MYSTERY EATER says...
Tucked away in a non-descript shopping plaza with numerous other small Chinese restaurants, I probably never would have stumbled across Michelle's Pancakes... But it caught my attention (and the attention of many others), thanks to a recent L.A. Times Article. http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo-find15-2009jul15,0,1798170.story
As touted on the outside windows, Michelle's does not use MSG, all their products are hand-made, and they use less salt, less oil, thinner wrapping, and more juicy filling.
Michelle's Pancakes is small endeavor, with only 9 tables. Soon after opening (around 11:18 A.M. on a Saturday and the place normally opens at 11 AM), all the tables were already filled, and a line started forming outside. The parking lot is also small, and filled by 11 A.M. as well- we parked in a 10-minute spot. They also sell their baos and dumplings to-go, but on Saturday, they didn't have any frozen baos available (only dumplings).
Onward to the food... a purchase of three "entrees" (baos, dumplings, wontons) will entitle you to a free cold dish. Our choice? Their "all-variety eggplant" with a special red sauce.
The eggplant was simply boiled (it seemed), and then slathered with the tangy red sauce on top (which tasted like a mix of ketchup, ginger, and a little sweetness but had no heat). It was a nice contrast to the forthcoming dishes, which were pan-fried.
They had these great sauces on the side to pair with the various dumplings, wontons, potstickers. On the left is a garlic/soy sauce-oyster sauce (maybe?) mixture; on the right is a chili oil mixture. The left sauce was thick and pungent (in a good way), infused with lots of garlic. The chili oil wasn't too spicy, but added a nice kick. I mixed both together, and dipped the various dishes in the sauce mixture, including the eggplant (above).
The first dish to arrive was the pan-fried postickers, filled with pork and cabbage. They appeared more healthy than the normal pan-fried ones, but still had a little oil (after all, how to pan-fry without oil?!). The filling was meaty, but not thick and the wrapper was chewy. Here is a nice little explanation on the differences btwn potsticks and wontons and dumplings, even though I use them interchangably to refer to "that yummy thing that has a wrapper and a filling inside." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dumpling#Chinese_Cuisine
Here is a close-up of the filling...
The wontons arrived next, in a broth filled with cilantro and green onions. The filling was supposed to be pork and si gua, or in english, called luffa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigua_%28vegetable%29). However, there was little to no si gua taste, which was a little disappointing. Least likely to recommend this dish. Sorry, no photo!
The baos filled with beef, carrot, and white onion came next. These were the highlight of the meal-- succulent beef filling, encased with a firm but yielding dough. Be careful biting into these-- they are hot, and the juice from the filling will squirt out! As recommended by the LA Times reviewer, take a small nibble, suck out the juice, and then proceed to eat the rest. It's too bad they didn't have the frozen variety of these or other baos, to-go.
Of course, the obligatory filling picture...
The last to arrive was the green onion pancake. Most Chinese places I've been to make a pretty decent green onion pancake, and this was no different. I did notice that this one wasn't as oily or salty as the others, which I appreciated.
With tax and tip, it came to a little over $30, for three people. Not the cheapest fare in the area, given that one could have pho, or Chinese lunch special, but still pretty economical. However, if you are sensitive to MSG, or prefer things with less oil and salt, this may be your place! Also, despite what many Yelp reviewers said, service was attentive on our visit-- the tea pot was refilled quickly, and the manager/owner even came over to ask how everything was and how we liked it.
706 W. Las Tunas Drive, No. B3-B4
San Gabriel, CA