There are so many Hong Kong-style coffee shops in the San Gabriel Valley that devotees usually gravitate to one that makes a favorite comfort food the way they like it. But we love the following restaurants for distinctive personalities and food that sets them apart from the pack.
Baccali Café & Rotisserie. This classic example of the "Overseas Chinese" coffee shop offers a diverse selection of pan-Asian dishes until 2 a.m. on weekends. Beer and wine available. Recommended dishes: house rotisserie chicken; sambal prawns; braised Singapore vermicelli. 245 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 293-3300.
Cafe Spot. A lively scene and a lengthy coffee shop menu with better food than most. Beer and wine available. Recommended dishes: shrimp and vegetable dumplings in soup; braised tofu with mushrooms; Grand Mom's braised pork belly; Hong Kong-style waffle. 500 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 308-3233.
Garden Café. Fresh fruit nonfat smoothies, boba Thai iced tea, carrot juice -- libations at this coffee shop (it's like a Chinese-style Du-par's) keep pace with current tastes while modified Western dishes please those who grew up eating them and intrigue newcomers. The simplest foods are often best. Recommended: grilled lemon grass pork chop with two eggs; deep-fried quail with salt and sliced fresh chile; pan-fried rice noodles with XO sauce. 228 W. Valley Blvd., No. 101, Alhambra, (626) 289-1833.
Jazz Cat Café. This small spot attracts a mostly under-40 crowd for its variations on shabu shabu-style hot pots served in individual portions. A menu of pastas and entrees rounds out the Japanese-Taiwanese inflected fare. Recommended dishes: house special mini hot pot; shrimp and walnut pasta with basil pesto sauce; bacon and spicy garlic pasta; brown sugar milk tea; fruit slushes. 640 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 293-8999.
Red Ant Café. The cooking at this modestly priced place is unexpectedly skillful and the service accommodating. Recommended dishes: Portuguese-style grilled pork shoulder; filet mignon in French pastry with black pepper sauce; Hong Kong-style breakfast of shredded chicken and preserved egg porridge served with pineapple bun; Hong Kong-style coffee or milk tea. 529 E. Valley Blvd. (Sunny Plaza), San Gabriel, (626) 288-8043 and 1370 Fullerton Road, Rowland Heights (No. 102 Diamond Plaza),(626) 581-1370.
Regent Café. Just the place to go when you're in the mood for German pork knuckle after midnight. Although Regent ranks with the city's older coffee shops, the lengthy Sino-Western menu offers something for almost every taste in the manner of the New York Jewish delis. Recommended dishes: borscht, prime rib dinner, shrimp dumplings in broth; peanut butter French toast (made like a Monte Cristo sandwich); shrimp and egg on rice. 1411 S. Garfield Ave., Alhambra, (626) 289-9398.
Savoy Kitchen. Small but mighty. This 26-year-old stalwart has a devoted following for its focused, well-honed menu. Tables are scarce; it's best to arrive early. Closed Sunday. Recommended dishes: Hainan-style chicken; shrimp rolls; smoked duck salad; curries. 138 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra,(626) 308-9535.
Tasty Garden. Carefully crafted, exceptionally flavorful, mostly Chinese dishes and late hours keep this place buzzing. The senior set comes in for afternoon tea; clubbers wind down after a long night. Recommended dishes: filet mignon with pepper and basil; shrimp with scrambled eggs; steamed milk (warm or chilled); peanut butter pizza (believe it); Hong Kong-style waffle. 228 W. Valley Blvd., No. 110-112, Alhambra, (626) 300-8262.
Yume Kitchen. Yume's food tends to be lighter than the old-school spots, often artfully presented in handcrafted pottery. Recommended dishes: saborro rice topped with dry-fried lean ground pork, quail egg and crumbled nori (a refined version of the coffee shop-style ground meat and gravy over rice); tataki salad; French duck with grilled prawns; garlic chicken wings. 402 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 280-3232.
-- Linda Burum