Opened at the start of 2020, Pearl River Deli (PRD) is a burgeoning Cantonese food concept operated by chef Johnny Lee, located next to Howlin Rays in Los Angeles' Chinatown's Far East Plaza. Extensive forum posts on Food Talk Central (1, 2) and articles published by Eater, Los Angeles Times, amongst other outlets, have highlighted the innovative cooking going on: a focused menu of Cantonese classics with the volume turned up alongside weekly specials featuring cuisines not limited to Thai, Vietnamese, Yunnan, and more. Hence, on a recent outing in Los Angeles, I had to make a stop here to experience PRD for myself.
I phoned my order in via phone, and got an expected wait time of 20 minutes. The estimate was correct, with my order just about to be boxed up when I arrived. Notably, pickup was rather safe, with payment done at the doorway entrance (hand sanitizer available), a vinyl shield protecting the employees from the outside, and all employees wearing masks. Outdoor seating is available during the COVID-19 pandemic, but I took my order to go and ate it at home.
I did experience a minor technical issue with my order, in that what electronically went into the order queue (wonton noodles) didn't match my actual order of Charsiu Chowfun. Surprisingly, the staff members were extremely nice about this, with the kitchen immediately directed to cook the Charsiu Chowfun. Even more surprisingly, when they signaled that my order was ready, they included the wonton noodles on the house.
The Charsiu Wonton Noodles (14 USD normally) was quite pleasant with a unique twist. Notably, the broth had its own signature, being light and delicate with some vegetable undertones, as opposed to more traditional shrimp-heavy or meat-focused broths. There were plenty of veggies to make the noodle soup a balanced meal, and the egg noodles were bouncy. The wontons were plump and fresh with a filling of shrimp and minced pork, and the pork neck charsiu was extremely meaty, with a hint of sweetness and alcohol fragrance, some underlying smoky flavor, and a perfect balance between fat and lean meat.
For even more nuance from the charsiu, I would probably advise ordering it on its own or on a rice plate, but we felt even more depth of flavor from the charsiu in the Charsiu Chowfun (12 USD). Here, the sweet charsiu glaze further accentuated the porcine flavors. Meanwhile, the chowfun noodles itself had its own unique twist. These noodles were peppery, with a nice wok hei and hint of sweet soy flavor. The noodles were wider than your typical chow-fun noodle, closer to that used in pad see ew, and were chewy (they stayed chewy even reheating them as leftovers later that day!). Meanwhile, the vegetables--onions, green onions, and yellow squash--provided some textural contrasts, with the squash being a rarely seen addition.
Although everything was quite tasty, the dish that elicited the strongest reaction was the Soy Sauce Chicken Legs (10 USD, also available as a rice plate with one chicken leg for 9 USD/ two chicken legs for 13 USD) at PRD. For the most part, soy-sauce chicken in Southern California has been middling at best, especially after our former favorite, Red Ant Cafe closed. What I am on the lookout for is supple, taut pieces of chicken which have been enriched with soy-sauce flavor, a sauce sweet yet complex with seasonings, and jello-like chicken skin.
Hence, I was pleasantly surprised when opening the box, the chicken smelled of complex seasonings, reminiscent of soy-sauce chickens that I would have to fly to Asia for. A taste of PRD's soy sauce chicken leg revealed use of multiple spices, like sichuan peppercorn (happened to get a piece and it was very fragrant), five spice powder and sugar, on top of dark soy. The chicken was a bit on the firm side yet still tender, but most importantly, the soy sauce's flavors seeped into the chicken meat. Wow! In an ideal sense, I wish the chicken could be even more tender/supple, and that the dark soy was used less heavily. However, I will be back for seconds of this in the future.
In short, my experience supports the raving reviews about PRD, and I look forward to being back to try out its other offerings and weekend specials (which were all out by Sunday afternoon when I visited). The food is authentic with a modern lens, and is made with care and quality ingredients. The staff is upbeat and enthusiastic. I can only imagine how the food might have tasted even better had I eaten it on the spot!
Hope you are all staying safe and healthy!