Alhambra and Monterey Park are both famous with foodies for having some of the best Asian eateries not only in Southern California, but in all of North America. Dispatches on these venues are part of what made Jonathan Gold the first food writer to ever win the Pulitzer Prize. My wife and I live in Monterey Park, and we love eating in our town as much as we love driving just two miles north to Alhambra to catch a bite. There are dozens of options in Alhambra and very few cities anywhere have such a simultaneous cosmopolitan and down-to-earth vibe.
Sandwiched between Monterey Park, South Pasadena, San Marino, El Sereno, Rosemead and San Gabriel, Alhambra is one of the western gateways into the San Gabriel Valley. Two of its biggest streets, Valley Boulevard and Main Street, have more eateries than you can ever visit.
In the 19th century, Valley Boulevard was part of the route of the Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach service. Today, it runs just north of the 10 Freeway and has almost exclusively Asian fare with a few outlier choices, including Pepe’s, a solid Mexican fast-food option, and the Hat, an old-school spot serving up pastrami, hot dogs and burgers. Our favorite eatery on Valley in Alhambra is Savoy, a French-Vietnamese venue. There are also Sam Woo B.B.Q. and New Noodle Town, among dozens more.
Our most recent date in Alhambra was on Main. My parents took the kids for the night, so we had our latest night out in years. It began with an early movie and concluded with late-night Korean barbecue.
Main Street is more corporate and commercial than Valley, and it features Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese cuisine, along with Mexican, Italian, a brewery and an Applebee’s. It’s a toned-down version of Old Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard.
Emi and I caught the 6:30 p.m. show at the Alhambra Renaissance Theater on the corner of Main and Garfield Avenue. The movie was 2½ hours long, but as luck would have it, the Gen Korean Barbecue House was open until 10:30 p.m., and sits just one block west of the theater. We walked over and had plenty of time to enjoy our meal. They serve all-you-can-eat portions that you cook on the grill in the middle of the table.
My wife enjoyed their cold soju, and they let us linger in the booth until 11 p.m. even though the doors were closed. For years we drove to Koreatown for Korean barbecue, but we have found we can get our fix right here.
Another top choice on Main is Charlie’s Trio, an Italian eatery loved for its pasta and pizza. We have been to more than one birthday party here, and many local parents order from Charlie’s when they cater a birthday or baby shower. Next door to Charlie’s Trio is The Boiling Crab, a celebrated Cajun Vietnamese eatery that is always crowded.
On the west end of Main, almost a mile past the primary section, just before it merges with Huntington, is Fosselmans Ice Cream Co., one of the oldest ice cream parlors in Southern California. The shop celebrated its centennial this year, and in keeping with its old-school vibe, only accepts cash. When my wife was pregnant, we always went to Fosselmans. Now, we go on warm summer nights or after special events with our kids.
Alhambra is quiet and convenient. Parking is never too hectic, and it packs in as many food options as about any neighborhood in Southern California. It’s one of our favorite destinations.