People who work with food know where to find great restaurants, and that was how I heard about Pintung on Melrose. I had walked past it a week ago, but with its nondescript market facing the street (look for the sidewalk blackboard advertising Stumptown cold brewed coffee), you would never know that there are treasures to be found in the back patio. Like finding buried gold in your backyard, this new addition to Mid-City makes me smile with delight.

Once I walked into the back patio I literally said, “Wow”! With an enclosed section, and an open section decorated with bamboo plants, the warm and sleek aesthetic was such a welcome contrast to the dark marketplace storefront seating area that it wasn’t even a question as to which space I preferred to eat my meal.

The other customers ranged from hip Japanese in pink hair and working on pink tablets, to television people loudly discussing their projects (probably wanting to be overheard). There were of course quiet, “normal” people (like me:) but this place draws from all the people L.A. is infamous for, so if you want a taste of all the lifestyles in L.A., you can come here and people watch.

The cuisine is a cross section of all Asian cuisines in one place. There is banh mi from Vietnam, dim sum from China, ramen and sushi from Japan, and rice bowls which would probably be the common link between all Asian countries. Because they are in Los Angeles, they also have options like a vegetarian banh mi, and soy chicken with brown rice, but I wanted to see how authentic their Asian dishes were, so that is what I ordered.

I started with the sauteed pea shoots for $7.25, and was thrilled when they arrived spicy, flavored with sesame oil, and perfectly seasoned. It was a big bowl, so with the other dishes, I ended up taking half of it home, but it just got better a day later.

The crystal shrimp dumplings were $5.50 (the Asian server told me they were Har Gow when I asked what crystal dumplings were). They were bigger and better than any Har Gow I’ve ever eaten in any Dim Sum place (and I have eaten in dozens from NYC to SF). The wrapping was so fine and light that they literally fell apart when I lifted them up from the steamer basket. They were also at least twice as big as any in a Chinese restaurant, with whole shrimp (not chopped up shrimp mush) and bamboo shoots. The table had dumpling sauce as well as other condiments if you want to dip them in sauce, but they are great by themselves.

The only dish that was a miss was the chow fun noodles for $7.95. I chose beef, but you have the option of chicken or vegetarian. The chinese broccoli had too many woody stems, the noodles lacked flavor (you can doctor it with the tableside condiments, but you should not have to season your food), the beef was tender but scarce, and there was a puddle of oil at the bottom of the bowl. Skip this dish and go for one of the ramen bowls if you want noodles.

Seeing Sticky Rice with Chinese Sausage wrapped in Lotus Leaf for $5.50 on the menu, I had to order it. My Aunt used to make these and send me home with a dozen that I would make last for as long as possible until I saw her again. I haven’t had one since she passed away and I was almost afraid to try one made in a restaurant, but these are wonderful. I could only eat one, so I took the other home (to re steam).

The filling was full of pork, preserved salty egg, shittake, and the rice was perfectly infused with the lotus leaf flavor. One of the packages had more filling than the other, but both were delicious if you like this ethnic comfort food. I’m tempted to order a few orders of this to go and freeze them like I used to with the ones my Aunt made:)

As I told the server (another Asian), I am so very glad to have this place close to home without having to deal with those pesky Asian drivers in Chinatown or Monterey Park; I can say that because it takes one to know one:)

Pingtung on Urbanspoon

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