying array of milk teas, flavored teas, yogurt drinks, and more. They manage to fuse aspects of a traditional Asian tea house with the hip factor of a modern coffeeshop, and they throw in some tasty snacks, too. The boba teas come in mason jars (cuz, duh) and are under $4. Our green tea with boba tasted a bit like perfume, but the thai tea was creamy and delicious.

Insider’s tip: order from the “Munchies” menu because the portions are huge. The popcorn chicken and the garlic fries are a must.

(7 South 2nd Street, Alhambra)

Stop 2: The Comic Cellar

Sorry comic geeks, we’re still not quite comic book fans – but! We recognize that like bookstores and record shops, comic book stores are becoming a rarity and we love searching out these special and sacred spaces. The guy behind the counter was extremely welcoming, and it was fantastic to see a few preteen girls wandering the aisles. A ton of new comics, but lots of stuff from the 80s too.

(135 W Main Street, Alhambra)

Stop 3: Olde Peking Antiques

Looking for a life-size Buddha statue for your apartment? Or a Chinese calligraphy set? Olde Peking Antiques has you covered. This place is a true gem – because, really. Where else are you going to find aisles and aisles of smiling Buddhas and detailed mah jongg game sets? There were a handful of children playing tag and screaming in Chinese when we were there (which made us slightly nervous next to the $1,000 handpainted vases), but the store was empty otherwise. We did admit aloud that we might not want to find ourselves in Olde Peking Antiques alone at night, but the shop truly has some beautiful and impressive pieces.

(225 E Main Street, Alhambra)

Stop 4: Chengdu Taste

You should probably just drop whatever it is you’re doing right now and head straight to Chengdu Taste. Really. It’s that good.

The restaurant has been on many “best of” lists in Los Angeles over the years, and the fiery hot cuisine is an absolute favorite of SGV residents and outsiders alike. We arrived mid-afternoon, and there were already about five groups of people waiting outside, although the 30-minute wait time we were quoted quickly dropped to about 10 minutes when we agreed to sit at a communal table (which was really much better, anyway. The Chinese man sitting across from us and wiping his forehead with a napkin kept exclaiming, “We are impressed! We didn’t think you girls could have such spicy food!”)

The tune are great (Rod Stewart, Kelly Clarkson, Madonna), and the food is even better. We ordered the dan dan mian, the cold noodles with garlic sauce, the Farmer’s Style Thin Sliced Pork (our waiter’s favorite) and the green beans. We panted, we sweat, we drank a whole lot of water – but it was oh so good. Not to be missed.

(828 W Valley Boulevard, Alhambra)

Stop 5: Almansor Park

This decently-sized park is rather charming – ducks toddling around, teenagers playing basketball, families enjoying picnics in the grass. It’s a welcome respite in Alhambra, where shopping centers are the norm and green spaces are few and far between. The pace feels slower and the air a little fresher. Come here to digest (or burn off!) all that delicious food you’ve been eating.

(800 S Almansor Street, Alhambra)

Stop 6: M Juicery & Creamery

Nothing makes us happier than ice cream. NOTHING. So when we heard that M Juicery & Creamery serves an ice cream flight, we hightailed it over to this innovative shop right off Main Street in the center of town.

The flight features six mini-cones, and we sampled the Vietnamese Coffee, Rum Cran Raisin, Red Velvet Oreo, Thai Tea, Vanilla Cardamom and Caramel Apple Cider. Holy cow, pure joy! Our favorites were the Rum Cran Raisin and the Thai Tea, but we’ll probably just have to come back to make sure.

(19 S Garfield Ave, Alhambra)

Stop 7: Hot Red Bus

Since one of us was born in London, and the other one grew up being forced to try strange British dishes (bangers and mash, ploughman’s sandwiches, Toad in the Hole), Hot Red Bus was a stop that made a whole lot of sense.

This chippy shop (as fish & chip restaurants are called in England) offers an Indian twist on a British classic – we ordered the Cod and Chips, the Doner Wrap (with vindaloo sauce), the Swai and Chips, and the Ploughman’s Lunch. The fish and chips were the decided winners of the group, with buttery fish and perfectly crisp french fries. We were a little disappointed that beverage options were limited to Bud Lite and Stella Artois – as the guy behind the counter said in a thick accent, “We brush our teeth with Stella back home.” Word on the street is that they are revamping the menu to include more Indian dishes (huzzah!)

We didn’t hear an exclamation of “Gaw blimey!” but we sincerely appreciated this slice of England in the SGV.

(31 E Main Street, Alhambra)

The Details:

A map of our day looks like this:

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