Originally posted on KCET. See the full piece + more photos here.
The city of Los Angeles becomes a ghost town when Christmas Day hits. Everyone is with family, Christmas grocery shopping is long done, and the day is spent gorging on food, egg nog, and Christmas cookies.
But if you drive over east into the San Gabriel Valley, you wouldn’t even be able to tell it’s a holiday. Almost everything is open.
In fact, as I was doing my research for this article, restaurateurs sounded offended I would assume otherwise. Chinese restaurants have a tendency to be open year round, with the exception of Chinese New Year.
Christmas at a Chinese restaurant has become something of a tradition among Americans who don’t much care about Christmas. But of course, none of us would turn up our nose at an excuse to feast! Picking a holiday-appropriate Chinese options in the San Gabriel Valley is difficult. There are hundreds of them and most of them will be open on Christmas Eve and Day, but we’ve narrowed it down and picked some restaurants that are a little bit fancier than the mom-and-pop joints.
A Cantonese Banquet
Banquet-style restaurants are probably your best bet if you’re looking to plan a family-centric affair. Most of these are Cantonese-style, with seafood in abundance. You can reserve your own room and order from a pre-set menu that can go up to twelve courses. Food is served on a Lazy Susan and the offerings are relatively standard across the board: a whole fish, a soup, fried rice, and a roasted poultry (duck if you’re feeling fancy). The price can rack up in the thousands for a group of ten including tax and tip. All dim sum places have a banquet menu. See our picks here. But for a more modestly priced option, try Mission 261 in San Gabriel. Dim sum is available in the morning to afternoon, but if you’re adamant on dinner, they have a banquet menu ranging from $228 to $398 for a table of ten. That includes nine family-style courses with a wide variety of land and sea options including Peking duck, lobster, crab, and plenty of fish. 261 S Mission Dr, San Gabriel, CA 91776.
Peking duck is a celebratory dish that’s usually ordered for special occasions. Call ahead of time, because the duck takes a couple hours to prep. Our favorite place for it is Duck House in Monterey Park. There are three different price levels; the cheapest ($35.95) will get you a soup, duck, thin flour pancakes, scallion and cucumber garnish, and a sweet and salty bean spread. Great for families. 501 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754
To the dismay of soup dumpling aficionados, Din Tai Fung is closed on Christmas Day. Thankfully, Wang Xing Ji is open. They’re a soup dumpling specialist and have a massive soup dumpling the size of a saucer. A straw is actually required to suck the soup out. They also have their fair share of dessert dumplings. Our favorite version is stuffed with red bean. 140 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776.
If you want to go light on the meat, try a Chinese vegetarian restaurant. The great thing about these places is that their food looks and tastes like meat. Our pick is Vege Paradise in San Gabriel. It has a basic Chinese and Taiwanese menu oriented toward family-style meals. Meat slices are crafted out of wheat gluten, and the chicken has the same mouthfeel as regular poultry. There’s also faux kidney and liver for those who are too squeamish to try the real thing. 140 W Valley Blvd #222, San Gabriel, CA 91776.
Most Taiwanese-style restaurants in Los Angeles serve their food xiao chi (or small plates) style. This is great for lunch, but can be a tad bit too casual for a festive holiday event. But if you’re still adamant on Taiwanese food, give Cafe Fusion a whirl. The prices are a bit steep but you get what you pay for. The chef has a farm-to-table approach. Our suggestions: the buttery black cod, the lobster salad, and the baked milkfish. This place isn’t a fusion restaurant at all. It’s pure Taiwanese. 510 E. Live Oak Ave., Arcadia, CA 91006.