Welcome to Dining On A Dime a feature in which Eater surveys LA's cheap eats—often obscure, ethnic, unsung restaurants—proving that dining on a dime is alive, well, and quite tasty in this here city. Where do you want us to go next? Do share.
Fortune Number 1 is a relative newcomer to the carbohydrate loaded San Gabriel Valley. Current ownership took over the space without much fanfare after it floundered under several other guises. The menu, as conceived by cherubic owner Lin and her sister, is decidedly Tianjinese. Don't expect rice dishes here, don't look for dimsum; gluttony by flour — be it corn, mung bean, or wheat — is the only choice.
Be forewarned, Fortune Number 1 is a dive through and through: service is minimal, the menu is a sheet of copy paper, decor is evocative of... well, China. What makes Fortune No. 1 (as the signage proclaims) even more insufferable is the prolonged wait associated with every visit. Dumpling wrappers are freshly hand rolled, baos are stuffed when ordered. Adding ten minutes in the steamers and the cavalier bussing speed, the wait often stretches into 30 minutes, an eternity by SGV standards. Yet the people stay. Some call in only to arrive later and find their phone order ticket non-existent. Yet they wait some more. What attracts the customers are the anonymous pairs of skillful hands, both female and male, constantly churning out over a dozen variety fluffy baos and over half a dozen variety of jiaozi (dumpling).
The haphazard team behind the plexiglass mocks pasta machines and Hobarts. Each dumpling maker, with 1800 years of dumpling-making knowledge behind her, forges silently ahead at their station, having been skipped by Henry Ford and the Industrial Revolution. Dumplings ($6 for 10) and baos ($7 to $8 for 10) here are thicker, heartier, slower, and cheaper because they're produced, and subsidized, by imported Chinese manual labor.
The diners are 99% Northern Chinese, no matter 7 a.m. or 7 p.m. You won't be the whitest person in the room if you visit, you will be the only non-Chinese in the room. Din Tai Fing, this isn't. Ordering could be challenging as the menu, if and when you're given one, is full of English nonsense. There is no pictorial assist, and items may be 86ed (like #7 "bread stick") without rhyme or reason. This place could be a nightmare.
Thankfully, the piping hot baos, available in lamb, beef, and vegetarian "Stone Door" variety, are wondrous and filling. It's nearly impossible for one person to consume eight baos. To stave off hunger during the aforementioned wait, break away from the norm and order the #56 pan-fried chive hot pockets which are mis-translated as "dumplings." If you've previously enjoyed chive pockets (think: vegetarian turnovers), these ungreasy pockets of vegetarian funk will still be revelational. If you haven't, these turnovers with plentiful dried shrimp are the $3 flavor bombs previously unimaginable.
Breakfast may be an odd affair as the entire menu is savory. The #14 (untranslated) item of ploughman bread stuffed with egg is a 10-inches wide, layered bread smeared with sweet bean paste, then quartered. This unwieldly $2.50 monstrocity, coupled with a bowl of $1 soybean milk, produces a $3.50 breakfast substantive enough for a farmer. The house breakfast dish is #4 to #7, all mis-translated as "bread sticks," formally known as "jian bing guo zi." These are mung bean crepes large as dosas, griddled with beaten eggs, and repeatedly folded into manageable molehills. Though the mung bean crepe originated in Tianjin, kids all over Northern China can be found stopping at crepe stands for a folded crepe en route to class.
Pro tips: The rear parking lot adjoins the Lincoln hotel. There is an entrance to said lot off of both Lincoln and Garfield. Use the rear sign featured Below as to not walk into the wrong restaurant (or ginseng shop). Also, act innocently upon arrival and the restaurant could be BYOB.
·All Dining on a Dime in The SGV Coverage [~ELA~]