The best definition I’ve come across for Hong Kong-style Chinese food is also the simplest: “Cantonese cuisine with Western (mainly British) influences…” The comprehensive, lavishly illustrated menu – with many color photos – at Longten Cafe definitely nails this concept.
Longten sits in the space that for years housed Miao Miao Xian, a Sichuan restaurant with no hint of Westernization on the menu. But with the move to Longten, food has shifted both geographically and gastronomically. Super spicy Viceroy chicken, rich in Szechuan chilies, was replaced by the sweet affability of sweet and sour chicken, sweet and sour ribs and sweet and sour pork. And that’s just the beginning.
In a room notable for its ornate, modernist chandeliers, Longten is a Chinese restaurant that serves… sandwiches. The sandwiches here include the simplicity of a club sandwich with fries, a ham and egg sandwich, a pork chop sandwich and a chicken steak sandwich, and the even greater simplicity of French toast, bread with “French” garlic and a pineapple bread with butter. … A buttery bun—even Norms doesn’t do anything that simple. But there it is.
And these are lunch and dinner menu items. There’s a separate breakfast menu, served daily from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., that mixes Eastern and Western dishes even more fiercely.
All dishes on the breakfast menu are “Served with [sic] milk tea, coffee or iced tea. And in terms of simplicity, well, you can’t get any simpler than a breakfast of…toast for $5.95. (For 30 cents more you can get “thick” toast.) There is also lunch meat (shouldn’t that be “breakfast” meat?) on toast. And the classic American steak with eggs and toast, for $9.95.
But then, as a restaurant that mixes and fuses cuisines, there are plenty here that are both blendo and Cantonese.
Although there are no dumplings served later in the day, you can find beef brisket or pork knuckle lo mein, seven dishes of steamed rice noodles and 14 dishes of porridge, served with Chinese donut or fried noodles with soy sauce. Pork offal porridge is a far cry from Wheaties and Cap’n Crunch. And, as a throwback to the old days, there are $10.75 breakfast specials that let you pick one dish from column A and one from column B. Just like the food you we all grew up, a long time ago.
Assuming you didn’t come to Longten for the Hong Kong version of Western dishes, most of the menu is filled with Cantonese dishes, both familiar and not so much. It does my nostalgic/retro heart good to see a menu with old school classics like spring rolls (and very crispy too!), hot and sour soup and wonton noodle soup, kung pao shrimp, kung pao chicken – and even a choice of chicken chow mein, beef chow mein or seafood chow mein. Pulled pork chow mein too.
But in the midst of these familiars, there is a multitude of dishes made of… coins and coins, lots of coins and coins. As always, it is the hog that provides these parts and pieces. There is sautéed pork neck meat, sautéed pork liver and kidneys, sautéed pork stomach and intestines. In Chinese cuisine, all parts of the pork are used except for the “oink”.
There is also a soup made from dried duck kidneys, a little-known part, dried or not.
And depending on the type of eaters you go with here, your intake of bits and pieces may be reduced by a certain western delicacy. A companion insisted on the Honey Walnut Shrimp with Mayonnaise Sauce, which was admittedly much tastier than I wanted. (Is it a Chinese dish? Is it a Hong Kong dish? It feels American like a hot dog with yellow mustard and pickle relish!)
A die-hard carnivore with me thought the “American style” mixed grill of chicken, beef steak, and pork chop sounded pretty good. Except it was a little overcooked, it was. And at $20.95 for lunch and $22.95 for dinner, it was the most expensive item on the menu. (Except for the whole chicken braised in green onion oil, which costs $24.95.)
Most dishes have a lunch price and a dinner price of two or three dollars more. Which, even at the most upscale, makes it not a particularly expensive restaurant – unlike Hong Kong, which can be very expensive. But then, Monterey Park lacks the drama of Hong Kong. MP is far from HK, but Longten brings the menu from there to here. And very well too.
- Rating: 2.5 stars
- Address: 220 W. Garvey Avenue, Monterey Park
- Information: 626-872-0228, www.longtencafe.com
- Food: Hong Kong-style Chinese
- When: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily
- Details: juices and milkshakes; useful reservations
- Atmosphere: In an impressive space in the center of Monterey Park’s row of restaurants, this lavishly decorated Hong Kong-style Chinese offers primarily Cantonese breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes, but with Western influences – a fascinating journey into a other world.
- Prices: About $20 per person
- Suggested dishes: 12 starters ($4.95 – $24.95), 10 sandwiches ($3.95 – $10.95), 3 meatballs ($9.95), 13 house dishes ($11.95 – $16.95 ), 5 salt and pepper dishes ($10.95 – $13.95), 18 soups ($10.95 – $12.95), 12 chicken, beef and pork dishes ($11.95 – 15 $.95), 14 seafood dishes ($11.95 – $16.95), 15 rice dishes ($10.95 – $14.95), 5 baked rice or spaghetti dishes (10 $.95 – $14.95), 8 Curry Dishes ($11.95 – $14.95), 15 Terracotta Dishes ($12.95 – $15.95), 17 Chow Mein/Chow Dishes Fun ($10.95-$14.95), 15 porridge dishes ($6.95-$12.95), 4 milkshakes ($5.95)
- Credit card: CM, V
- What do the stars mean: 4 (World class! Worth the trip from anywhere!), 3 (Most excellent, if not outstanding. Worth the trip from anywhere in Southern California.), 2 (A great place to go for a meal. Worth the trip from anywhere in the neighborhood.) 1 (If you’re hungry and it’s nearby, but don’t get stuck in traffic.) 0 (Honestly not worth it to describe.)