After trying a half-dozen different Chinese cuisines in the S.G. Valley and having become somewhat educated but not passionately aroused, I have now (thanks to my expert friend) found a Chinese cuisine that appears to offer several candidates for my long-term devotion to the same degree as the carne asada burrito, the massaman curry, the lamb vindaloo and the gambas al ajillo.
That cuisine is Sichuan.
My epiphany came at a place called Oriental Pearl in Alhambra (location below). I am told that it is a typical Sichuan place. I guess the reason I liked it so much is that the spiciness makes it exciting, and the ingredients all tasted very fresh and complex. Sorry not to be more insightful on that front.
We picked out appetizers from the counter: sliced beef, seaweed and celery. All fun to eat.
We ordered four entrees:
a) sea cucumber on rice-krispie-looking things
b) sea eel soup
c) fried fish on a bed of red peppers (melt-in-your-mouth tender)
d) spicy (sauteed or fried??) cabbage
I would say everything was spicy but nothing was painfully so. I don't know why necessarily, but something about the ingredients seemed more friendly to my Anglo-Californian palate than most other kinds of Chinese food that I've had in the S.G. Valley.
To reiterate: it was all delicious.
Total incl. tax: $35
For those (like me) who like feeling "intrepid": Two members of our party were the only non-Chinese in the place. The staff all had Sichuan accents, I was told.
I couldn't find it in any of the yellow pages, but I did find a listing through Google that's in pretty much the right location:
Oriental Pearl Restaurant
621 W. Main St. Alhambra 91801
The way we found it: it's at the NE corner of Main and Atlantic, next to the carwash.