Sunday, February 25, 2018

Ho Kee Cafe: Authentic Hong Kong Cafe Fare in San Gabriel

Always on the lookout for great, authentic Hong Kong food in LA, I was excited to find recently several of my favorite staple dishes and drinks at Ho Kee Cafe!

Like most fantastic food finds in the SGV, Ho Kee firmly focuses on their food vs. ambience, though the cozy space does have its own charming touches like roof-facades over main counter areas inspired by traditional temple architecture.

My favorite dish here is the revelatory Wonton Noodle Hong Kong Style ($8.95) - the best wonton noodle soup I've had in LA thus far.  I'll ask for you to kindly excuse the blatant use of foodporn vocabulary here, but the measure of a good wonton to me are the ration of filling to skin, and then the quality of both as indicated by texture and flavor.  And Ho Kee's is fantastic on all fronts: super fresh, robust, springy shrimp with nice clean snap is in perfect proportion to the supple, thin wonton skin that is skillfully crafted so that it does not fall apart on pickup. 

The chefs let the fresh juicy savory sweet flavors of the shrimp shine through, with just a touch of pepper to spice things up to just the perfect level.

Noodles are perfectly cooked so that they are not too chewy/ tough and not too soft, but perfectly springy and clean, comforting soaked in steaming hot clear broth.

The cafe fare is ordered a la carte and readily available.  But Ho Kee also offers a 'Private Kitchen Menu' of higher end dishes that typically requires advance order.  However, when possible they will make a few of the dishes from this menu available without that pre-planning.  I was lucky enough on the night of my first visit to be able to try from the Private Kitchen menu: Razor Clams ($43).  I haven't seen these on many menus around town, and was excited to see that the preparation is similar to what I had at famed Tung Po at Java Road market in Hong Kong.

The slender beauties are steamed in clear broth and topped with fried garlic and scallions for punches of flavor and texture contrast to the soft yet structured clam meat. Below the razor clams, a layer of glass noodles to soak up all the delicious juices and flavors.  Pretty pricey, and not something to be repeated often, but beautifully cooked.  This one is best ordered with a larger group to share, so that you can order other dishes as well to experience.

Back on the regular menu, I'm also a fan of the Two Kinds of Meat ($12.95) plate, where you can choose from among their housemade barbecue items.  I chose roast duck and char siu.  The duck had flavor intensity, and fantastic crispy skin with a pleasing layer of fat below for that perfect crisp juicy umami explosion in your mouth. The barbecue pork was great as well, but not as unforgettable as the duck. For those who are singular in their love of certain barbecue meats, you can order single types too, like the Roast Duck Plate ($9.95).

Lastly, what Hong Kong cafe with any pride would not also offer a great milk tea?  Ho Kee offers a very fragrant, silky creamy milk tea that I love, and also another Hong Kong iconic drink, "yin yang" or Milk Tea Coffee Mixed (Hot) ($2.95) on the menu. I liked the milk tea better.

Most diners around you will be speaking Cantonese, a good sign of authenticity of cuisine - the restaurant is attracting those who have roots in Hong Kong.  And indeed, when I eat here it feels like home.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites  
Presentation - 5 bites
Originality - 5 bites
Ambience -  5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100% 


Ho Kee Cafe

533 S Del Mar Ave, San Gabriel, CA 91776
Ph:  626.766.1076
Parking: in attached open air parking lot (limited spaces) or street parking


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