February 28, 2013

Mama's Lu Dumpling House

If you're in LA and you're craving a tasty soup dumpling, you go the San Gabriel Valley (aka - SGV).  There's no rhyme or reason to it... other than the fact that there are approx. 500,000 Asian-Americans living in the SGV, most of whom are Chinese.  Assuming that these Chinese-Americans can serve up some authentic Chinese cuisine (a fair assumption), to SGV you go!  So with those expectations at heart, I found myself at Mama's Lu Dumpling House in Monterey Park.

Fancy-lookin' menu.

Complimentary salted peanuts and sweet cucumber slices.

Shanghai Rice Cakes -- $6.99

Shanghai Rice Cakes are a staple to Shanghai cuisine. Comprised of rice cake discs -- same as those used in Korean dduk gook -- sauteed in a sugar and soy sauce, the dish also features stir-fried strips of pork, red onions, cabbage, carrots, and scallions.  The sauced rice cakes give off a smoky flavor that enjoyable, but too much might be salt-overload. 

Kong Xin Tsai ("Hollow Heart" vegetable, aka - water spinach) -- $5.99

Sauteed, but still crispy due to its hollowness, these greens aren't anything special, but it's always important to eat veggies!  Balancing all the carbs with some leafy greens is a plus.

Fried Fish in Seaweed Batter w/ salt and lemon -- $6.99

These funny-looking things are fried fish filets, enveloped in a fried greasy batter of flour and seaweed.  They look more interesting than they taste, and you certainly don't need to dip them in the salt that comes with the dish.

Spicy Pork Wontons (10) -- $4.99

For "Spicy Wontons," these aren't very spicy at all (at least for my palate, which might not be saying much given my very high tolerance for spicy foods).  The filling inside is a standard pork filling, but there are various red spices and sesame oil and scallions drizzled on top which gives it a kick of heat.  Spicier would've been better.

Beef Wraps (6 pieces) -- $5.99

If I were ever to return to Mama's Lu, which I will, I'll probably just order the beef rolls and the pork dumplings.  Not that the other items weren't tasty, but the beef rolls (in all of its greasy glory) and the juicy, plump dumplings (also, in all of its greasy glory) were the two dishes that really hit the spot for me.

The beef roll is essentially marinated beef pieces, cucumber, scallion, and cilantro wrapped up in a thin, pancake-like piece of fried dough.  Beef in fried dough is really hard to mess up.  Let's be real, it's delicious! (And probably ridiculously horrible for you, but let's focus on the deliciousness factor for now... and forever).

Xiao Long Bao (10) -- steamed pork soup dumplings -- $5.50

We ordered 4 trays... 40 XLBs!
And now... unto the main event of our trip to Mama's Lu... the xiao long bao (XLB)!
The pork XLBs are small, kind of lop-sided, and wrapped in a thin wrapper, but each pocket of steamed goodness still retains a lot of moisture and juiciness.  Dip it in some vinegar with shredded ginger and pop 'em in your mouth.  If you want a lesser likelihood of burning your tongue, bite off the top part of the dumpling to let the steam flow out before eating.  

Compared to the XLB from the infamous Din Tai Fung, which, for better or for worse, is probably the default standard for all XLB in the SGV, the XLB at Mama's Lu is not only cheaper (priced at least $2 less), but just as juicy and tasty!  For a cheaper price and a less hectic/ better eating atmosphere, I'd go to Mama's Lu over Din Tai Fung. 

All the above-pictured food fed seven hungry folks and only cost each person $10!  What a steal!  So go get dumpling happy to Mama's Lu! Or is it supposed to be Mama Lu's -- we may never know...

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Mama's Lu Dumpling House on Urbanspoon

cuisine: Chinese
location: Monterey Park (there are two different locations)
hours: Closed Wed, all other days: 10:30-3PM and 5PM-9PM
website: { yelp }
parking: street or parking in rear lot (2 hours free)
attire: Casual
notes: Bring cash; they accept credit cards, but $20 minimum charge.  No reservations; first come, first served.  Your entire party must be present before being seated.  Don't worry if you don't have a Mandarin-speaking friend with you.  Some of the servers speaking English and the menu has photos so the point-and-smile method of ordering works just fine!