In the midst of an endless horizon of tract homes as far as you can see in all directions lies a single, tiny strip mall. It is so tiny that if you weren’t paying attention to the right while driving, you would’ve easily missed it. Within that tiny strip mall sits a small, unassuming restaurant called Cindy’s Kitchen.
Cindy’s Kitchen is a total hole-in-the-wall (clean, but tiny), with only 6 tables and lots of refrigerated cases. At first glance, you might think that it’s just the typical “Lu Wei / Hsiao Tsai” (Stewed / Little Dishes) (translated by my Taiwanese friend) offerings found in various Chinese restaurants around the San Gabriel Valley, until you start to lose count of how many choices there are. In the end, Cindy’s Kitchen offers 31(!) different types of Housemade Chilled Stewed / Little Dishes, and they are generally fantastic!
We found our way to Cindy’s Kitchen months ago, thanks to @ipsedixit’s rather innocuous comment about Cindy’s Kitchen being a place to try Zha Jiang Mian (Noodles with Soybean Paste). Thanks to one of our Taiwanese friends translating, she found out that the maestro behind the stoves is Chef Ling, who hails from Taiwan and has been cooking over there for years before moving to the U.S. During our 1st visit we started with:
2 Item Appetizer: Seaweed Salad + Spicy Pig Ears:
The Seaweed Salad was refreshing. Cool, vibrant, lightly sweet and vinegary with umami of course, it was a nice way to start the meal.
The Spicy Pig Ears were quite tasty as well. I love the Chinese way of cooking Pig Ears (usually as a chilled starter from what we’ve seen locally), there’s a slight crunch from the cartilage, a nice bit of porkiness, and only lightly spicy from the Chili Oil.
Zha Jiang Mian - Soybean Dry Noodles:
For those that remember, Cindy’s Kitchen turned out our hands down favorite version of Zha Jiang Mian (Noodles with Soybean Paste) during the Zha Jiang Mian Journey.
Cindy’s Kitchen’s version is a Taiwanese-style Zha Jiang Mian. They don’t make their Noodles in-house (bummer), but their aforementioned Appetizers and Dumplings are all made from scratch in-house.
Regardless, the bowl arrives, and it is seriously the biggest bowl we’ve ever seen for a Chinese Noodle dish, LOL! However, it’s really smart and effective as well: It allows you to properly mix and stir the ingredients together.
Mixing it all together…
We marveled for a second on how glorious it all looked: The nice balance and sheen from the Cindy’s Soybean Sauce, the finely chopped Ground Pork, bits of Firm Tofu, the veggies. Just look at the pic (above).
Taking a bite…
You have this bite of perfectly seasoned Ground Pork (finely chopped), with enough of the Firm Marinated Tofu (also finely chopped) with little bits of Bean Sprouts, Cucumber slivers, combined with just cooked through Thin Noodles.
It is WONDERFUL!
While they don’t make their Noodles by hand, what Cindy’s serves is sufficient. It doesn’t distract from the bowl, and serves as a good base. But it’s the finely chopped ingredients, the right balance of seasonings and Soybean Paste and the right size for each of the components (Pork, Tofu, Cucumbers, Bean Sprouts) that really made this the most satisfying bowl of Zha Jiang Mian we had on this journey. Just deliciousness personified!
We were so blown away by this seemingly simple dish, we couldn’t wait to come back.
We knew we wanted to try more of their enticing looking Stewed / Little Appetizers from the case.
The perfect way to cool off from the Summer heat, Cindy’s version of Chilled Cucumber Salad is snappy, crisp, cool and lightly garlicky.
Here’s an example of the English translated menu item that belies how great this dish is: Any pre-conceived notions you might have about “Tofu” should be thrown out the window. I have no idea how Chef Ling does it, but this semi-firm (but still tender) Tofu is marinated in a fragrant Spicy Sauce that elevates this beyond anything I could have imagined.
It is SO TASTY! Must order!
