Dai Ho Kitchen: Taming Taiwan Style Beef Noodle Soup

Taiwanese Restaurant Los Angeles

Dai Ho's sign encourages people to get along in English and Mandarin.

After emigrating from Taiwan in the mid 80’s, Jim and May Ku opened My Kitchen in the San Gabriel Valley hamlet of Alhambra in 1987. Eleven years later, they moved to nearby Temple City, keeping the same Chinese characters, but changing their English name to Dai Ho Kitchen, meaning “everybody gets along” in Chinese.

The kitchen’s move caused some confusion for long-time customers, since the new owners disingenously kept the same Chinese characters on the sign and delivered plummeting quality. One person literally bought duck wings from Alhambra to the new location and asked May why the food was so bad. She pointed out that they didn’t make the duck wings. May’s wings had two duck joints while the imposters used three joints. People eventually got the message that the restaurants weren’t related.

May taught herself to cook in Taiwan, treating friends to original recipes for soup and noodles. According to daughter Tina Ku, who helps to run the restaurant, “Those dishes were what my mom knew how to do. It’s traditional Chinese fast food.” Tina attended California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena and has since learned her mother’s recipes. She said, “I’ve pretty much got everything down.”

Officially, the menu offers just eight dishes: sesame sauce dry noodles, vegetable cold dry noodles, pork bean dry noodles, minced meat dry noodles, beef stew soup noodles, beef tripe with spicy simmered and dried bean curd, beef tripe with spicy simmered and dried bean curd and pork shank, and chicken soup noodles. During summer a lot of people get cold noodles. During winter, soup noodles are more popular.


Taiwanese Food Los Angeles

May also prepares an array of cold dishes, which are packaged to go, but can be eaten in-house. According to Tina, “On the weekends, my mom comes up with recipes for dishes. People get them to have with beer and wine at home.” Popular options include pig’s feet, sliced beef shank and eggs marinated in soy sauce.

According to Tina, as a testament to May’s cooking, “A lot of people take the dishes to Taiwan, Beijing or Hawaii.” They freeze the dishes the night before and by the time they land, they’ve thawed. Tina said, “They have similar things in Taiwan, but people say it’s not as good.” Some customers regularly drive from Irvine. On long weekends, people drive from San Francisco and San Jose.

Taiwanese Food Los Angeles

Braised Chicken Leg (and thigh) ($5.50) was sliced into cross-sections and served at room temperature. Juicy chicken marinated in salted herb water, then cooked in soy sauce. May has been using the same pan for 10 years, which Tina swears makes a difference.

Taiwanese Food Los Angeles

After asking for a recommendation at the counter, I was steered toward Bean Curd, aka “Tofu Puffs” ($5.50). Fried tofu sheets were piled high with cilantro. To make the dish, dehydrated mushrooms are rehydrated. The tofu and mushrooms are then cooked in mushroom water with soy sauce and sugar, then frozen overnight so the marinade can take hold. I’ve always been opposed to soy, but deep-frying clearly made a difference.

Taiwanese Food Los Angeles

Beef Stew Soup Noodles ($8) are the top selling noodles during cooler months, for good reason. The beef chunks were cooked until tender in an addictive brew of sesame oil, ginger, hot sauce, soy, sugar and homemade chile sauce, for heat. May buys freshly made egg noodles, then adds raw spinach leaves before pouring the soup over the top.

Taiwanese Food Los Angeles

Before I left, May treated me to a container of fried silverfish with peanuts. According to Tina, “The tiny fish are white when raw, then fried until crunchy and seasoned with white pepper and salt.” She compared them to anchovies, only not nearly as pungent. The peanuts were also fried. She said the salty combination is great with beer. Could these tiny critters with the bulging eyes be the next pork rinds? I’d vote yes.

Juice Los Angeles

To drink, I received a complimentary pitcher of hot tea and ice water, and was gifted a cup of fresh-made plum and hibiscus juice (normally $3). The purple drink was intensely flavorful, sweet, with a taste similar to cinnamon. According to May, it “helps to lower cholesterol.”

Taiwanese Food Los Angeles

I didn’t eat it, but I photographed another Dai Ho specialty, 2-Way Combo ($9) featuring slices of beef tripe and tofu, topped with scallions. Tina said the tofu is cooked in soy sauce, then sliced in strips and seasoned with garlic, cilantro and jalapeños.

Taiwanese Food Los Angeles

Massive portions of hand-sliced beef shank ($11) are another popular option. They looked great, but I had no stomach space to spare, so I’ll have to try them on my return visit.

Dai Ho Kitchen is only open for sit-down service for 21 hours per week. Tina said that after running the restaurant for 20 years, her parents “are tired and don’t need that much anymore.” Thankfully, there’s no end in sight for the restaurant. May made it clear that the family will transition to having Tina run the restaurant. Given Tina’s training, and hearing her passionately describe her mother’s recipes, I get the sense that Dai Ho Kitchen will be in good hands.

Dai Ho Kitchen: Taming Taiwan Style Beef Noodle Soup

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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