Object of desire: Fried peanuts
Happy Noodle is part of the wave of Shandong-style restaurants that washed through the San Gabriel Valley last decade, a sleepy dumpling parlor in a faded stretch of Temple City near the El Monte Airport. If you've ever been to a Shandong place -- 101 Noodle Express is the best-known of them -- you have a basic idea of the cuisine here: beef rolls; dumplings filled with pork, shrimp or fish; and noodles, specifically the bean-sauced cha chiang mian.
There are a few Sichuan preparations too: Happy Noodle's spicy, minimal version of dan dan mian is seasoned with chiles and crumbled meat but hasn't a drop of peanut sauce in sight. Happy Noodle's famous dish is pan-fried "three-item'' bao stuffed with seafood and pork; the dumplings are served upside down, attached to one another with a thin, translucent sheet of pastry formed with a little flour and water in the hot pan: not transcendent, but not bad.
Still, the dish that knocks you backward isn't always the one you expect. And at Happy Noodles, the dumplings, the chile-slicked pork belly and the pale, organ-rich lamb noodle soup are all eclipsed by a crunchy, glorious snack of peanuts fried with salt, a little sugar and a lot of Sichuan peppercorns, the numbing firepower of which may lift the dish into your pantheon of things to eat while drinking beer. (There is no beer.) While you're there, pick up a plate of the sweetly spicy house-made sausage too.
4815 El Monte Ave., Temple City, (626) 279-7558.
-- Jonathan Gold
Photo credit: Jonathan Gold/Los Angeles Times