Pickled Bamboo Shoots:
We might as well stop now and just say that Cindy’s Chilled Appetizers already blows away anything Dai Ho makes in their refrigerated case. The Pickled Bamboo Shoots are cooked down to a tender consistency, but it still has a pleasing density and structure, there’s a great savory, almost umami flavor coming through and it is another winner!
Chicken Soup (No Noodles):
Per @ipsedixit’s recommendation, we ordered their “Chicken Noodle Soup” without the Noodles, so we got a big bowl of Chicken Soup. Taking a sip…
There’s a strong pungent punch from the Taiwanese Pickled Bamboo Shoots. There seems to be 2 types of Bamboo Shoots we’ve been running across over the years: The fresh Bamboo type that is clean, and has little-to-no heavy aroma, and then the Pickled /Preserved Bamboo that has a heavy funk. If you enjoy your Menma / Bamboo with the pungent funk, this is for you! It is a delicious Chicken Soup, beautiful flavors, but very strong with the funky Bamboo as well. Our Taiwanese friend loved it.
Beef Stew & Tendon Noodle Soup:
They have a Beef Stew Noodle Soup (Beef Shank Only), and a Beef Tendon Noodle Soup (Tendon Only). We asked them for a half-and-half mixture to try both.
Taking a sip…
COME ON! Seriously?! There’s a gorgeous, long-stewed, clean, beefy, Soy Sauce-based Soup. My friend from Taipei said it reminds her of her Grandma’s Beef Noodle Soup she used to eat growing up. I can believe it.
This is soulful stuff, and the Stewed Beef Shank is tender, meaty and delicious!
The Stewed Beef Tendon is wonderfully soft and tender and gelatinous (@TheCookie I know Tendon scared you off last time you tried it, but this is so good!) The Wide Noodles recommendation by @ipsedixit was spot on: Thick with a nice bite and pleasing mouthfeel, they paired perfectly.
I think it might be our favorite Chinese Beef Noodle Soup in L.A.!
Deep Fried Pork Intestine with Chili:
I am not an Offal fan usually, but Aburiya Raku’s legendary Grilled Intestine Skewers changed my mind completely. Chef Ling’s Deep Fried Pork Intestine with Chili arrives and you could smell the pleasing aroma of the Fried Chilies and Szechuan Peppercorns well before it hit the table.
This is like some crazy Taiwanese twist on the Szechuan “Spicy (Fried) Chicken” but with Pork Intestine instead. And it is shockingly… delicious!
The Intestine slices have been deep fried to the point of being really crispy and deeply marinated in a gorgeous numbing, spicy Chili profile. Their Chili Oil recipe adds more joy. Delicious!
Pork, Leek & Shrimp Dumplings:
Cindy’s Kitchen makes their Dumplings in-house and from the first bite, it is absolutely apparent. The Handmade Dumpling Skins are pliant, with a nice chew and a medium thickness. It’s rustic, reflecting the homely, humble quality that exudes everything on Cindy’s Kitchen’s menu.
And then the Marinated Pork, Leeks and Shrimp hit your palate (make sure you dab it in a bit of Vinegar).
At this time, in my mind, the first thing that comes to mind is, “WOW! Why does this Handmade Dumpling taste so much better than any Dumpling I’ve had in the last 2 years?!”
The next thought that hits me is, “DARN IT @ipsedixit! Why didn’t you tell us about Cindy’s Kitchen sooner?!” “Why you holding out on us?!”
On just our 2nd visit, Cindy’s Kitchen has delivered the best Zha Jiang Mian (Noodles with Soybean Paste), the best Beef Noodle Soup, the best Handmade Pork, Leek & Shrimp Dumplings that we’ve had in L.A. And their Chilled Small Plates that we’ve tried so far are superior to everything else we’ve tried in the SGV.
Pickled Long Beans:
There’s a stunning piquant flavor that permeates every bite (in a pleasing way). It really wakes up the palate, and there’s a nice crunch to them as well. Wonderful.
Smoked Pork Intestine:
(I definitely have too many friends who love Offal. Even my best Taiwanese friend loves Offal! She orders it every chance she gets.)
