Saturday, March 8, 2014

SinBala: A Taste of Taiwan

We had to replenish our personal armory of Chinese goodies at 99 Ranch today--we were out of soy sauce, kecap manis, hoisin, sesame oil, and shouxing cooking wine. It was bad and the woman who checked us out laughed at us. Possibly because we are gringos, possibly because it looked like we were about to open a Chinese restaurant. On the way, we decided to swing by the nearby SinBala, the Yelp-declared mecca of Taiwanese market food in Arcadia. 

 SinBala's Pastel Wonderland

SinBala is known for their sausage and they have some fascinating options for toppings, including garlic, cilantro, chocolate, and jam. We also heard good things about their beef soup, and one local blogger had the temerity to say that they prefer SinBala's spicy dumplings to Din Tai Fung's. With that list, obviously we had some work to do (oh the difficult lives we lead).

Sausage with Basil

We started off with the SinBala Sausage with Basil. It's a small sweet sausage, served sliced a la carte (they're only $2 apiece). The basil one came sprinkled with lots of fresh basil and drizzled with a perfectly light, sweet sauce. It may have been plum sauce, but not the corn syrup/marmalade kind. All the flavors melded awesomely. It would be great to go with a couple more people and order more of them. We were conservative this time but the chocolate sausage is just begging us to come back.

Spicy Wontons

We had to test the internet's theory that their spicy wontons rivaled those of Din Tai Fung. They arrived looking beautiful in a broth of chili oil with lots of chili flakes and panko and peanut sprinkled over them. Eating them was slightly less exciting. The filling was bland and a little overly smooth, so there wasn't enough textural difference with the silky wrapper. The topping was tasty at first, but then a bitter aftertaste set in. Julie loves dumplings (everyone loves dumplings), but only ate one of these.

Fried Pork Chop Rice Plate

For our entrees we started off with the fried pork chop rice plate. Given how dry and mediocre a lot of pork chops are, I'd give most places credit for just not messing one up. This, on the other hand, was a work of pork-art (and surprisingly like southern food). The pork is pounded thin and seasoned to the hilt with something salty and savory and hard to define. It's fried to a perfect crisp and yet somehow its totally not oily. The pork is served over some sticky rice with sides of cabbage, egg, and vegetables. The cabbage and egg go great with the salty pork and the veggies were nice and fresh. This is comfort food at its finest.

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

We loved the subtle flavor of the spicy beef noodle soup. The slippery egg noodles and tender chunks of (we think) brisket were served in a deeply colored beef broth. The broth was the star--we loved the gentle five-spice flavor and complex umami it had going on. The serving size was huge (not complaining), with lots of noodles. This was a really balanced dish with a lot of depth. Definitely one of the better soups out there.

Flavor: 5/5
With everything else being so fantastic, we're going to let those wontons slide. The soup and pork chop kicked delicious ass and we're pumped to try more sausages.

Service: 5/5
Our charming and attentive server (and impressive-she's fluent in English and Chinese) got our drink orders within a minute of sitting down. The service overall was unusually good, with multiple people coming to check on us and keep things tidy. It might be that awesome all the time, or it could be that we posted about our blog when checked in on Yelp and Facebook during our short wait outside. Just in case, maybe do that when you visit. Either way, they took great care of us and were super friendly.

Atmosphere: 3/5
Like everything else in Arcadia, it's located in a charmless strip mall. We didn't manage to get great pictures of the inside (the servers were busy serving things, getting in the way of our extra-important photo-taking), but its multi-pastel walls and cutesy decorations put it in league with most of the other tasty little Chinese joints around town.

Approachability: 4/5
Everything was in Chinese and English, with pictures for most items. The entries were largely self-explanatory and the staff was great if you have any questions. Don't mess with the website, that will get you nowhere.

SinBala Restaurant
651 W Duarte Rd
Arcadia, CA, 91007
Monday, Wednesday-Sunday 11am-9:30pm, closed Tuesday

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