There’s a small café in the eastern San Gabriel Valley devoted to durian, the spiky, notoriously malodorous fruit popular across southeast Asia. Easily one of the most polarizing foods, opinions on durian are rarely indifferent. Durian lovers praise the creamy, custard-like texture of what has been dubbed “The King of Fruits”, while others can’t even tolerate a whiff of its pungent aroma. At Puan Sri, which opened a few months ago in Rowland Heights, there’s a near single-minded focus on the fruit feels like peak SGV.
While it’s not difficult to find durian dessert items around L.A. and Orange County, even within the San Gabriel Valley, what sets Puan Sri apart is its emphasis on durian. The small cafe has 11 durian food items and 5 durian intensive drinks on a menu that, teas aside, doesn’t have the various options found at other SGV dessert specialists. There aren’t mango, coconut, or any other fruit dessert here — just durian.
This becomes readily apparent upon arriving in the small lot, as the aroma wafting from the café — despite closed doors — will let one know they’re at the right place. Inside, it’s olfactory overload.
Perhaps the most popular item is the durian layer cake (listed on the menu as “Durian Dessert”), topped with slivered almonds. There’s also durian mochi and durian cheesecake. The rest of the menu ranges from more familiar items seen elsewhere, such as pancake (filled crepes) and pudding, alongside the distinctive, such as raindrop cake, sawdust cup, and finally, pizza. The lone savory item, and sole durian entry on the snack portion of the menu, durian pizza is the most unique item. It’s also the most expensive item on the menu at $10.95. About that. Durian isn’t cheap. Most of the desserts are in the $7 to 8 range, while beverages run in the $5 to 6 range.
It also can be an adventure to get a pizza. Be prepared to either not get it, or wait a considerable amount of time for the kitchen to make dishes. Perhaps, it might even be better to call ahead, those there are many times the phone doesn’t even work. It’s something they’re reportedly trying to fix. If successful, a rough-hewn, sauceless pizza with slices of durian under mozzarella cheese will arrive. This isn’t artisanal pizza. It more than likely originated from a store-bought mix, and comes topped with grocery store mozzarella. But, it is durian pizza. The saltiness and milkiness of the cheese not only takes a bit of the edge off the durian, it compliments it. Somehow, it works.
The cafe features durian in the beverages as well. There’s the durian special, which pleasingly combines durian with sweetened red beans. There’s also durian coffee, a coffee flavored with the fruit (something also available at Fresh Roast). The recent trend of cheese foam-topped teas also shows up here, with durian milk covering black or green tea. A durian milk shake rounds up the drinks.
For those not wishing to double down on durian, there’s a good selection of fruit and milk teas that don’t involve the odoriferous fruit. Also, there are a couple of non-durian desserts and a selection of fairly standard tea house snack items like popcorn chicken, takoyaki, fries and Taiwanese sausage, providing options to those wishing for something else.
A word of caution. If seeking the pizza, be prepared to either be disappointed or have a lengthy wait. Try prime hours on Saturday, but that’s no guarantee. Just be flexible, patient, and relax.
Puan Sri Malaysian Durian Desserts, 18340 Colima Rd., Suite 1C, (626) 854-8818. (note: number may not work)