Thankfully this is fantastic! A deep, smokiness accentuates every bite of this long-stewed, tender Pork Intestine. Seriously, between the Deep Fried Intestine in Chili Oil and this Smoked Pork Intestine, they might be the #2 and #3 best tasting Intestine dishes in our city. (@Xochitl)
Spicy Beef Combination:
Another winner from their Chilled Little Appetizers refrigerated case, fragrant, medium-spicy slices of Stewed Beef Shank provides another tasty dish to enjoy in the Summer heat.
There’s a beautiful aroma of smokiness that seeps into every bite of this Chilled Smoked Chicken. The meat is taut, yet tender, and this is probably one of the best versions that we can remember.
Mustard Green & Pork Noodle Soup:
Of course Chef Ling makes his Mustard Green in-house (at this point, I’m almost expecting it). And yet another fantastic dish arrives: Just like their Zha Jiang Mian and the Beef Noodle Soup, their Mustard Green and Pork Noodle Soup is this beautiful bowl of finely chopped goodness: Housemade Mustard Greens, super thin slices of Marinated Pork sits in a fragrant, delicate Broth that I can’t stop thinking about.
Their Thin Noodles work well and match every bite. This might be one of the best versions of Mustard Green & Pork Noodle Soup that I can remember trying in L.A. So good!
Fried Chicken Over Rice:
Being a Taiwanese restaurant, we wanted to try their Pork Chop or Fried Chicken Chop Rice. However, our Taiwanese friend translated for us that according to the server, this wasn’t their specialty. They added it to the menu because the locals kept asking for a Pork Chop / Chicken Chop Rice.
The plate looks beautifully cooked, but taking a bite of the Fried Chicken, it is apparent it wasn’t an original menu item: The Fried Chicken is tender and sufficiently fried, lightly crispy, but the flavor is rather basic. It’s certainly not “bad,” but it lacks the great seasoning and magic that the best Taiwanese Pork Chop / Chicken Chop specialists deliver.
The simple block of Fried, Stewed Tofu is delicious though!
Their Tea Egg is tasty, but the standard Hard Boiled variety (so the yolk is chalky), but that’s the way it is at all of the local shops.
As is standard with many Pork Chop Rice offerings, a bit of Minced Pork Stew is thrown on the Rice. Taking a bite, uh oh. Something sparked inside my mouth and hit my palate. But we all only got a spoonful. Was it my imagination? Or was there something magical here? I knew we had to return to find out.
Beef Stew & Tendon Noodle Soup:
On this visit, we brought along some friends who hadn’t had Chinese Beef Noodle Soup in years and were craving it after we raved about it from our last visit, so we had to order this again.
Thankfully just as consistent as before, Chef Ling’s version of Beef Stew & Tendon Noodle Soup is wonderfully savory and pleasing with every sip. The Stewed Beef Shank and Tendon were as tender as last time.
Shredded Pork with Dry Tofu:
Probably not the best English name, this is the commonly found dish made with strips of Marinated Pork and Firm Tofu. This was fine, nothing really noteworthy, but not bad.
On our 4th visit…
Made with Marinated Ground Pork and Shepherd’s Purse (Ji Tsai), these Handmade Wontons are a delight: Toothsome, nice chew and a delicate balance with the slightly herbally Shepherd’s Purse and Ground Pork, with a Chicken Broth base that is almost therapeutic, this is one of the best Wonton Soups we’ve had recently as well.
Preserved Vegetable with Peas and Tofu Skin:
Refreshing, light, the Preserved Vegetables have a great flavor coming through without the overbearing saltiness at some restaurants. The earthiness of the Edamame combined with the tenderness of the Tofu Skin made this a great dish to balance the rest of the meal.
Ground Pork & Mushroom Over Rice:
This was the main reason we trekked back out for a 4th visit, to try an entire bowl of the little bite that stunned my taste buds last time (part of the Fried Chicken Chop Rice).
First, notice the finely chopped Mushrooms and Pork. If you look even closer, you’ll notice there’s some finely chopped Pork Belly (or bits of fatty and lean Pork) as well.
