I grew up knowing that I was on the very edge of Los Angeles. My proof was Colima Road, a stretch of smoggy two-way lanes dominated by Mandarin and Korean print, save the occassional taco truck and L.A.’s easternmost branch of Tommy’s. As the years have gone by, this and other satellites of Southern California’s original “Little Taipei” have only grown, making international eats in these ethnically rich suburbs more accessible than ever.
That said, it would be impossible for me to pay a visit to my hometown in San Gabriel Valley without indulging in its edible bounties, and I could think of no better destination than the Taiwanese breakfast table. While I’ve written about Shanghainese/Taiwanese breakfast in New York, the weekend trips that my Taiwanese American friends would make to places like Four Sea Restaurant were not etched into my appetite until now.
The mascot of this meal, you tiao, was done right here; our crisp, fluffy, dog-bone-shaped doughnuts lacked the slick of grease that comes with a regrettable plate of fried dough. Their true potential, though, was fulfilled in Four Sea’s fan tuan. Tender, chewy grains of sticky rice, scrunched, crispy-not-oily you tiao, and strongly flavored shreds of dried pork that moisten like meat-based cotton candy hit the elusive balance that makes any food greater than the sum of its parts – a good case for “perfect food” if I’ve ever tasted one. A dessert option, substituting powdered sugar for pork floss, was also available, though not quite as divine.
Savory lou bo gao (steamed and stir-fried radish cake), could have been a dense, starchy letdown, but Four Sea’s cooks delivered these cakes to us entirely crisp on the edges and just thick enough for us to enjoy their creamy consistency without chewing through a mouthful of radish paste.
Other staples of the Taiwanese breakfast menu were more of a mixed bag. Beef-filled shao bing (pancakes) were downright decadent in their flakiness, much more of a puff pastry than the more flat-bread-like renditions I’ve come to expect. The joint’s dan bing, even given a sloppy spatula flip that left the pancake-to-egg ratio severely lopsided, was a solid choice. Meat-and-veg-stuffed baozi (steamed buns) were comparatively lackluster, as was Four Sea’s xian dou jiang, a sloppy take on salty soy milk that muddled delicate flavors and textures into a mainly soggy soup.
The surprise hit of our breakfast feast was Four Sea’s “fried meat filled” pancake, a pork-and-chive pastry with impeccably alternating layers of crispy, chewy and tender dough. I admittedly have limited experience with the world of daikon-based hash brown patties, double-starch sandwiches and all-encompassing breakfast miracles like this pancake, but I can only dream of a world where morning meals get any better than this.
I suppose that world is Taipei, but until I can afford a flight to the hungry island, San Gabriel Valley will do just fine.
Four Sea Restaurant
2020 South Hacienda Boulevard
Hacienda Heights, CA 91745