風風亭 foo foo tei monterey park: foo biters
Every now and then, someone will suggest I try Foo Foo Tei, a pair of low-profile ramen shops in Hacienda Heights and Monterey Park. Admittedly, my attention is usually diverted elsewhere, for the consensus among dyed-in-the-wool food snobs is that the San Gabriel Valley is great for Chinese cuisine while “real” ramen exists more or less only in the South Bay. Like Ajisen, there’s always been something a bit too “Chinesey” about Foo Foo Tei; the Monterey Park outlet is tucked behind a stairwell in an institutionally old-school strip mall that has housed such area landmarks as the original Diho Supermarket and now, that over-fluffed temple of dim sum dining, New Concept/Elite Restaurant.
As it turns out, the two Foos are not related at all, or at least no longer related, depending on whom you talk to. Apparently, the Hacienda Heights branch is the Japanese original, and the Monterey Park iteration a cheap Chinese knock-off. I don’t know the full history, but rumors of animosity between the two shops swirl like pink in a slice of naruto. Thanks largely to the comments below, I had to investigate further. One thing’s for certain: Foo Foo Tei Monterey Park serves a far inferior product to Foo Foo Tei Hacienda Heights.
Judging by taste and presentation, this branch may well be the cheap clone, although they did have me going at first. With a subtle sweetness all its own, the traditional clear soup shio ramen could have made its case as a distant relative to Santouka’s hearty brew - which would have been a considerable achievement for an inauspicious little joint in the heart of Monterey Park. Granted, the ramen wasn’t anywhere near as memorable as anything found in the best local shops, but when I sampled it for the first time, over a year ago, that spark of potential was there, and I had vowed to return.
Instead, a recent trip deflated all of my fleeting expectations. The very same shio ramen was grotesquely marred by an incongruous amount of bok choy and flavorless, if soft and relatively fatty chashu. The noodles were as generic as ever, and any trace of sweet shellfish subtlety had vanished into a a flat, salty stock that tasted as if it had come out of a can. Adding a bit of minced garlic to the proceedings did little but overwhelm a historically delicate type of ramen, not that my order could have been made much worse.
Similarly, the gyoza were an anachronistic wonder, not for being particularly tasty, but simply because they had been delivered under a vast web of limp brown char which was neither particularly flavorful nor gloriously crispy; it was as though someone had tried to graft a batch of potstickers onto a thin crepe skin. All would have been forgivable; the presentation was a clever conceit in and of itself, but when I began pouring my little dish of dipping sauce, I noticed a dead bug inside the vinegar bottle just chilling out like a tequila worm. Shudder.
I presume someone will eventually step up to tell me that I ordered the wrong thing at the wrong branch - the most popular ramen on the menu is a thick soup nan chatte ramen that is their stab at tonkotsu. As the Hacienda Heights location is the apparent original and under different ownership, I’ll be sure to sample it there. But I shouldn’t have to. The rumor is that there’s a sign in Chinese posted here which actually advises people not to go to the other branch. Such pettiness counfounds me, and regardless of the back story, any restaurant that shamelessly clones its competitor right down to the logo and menu should be run out of town, plain and simple.
|foo foo tei's clear soup shio ramen was sweetly reminiscent of santouka, a couple of years back. but judging by a recent visit, it could all have been my imagination.||2|
|anytime a shop sources the same boring square-cut yellow ramen noodles from mutual trading or whomever is the current importer in vogue, i give them roughly the same basic score. it's not like foo foo tei changes it up all that much.||4|
|bok choy? it happens. thankfully, not too often. hmm, maybe i should try the tomato beef ramen next time?||3|
|if i wanted crepe, i'd go elsewhere.||3.5|
|foo foo tei in monterey park has an ugly red counter and green striped awning outside. one point for the chopstick and napkin boxes and the fortune cats gratuitously stationed around the counter.||1|
|gahhhhh. quality ramen in the west SGV is apparently too much to ask for.||0.5|
750 S Atlantic Blvd.