Taking a bite…
This is the reason I love being in the City of Angels so much: The fact that while we can “Ooh!” and “Aah!” over gorgeously plated, expertly crafted, high end meals by Michelin-calibur Chefs, we can also sit down at a hole-in-the-wall and enjoy a bite of Taiwanese Ground Pork & Mushroom Over Rice that is so deeply satisfying, so full of long-stewed flavor, perfectly seasoned, bursting with umami and just flat out DELICIOUS that it blows away anything I had at my Michelin 3 Starred dinner at COI.
The Fried Stewed Tofu was a tasty side, and the Tea Egg was fine.
My big mouth resulted in us being a “tour guide” for 2 more of our friends from Santa Monica that suddenly had a craving for Taiwanese food.
Zha Jiang Mian (Soybean Dry Noodles):
As amazing as it was the last 2 times we tried it. Consistently great, and our friends loved Cindy’s Kitchen’s version.
Preserved Vegetable with Pork Intestine:
Another shockingly great rendition of Pork Intestines, this time expertly wok-sauteed with Preserved Vegetables (Suan Tsai). There was a beautiful slight piquant note running in the background of every bite of the tender, well-marinated Pork Intestines. This was really tasty.
2 Item Chilled Appetizer Combo - Pickled Bamboo Shoots:
Perfectly balanced yet again (they are very consistent).
Spicy Beef Tendon:
The 2nd pick of our 2 Item Chilled Appetizer Combo, the Spicy Beef Tendon had a nice snap and chew while still being tender enough and full of flavor. I think I prefer the Pig Ears over this dish though.
Pork & Cabbage Dumplings:
Their Handmade Pork & Napa Cabbage Dumplings have the same medium-thick, rustic Dumpling skin as the Shrimp, Pork & Leek version, but here the Marinated Ground Pork is the sole focus, with the Napa Cabbage acting as the perfect sidekick here, helping to accentuate the flavor.
Hometown Braised Pork Belly:
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after taking the first bite, we were so glad we ordered this: Luscious, tender, slow-cooked with love, absolutely delicious chunks of Braised Pork Belly bathed in this supremely wonderful Soy Sauce based Sauce. This was less sweet than many Shanghai versions of this dish, and on this visit, was one of the best versions of Chinese Braised Pork Belly in the city. SO GOOD!
White Fungus with Red Dates Juice:
This was a refreshing drink of Cloud Ear with Red Dates, lightly sweet, with bits of gelatinous Cloud Ear that reminded me of sipping a more pleasing version of Boba or Tapioca Balls with a chilled Red Date juice.
To really confirm that our taste buds weren’t out-of-whack, on our 6th Visit, we decided to stop by our favorite Chinese Beef Noodle Soup specialist (before Cindy’s Kitchen) and see how it compared:
Corner Beef Noodle House
Half Meat / Half Tendon Beef Stew Noodles:
The first sip revealed why we loved this place so much: The Beef Soup is really layered and nuanced. There is clearly a bunch of Herbs and Spices in this Soup and it’s delicious!
However, the Beef Shank is a touch tough (still somewhat tender), as if it could’ve been stewed a bit longer to soften it some more. The Tendon is tender, but also in gigantic slices (like the Shank). You get value, but it also just makes it more work / less pleasing to eat, compared to more manageable bite size chunks.
The Noodles are thick variety, with a nice bite to them.
It was off to Cindy’s Kitchen for a Bang x Bang, and our 6th visit:
From their Chilled Appetizers case, we decided to try the Salted Duck this time around. It was nicely cooked and chilled, sliced to delicious bite-size pieces.
Pork Ear with Green Onions:
Ning-Bo Style Bean Curd:
Lightly sweet and savory, bursting with flavor, the Bean Curd was nothing like the usual “Tofu” you might expect. The Wood Ear Mushrooms added a nice textural contrast.
I invited my good friend from Taipei again, and she said the waitress mentioned this was a new Vegetable dish Chef Ling was serving, using the Taiwanese “A Vegetable” stewed in a Garlic Soy Broth. It was so good we couldn’t stop eating it.
