There's a grab bag of regional specialties from Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing at this Arcadia restaurant.
China Red has been around for a year already as a dim sum by day, seafood by night establishment located on Baldwin Avenue in Arcadia. Fun fact: the building has changed hands a total of seven times in the last 14 years, according to Chandavkl. And the majority of past tenants have had the same seafood-minded focus as China Red.
What's in the Name
While restaurants like such are all over the map in the San Gabriel Valley, China Red has especially been rising in popularity among the Chinese community in Los Angeles — attracting a solid crowd for dim sum and a growing interest in their dinner menu.
Rumor has it that one of their current chefs came from Shanghai No. 1, a banquet-style restaurant in San Gabriel with a similar concept. "The owner really likes the color red," manager Cliff Li joked, when we asked him how the establishment got its name. "But in actuality, the name is inspired by a really well-loved restaurant in China also named China Red."
Li, who is a Hong Kong native, says that Red is really a Chinese fusion restaurant. They’re not just limited to Cantonese specials. "There’s a mix of Beijing, Shanghainese, and Cantonese influences. We have chefs from all over," he said. Dim sum is straightforward, but the dinner menu can get a little bit archaic. So Eater interviewed Li and got his top five picks for what people should order when they first come to China Red:
1) House Special Lobster
The lobster can be served in ten different ways, but Li recommends the House Special variety, which is prepared in a traditional Cantonese method. The crustacean is cooked in a wok filled with aromatics and sauces. "It’s served with peanuts for extra texture," he said. "The price and serving size depends on how many people in your party."
2) Pan-fried Croaker with Sweet and Sour Sauce
The Chinese for this is songzi yu, which translates to pine nut fish. It’s the presentation that really sets it apart: the flesh is carved out like an elaborate sculpture and then painted a bright-orange hue with a sweet and sour sauce. This isn’t unique to China Red — Cantonese cooks have been making songzi yu for centuries.
The fish is meant to look like a squirrel
It’s adapted from a dish called Squirrel Fish, which originates in the city of Suzhou. Legend has it that it was first prepared for Emperor Qianlong and the chef, knowing it was the emperor’s order, made the presentation as elaborate as he could. The fish is meant to look like a squirrel, with the spikes representing the fur on the animal. Today, it's the signature culinary attraction of Suzhou.
3) Steamed Garlic Clams and Vermicelli in Clay Pot
This dish is very light, but flavorful enough to be a highlight. The clams are infused with garlic oil, a bit of rice wine and soy sauce, and then steamed over a bed of vermicelli noodles. "This is good for four people," Li said.
4) Baked Salty Chicken in Traditional Style
"This is a very special dish," Li said. "We take a whole chicken, rub it with salt, and then bake it." The chicken is a Hakka specialty that originated in the city of Huizhou during the Qing Dynasty. How it works: the chicken is rubbed with a generous amount of salt and stuffed with ginger and more salt. It’s wrapped in a tissue paper, sealed, and then baked over a pile of sea salt.
Geoduck, which is pronounced "gooey-duck," is a seafood delicacy that’s actually native to North America. It’s a colossal clam that resembles an elephant trunk. It’s also strangely phallic, which is why it’s considered an aphrodisiac in Chinese culture.
It’s also strangely phallic, which is why it’s considered an aphrodisiac in Chinese culture.
The shellfish is highly prized in China and is imported in from the West. Earlier this year, shipments of the product were banned in China for five months, with officials citing alleged contamination of the shellfish. Contamination fears have since been subdued, and at China Red, you can order the clam cooked and served in various ways: raw, stir-fried, or in soup.
855 South Baldwin Avenue
Arcadia, CA 91007
Photographer: Wonho Frank Lee