Hole in the wall size, five start heart in Arcadia.
I feel guilty. Why do I feel guilty?
Because I have a serious, deep and un-abiding love for these tiny, hole-in-the-wall places that only the folks in and around the San Gabriel Valley seem to know about. And, where I can, I want to go to all these places and show ‘em off to the world.
But then there’s a feeling that you are upsetting a delicate ecosystem, that there’s a bit of fragile magic going on in places like this that any kind of widespread attention might throw off.
Hence, the guilt.
Then you kick back and think…the owners of these restaurants, they’d probably LOVE any attention I can give ‘em.
Hence, the guilt goes away. And then you eat.
It’s too often true that the road to perfect gastronomical happiness is found in places you wind up driving past.
Mama’s Kitchen (no Website, no Facebook) sits at the end of a strip mall, almost eclipsed by the Carl’s Jr. it sits next to. It’s got six tables, covered in green and white tablecloths, protected by glass.
You look up at the wall, and you’d swear you’re in a typical, no-frills, no-big-deal Chinese To Go Place. You see the usual suspects, Kung Pao Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken, and the like.
It’s also got a bit of market too. The left hand side of the restaurant is lined with freezers with Dumplings of various varieties that look like you can take home and cook yourself.
Nah. Best let Mama do it. She knows what she’s doing.
I mean, what else did I come here for except for the Dumplings. I came here because I was in a mood for Dumplings (and seriously, when are any of us not in a mood for Dumplings?) I’ve heard that it’s Mama herself who takes your order, and while not formally introduced, it did seem that way. I put in my order, and then waited for magic to arrive.
One bite in, and suddenly I feel I’m a part of the neighborhood.
I’m going to have to bring Dad here. This is his kind of joint too. Simple. Down to earth. Good food. Arcadia has it so good.
WHAT SHOULD I GET?: Well, I was a bit torn. I saw the Pork and Leek Dumplings I was here to get, but I also saw Sausage over Rice. Would my stomach have room for both?
Heck with it. I’ll make room.
I don’t know what it is about Sausage and Rice dishes, but they always get me. Always. My love of Chinese Sausage runs deep, and feels unbreakable. After all, what is this dish, except for some cooked Chinese Sausages spread out over rice. You look at it, and wonder…what’s the big deal? Anyone can do this. This is not special.
But for me, it is. The flavor and sweetness of the sausage (just how they’re supposed to taste), and some of the flavor cooked in with the rice. Heaven.
The Pork and Leek Dumplings are also their slice as heaven as well. They’re wonderfully individualized, and handmade. On their own they’re wonderful, with porky and leeky tastes flowing through. Uses the house Vinegar on them, superb. Can easily see coming back for these.
…and the Sausage over Rice.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: Remember, this place is small. Cozy. Don’t be surprised if you walk in there and pretty much all the seats are taken up. And because Mama is running things herself, don’t be surprised if the service is a little…iffy. She’s not being mean or anything, quite the contrary. But she’s running back and forth between the tables and the kitchen to make sure everything is going right. So if you don’t see her, that’s what’s happening.
PARKING: Free, but tricky. When I was there, there was exactly one space left, at the far, far end of the sectioned off lot, and I got it. I wouldn’t go parking in the Carl’s Jr. That’s just asking for trouble. Past that, you can try parking on Duarte, but it’s busy there as well. Fortunately, Mama’s does do a lot of To-Go business, so another space could be opening up any second.
153 E. Duarte Rd.
Arcadia, CA 91006
Tel: (626) 445-4431
Monday-Saturday: 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Sunday: 11:00 am – 3:00 pm