There are some certainties one can always expect when living in Los Angeles. Traffic on the 101 is inevitable. Temps rarely go below 60. And if you’re looking for really good Chinese food, you head to the San Gabriel Valley.
When the Husband and I lived in Pasadena for a year, we took full advantage of our close proximity to Alhambra and San Gabriel. Driving down Los Robles Avenue with our stomachs grumbling, we’d watch the neighborhood shift as Los Robles turned into Atlantic Boulevard, eagerly hanging a left onto Valley Boulevard — our passport to a different country. A delicious country that is, where it rains boba tapioca pearls and the scent of savory xialongbao soupy dumplings fills the streets. Like China — without the population control and better internet access.
Though we now live closer to Chinatown, it’s still Alhambra/San Gabriel we head to for tasty Chinese and Vietnamese eats, now flying down the 10 (we go after traffic), eagerly awaiting the 10 or so minutes to the much-anticipated exits of New Avenue or Del Mar.
Frequently we head to 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra for a myriad of reasons. The most significant being its excellent offerings of beef roll and spicy beef noodles as well as its close proximity to a cheap bowling alley that is never crowded. (Luckily bowling is one of the few sports you take part in no matter how many dumplings are in your belly). Fans will gleefully note that 101 Noodle is on Jonathan Gold’s 99 essential restaurants of 2011 list.
Tired of dumplings? Eh, on noodles? Enter the beef roll. A delicious hybrid of Indian and Chinese flavors, 101 Noodle Express does it the best. Enveloped in a crispy fried pancake, sits a warm tender filling of cilantro and marinated beef slices waiting inside like a gift. So good. When it hits your lips.
Another favorite I must get here every time is the spicy beef noodle soup, which I’m sure has so much MSG (Dubu Downer) but I choose to ignore because it’s so delicious and flavorful (see aforementioned MSG).
The Husband gets his side dish of tendon while I silently gag, and I order my side of seaweed salad (yum!).
After we scrounge for bills in our wallet (cash only as only the best Asian places usually are), we stroll out content, pointedly ignoring the B rating on the wall (which I am now convinced stands for “beddy beddy good” in Asian restaurants).
It’s now time to get our bowl on.
Alhambra Bowling Center, like the neighborhood, can be a refreshing escape from the Lucky Strikes and Pinz in Hollywood or Studio City. Refreshing especially if you’re looking for a small town in the 1980′s. Here bowling is bare bones, with a grudging acceptance of disco or cyber bowling on the weekends (aka bowling with seizure-inducing lights and 90′s music). Balls are nicked, the lanes are in need of a good oiling, and the ambiance leaves much to be desired. But on the flip side, it’s two doors down from 101 Noodle, the staff is friendly and did I mention, it’s cheap to bowl here? What better way to attempt to burn off that delicious yet carbo-rrendous meal by ambling towards a bowling lane with your fingers jammed full of hope in a bowling ball? Plus there’s Galaga and pool afterwards if you’re so inclined.
Sadly, neither the Husband and I are extraordinarily gifted in the area of bowling, although we enjoy it immensely (far too much for people who are not very good at it, I am now realizing). In full disclosure, a good day for us would be a score in the 120-150 range, whereas a sad day would be in the 80 or 90s. That particular day was a sad one for the Husband and almost a good one for me.
However, as one should always remember — with beef roll in the belly, it’s always a good day.