Pan-roasted fish restaurants have been popping up over the past year or so in the San Gabriel Valley, with five or six specifically focusing on the dish on their menus. While there’s nothing new about pan-roasted fish being served in the SGV, the Chinese specialty has been elevated to the point of emphasis at a number of places, making it one of the hottest new dishes in LA.
The players in this surge are Sichuan Kungfu Fish, a China-based chain located at Westfield Santa Anita mall; cat-themed Miao Miao Xian; Liu Roast Fish, and Temple City’s Miss Feeling, which was the first of the pan-roasted fish-specific restaurants to open.
Some area restaurants have been serving pan-roasted fish for years. Spicy roast fish has long been on the menu at Beijing Restaurant, and it was a signature dish at the defunct Bamboo Creek. What’s different about this recent boom is that these new restaurants specifically focus on the dish, pushing it to the forefront while providing a broader range of flavors and fish. Instead of being limited to easy-to-find tilapia or carp, this new wave of restaurants count varieties like catfish, swai, black cod, and red grouper among their options.
Jack Wang, an assistant at Miao Miao Xian, provided some background on the dish. On the popularity of pan-roasted fish restaurants in China, he replied that the trend mostly started in Sichuan province, adding, “[The dish] boomed in China around six years ago, with chain restaurants opening.” In the years since, it has somewhat leveled off, or as Wang says, “It’s stable now, it doesn’t have the hype anymore — not like boba or hot pot.” When asked why he thought more places in the SGV were serving pan-roasted fish, Wang was blunt in his assessment: “Grilled fish is easy to make.”
Through an interpreter, Sichuan Kungfu Fish manager Andrea Zhong says the dish is popular in China, with the simple statement that “Chinese people like spicy food.” Sichuan Kungfu Fish has more than 50 locations worldwide, with the Arcadia outlet being their first in the U.S.
Though there’s already a ton of spice-focused restaurants in the SGV, diners overwhelmingly tend to prefer Sichuan’s intense flavors. While pan-roasted fish is the prime focus, there are shellfish options, as well as options for the non-seafood inclined, including appetizers like spicy chicken feet, garlic cucumbers or mung bean jelly noodles. In addition, Miao Miao Xian serves Instagram-friendly zebra-striped shrimp dumplings and green-skinned fish dumplings. And to pair with beer and wine, skewers often round out of the menu at these pan-roasted fish specialists.
The ordering approach is fairly simple: Select a fish (swai, black cod and catfish being the most common), pick a sauce/broth/topping, then add vegetables, other meats, shellfish, noodles, or tofu. The flavorings, add-ins, and fish selection varies from restaurant to restaurant.
For example, Miss Feeling and Miao Miao Xian like to feature red grouper as their fish of choice, while Miss Feeling boasts a distinctive spicy lychee/pineapple topping. Of the fishes, red grouper is a flaky fish that stays moist, with a flavor described as falling between bass and halibut. In the meantime, black cod (which isn’t a cod at all), is a flaky deep sea fish with a smooth, almost buttery flavor.
Don’t expect pan-roasted fish to make for a cheap dinner. It’s tailored for groups, and perhaps in some cases, those with expense accounts. Restaurants charge for the fish by the pound, obviously making larger fish more costly. Add-ins and sides can add up quickly, and a couple of the restaurants charge separately for toppings. The choice of fish also plays a large part as well, with swai usually being the cheapest option and black cod sitting on the higher end.
An exception to this is Sichuan Kungfu Fish, which serves smaller portions of swai or sea cod filets, as well as yellow croaker, instead of more expensive whole fish, making the entry price a little more approachable. The choice of fish at Liu is limited to catfish and black cod. Among general restaurants that don’t specifically focus on pan-roasted fish, Beijing Restaurant, Beijing Tasty House, and Alhambra’s Bistro Xia’s also serve roast fish, though they’re limited to one or two types of fish, including tilapia.
In keeping with a communal, night out atmosphere, Miss Feeling and Miao Miao Xian in Monterey Park have live music, while Miao Miao Xian’s Rowland Heights location also offers separate karaoke rooms on site for post-meal revelries. Aside from Sichuan Kungfu Fish, all are open until at least midnight, and Miss Feeling is only open for dinner/late night. This new wave of pan-roasted fish specialists also marks further evolution in the SGV dining scene from an emphasis on regionally specific restaurants to a focus on individual dishes with a broader appeal. Just be ready to shell out a bit more money for the luxury of eating whole fish sitting in a bath of chile-tinted broth.
Sichuan Kungfu Fish. 400 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, CA
Miao Miao Xian. 220 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park, CA
18888 Labin Ct., Suite B-109, Rowland Heights, CA
Liu Roast Fish. 227 W. Valley Blvd., Suite 128, San Gabriel, CA
18207 Gale Ave., City of Industry, CA
Miss Feeling. 9619 Las Tunas Dr., Temple City, CA
- All SGV Coverage [ELA]