Monja is a Taiwanese comfort food emporium located in the City of Industry. The small café from chef Paul Wang and wife Enya loosely captures the feel of their motherland’s famed night markets, featuring above average versions of flavor-forward classics.
The restaurant also conjured pleasant reminders of my 2012 trip through Taiwan, partly through Monja’s liberal use of pork. The planet’s most magical animal appears stewed, in sausage or soup, and in a “red grain” preparation. The restaurant also smartly leans on noodle dishes, “tasty snacks” and “crispy stuff.”
Monja loosely captures the feeling of Taiwanese night markets, including a panoramic photo of a bright red temple, and equally colorful overhead lanterns. The restaurant is in the unenviable position of resting beneath the despicable Magic Restroom Cafe in Seasons Place Shopping Center. Thankfully, the memory of their neighbor’s toilet seat logo dissipates indoors.
Any culture that embraces fried chicken as appetizer is all right by me, and Monja makes some good Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken ($4.95). They dredge dark meat in three kinds of flour and toss the juicy results with basil leaves. The crust is indeed “Crispy Stuff.”
Taiwanese Sausage ($3.75) made with sorghum liqueur and red grain, comes sliced and served with raw garlic to combat richness, which is apparently in the link’s fat flecking.
From the Tasty Snacks section, we ordered an Assorted Stew Combination ($5.99). Each plate hosts firm, Swiss cheese like strips of tofu; crunchy pig ears; and chewy seaweed, all accompanied by handmade Chinese spicy red pepper sauce.
Monja Red Grain Pork Rice ($7.50) beautifully melded tangy pickled choy, fatty stewed pork, and crispy red-rimmed roast pork slices. The restaurant’s signature dish is based on a restaurant called Chao Chi Pork Porridge in a Taiwan district called – you guessed it – Monja.
Niu Rou Mian, aka beef noodle soup, is Taiwan’s national dish. The country even has a prestigious NRM festival. At Monja, Tomato Sauce Beef Dry Noodle ($6.99) removes the broth, but still features juicy chunks of shank and tendon, crisp bok choy, and thick noodles.
As our meal continued, dishes became simpler and simpler, including Stewed Pork Noodle with little more than the title ingredients and scallions.
Taiwanese Style Dry Noodle topped thin noodles with crunchy bean sprouts, a generous scallion shower, and crispy, umami-rich fish skin.
Dried Bean Cured with Vegetable featured simple roughage: cabbage tossed with more of those firm, hole-punched bean curd strips.
I skipped dessert entirely, though the brown sugar with condensed milk shaved ice sure was tempting. Monja seems to be earning momentum, as evidenced by a second location in nearby Rosemead. Maybe that’s at least partly due to their proactive name, which loosely translates to English as aggressive grasshopper.