Object of Desire: Beef noodle stew
Like Texas chili, New England lobster rolls and Chicago hot dogs, Taiwanese beef noodle stew, while astonishingly delicious, may perhaps not quite be worth the level of argument you are likely to encounter when you say you've found a good one. There are probably 50 places that serve the stuff in the Los Angeles area -- I am likely to get an angry note saying there are only 37, or perhaps 105 -- and every one of them has both its partisans and its detractors, ready to say that the broth is too vinegary or not vinegary enough; that the noodles are too "Q'' (meaning bouncy, more or less) or insufficiently Q; that the meat is too soft or too hard. One of the most beloved bowls features boulders of beef and noodles that are actually crunchy, which is way too Q for me.
Still, when the longing for a bowl of beef-noodle stew becomes too much to bear, I tend to head toward Dai Ho in Temple City, which is the place everybody loves to hate. It closes at 3 p.m. sharp, leaving suppertime noodle fanciers to grumble, and they are reluctant to package noodles to go. You're not allowed to read while you eat. The kitchen refuses to alter anything, even for chile-hating young children: Dai Ho was perhaps an early adopter of the Alterations or Modifications Politely Declined motto you now see in so many gastropubs, except that there is nothing polite about it. If you want an appetizer of red-cooked chicken legs, cold tripe in chile oil or chopped Chinese greens with tofu sheets, you have to go up to the counter and get them yourselves, then eat them out of plastic deli containers with flimsy plastic spoons.
Yet those noodles -- Q, damn it, nothing but Q! -- are magnificent, slithery, yet chewy and supple, served in a tart, angry-red broth, garnished with chopped scallions and golfball-size chunks of well-braised meat so soft that they collapse at a touch. Is it at least a buck or two more expensive than other beef noodle stews in the area? You bet. Sometimes quality costs.
9148 Las Tunas Drive, Temple City, (626) 291-2295.
-- Jonathan Gold
Photo: Amy Scattergood [UPDATED: An earlier version credited Jonathan Gold]