In response to my cry for food courts with good food, esteemed hound Chandavkl recommended the one at the 99 Ranch Market anchored mall at 1300 S Golden West Ave in Arcadia (not 1220 -- it's at the corner of Golden West and Duarte), 79 bus from downtown along Huntington and walk three pleasant blocks southward along Golden West or the 268 along Baldwin Ave and walk a block west along Duarte. I went there, and this is my report.
They have maybe six food vendors plus boba, a dried fruit and meat place, and other things. The food vendors all combine steam trays with stuff they can prepare fresh in the back. But these are not ordinary steam-tray Chinese places. Not at all. They have a nearly 100% Chinese clientele, at least judging from the crowd when I was there, and the food on display has nothing to do with the Greasy Panda. The emphasis is on cheap mass quantities to be sure, not on cuisine. But it's all very interesting.
The most interesting place is called Hsin Hsin Shau May Deli. They have things like big piles of whole fish, a dish with whole shrimp in a brown sauce, big mushrooms in some other kind of sauce, and at least two dozen other equally interesting items. In fact they have so many items that they don't have enough room in their steam tray unit, and the food bins are stacked up two deep in places. I'm not sure quite what the health department thinks of this, but the food seemed perfectly warm from what I could tell.
I was starving, though, and the whole concept of mass quantities was working for me right then, so I ended up eating at the two places to the right of Hsin Hsin Shau. I went to a place called (strangely) something like Curry Etc and got an absurdly cheap plate of rice, two different kinds of pork meatballs (one of them wrapped in some kind of skin and the other about the side of a tennis ball and pleasantly browned to a flavorful crust on the outside), and seaweed. With a can of soda this came to five bucks. (So why is it called Curry Etc? The only reason, as far as I could tell, is that you get a small bowl of curry-flavored broth with your lunch.) I also went to the place to the right of that and got some steamed pork dumplings, again absurdly cheap. This all ended up being way too much food, but I adjusted.
Having chosen the route of gluttony over the refined procedures of the restaurant critic, I can't swear for a fact that the food is excellent here. But it's certainly an experience. The exotic food, though, is really the highlight. The food court space is a big, dark cube with wobbly tables and two TV sets mounted fifteen feet off the floor and murmuring not-quite-intelligibly away. It's not an obnoxious place to eat, but it's not a cool place to hang out either -- maybe on purpose.
Fear not, though, because I have a plan. Get take-out from the food court and hustle it a short ways up Baldwin Ave to the Los Angeles Arboretum. I don't know for a fact what they think about picnics, but you could ask them.
For those familiar with Din Tai Fung, famed dumpling place much discussed here, the food court in question is about one block southwest of that.
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