Beef Stew & Tendon Noodle Soup (w/ Thick Noodles):
After Corner Beef Noodle House, we had to see how Cindy’s Kitchen fared: The first sip revealed that Corner Beef is definitely a more complex Soup. However, Cindy’s Kitchen’s version was just more comforting. My Taiwanese friend said after trying both back-to-back, that she still preferred Cindy’s version; it reminded her so much of her Grandma’s version.
I wish I had a Grandma that could make Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup, but if I did, I’d imagine it might taste something like Cindy’s version. Just delicate, not too salty, not too sweet. The morsels of Beef Shank and Beef Tendon are stewed to the point of tender joy.
The Thick Noodles were a great match, and cooked just right. And don’t forget to add their Handmade Preserved Vegetables (something Corner Beef doesn’t have). Cindy’s Kitchen makes my favorite version of Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup now.
Pork & Leeks Dumplings:
Excellent. I think I like their Pork, Shrimp & Leek Dumplings the most.
Seaweed with Bean Sprouts:
Refreshingly tart-sweet with a bit of umami.
Shredded H/S Potatoes:
This was a pleasing crunchy, earthy, but cooling dish from their Chilled Appetizers case.
Taiwanese Pork Jerky:
The server gave us a sample of Chef Ling’s Housemade Taiwanese Pork Jerky. For a hole-in-the-wall to take the time to make their own Jerky reflects well on the restaurant. This was nicely spicy (medium heat), nuanced and the Pork Jerky wasn’t too dry with a nice chewiness.
Ground Pork & Mushroom Over Rice:
This dish was so good, I had to make sure it wasn’t just a fluke. Taking a bite…
SERIOUSLY. I was salivating while eating it. Just as amazing as the first time I ate it.
We brought along another friend from Taiwan who had never heard of Cindy’s Kitchen before, and wanted to get his thoughts on this place. We ordered some of our favorites to make sure…
Pork Ears & Green Onions:
Spot-on as before.
Pickled Bamboo Shoots:
I could eat this over some Steamed Rice any day of the week! I love this!
Meaty, lightly spicy, fragrant, this is another fantastic offering from their Chilled Appetizers case.
Deep Fried Pork Intestine with Chili:
Crispy Intestine slices were aromatic, spicy and numbing with Szechuan Peppercorns, as good as the previous time.
Hometown Braised Pork Belly:
Still as delicious as the previous visit! There were a couple pieces that were a bit chewy (as if they were stuck along the edges of the pot during cooking), but otherwise, most of the pieces were tender, glorious pieces of long-stewed Pork Belly, fatty and lean meat balanced.
Ground Pork & Mushroom Over Rice:
Our third time ordering this, it was just as absurdly delicious as the previous visits: Finely chopped bits of fatty and lean, tender, melt-in-your-mouth Pork Belly, Mushrooms in this Gravy Sauce that just brought PURE JOY!
Still one of the Best Bites of 2018!
Mung Bean & Barley Drink:
To cool off while leaving the restaurant, we tried their Mung Bean & Barley Drink, which was pretty refreshing! Not overly sweet, a bit earthy and grainy from the Mung Beans and Barley, it was still thin enough to enjoy without being bogged down.
Prices range from $6.95 - $12.95 for generous portions.
Cindy’s Kitchen represents some of the greatest renditions of Zha Jiang Mian (Noodles with Soybean Paste), Handmade Dumplings, Chinese Beef Noodle Soup, Ground Pork & Mushroom Rice, and their massive, well-executed collection of 31 different types of Chilled Stewed / Little Appetizers (Lu Wei / Hsiao Tsai), all through the lens of Taiwan.
When a little hole-in-the-wall can deliver greater joy and tastier dishes than multiple Michelin-Starred restaurants we dined at this year (COI, Atelier Crenn), and many of the much hyped / lauded restaurants around L.A., it is something worth seeking out and celebrating.
16409 Colima Rd.
Hacienda Heights, CA 91745
Tel: (626) 961-0789
Update 2: Additional visits, more wonderful dishes.
Update 3: To-Go Items during the pandemic.