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Handing off pork buns in an Arcadia parking lot

Hot dog bun, left, and pork sung with mayo bun from Delish Bao.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

On a recent Sunday, I parked my car at the back of a sporting goods store in Arcadia and waited for a text. My phone dinged with a message from an unknown number: “I’m all the way back and standing outside of my car.”

I got out of my car and looked around. I found a woman standing by her gray electric SUV, all the way in the back of the lot, holding an unmarked paper bag. Inside the bag were boxes of Cantonese bao and pastries: juicy pork buns, pan-fried pork buns, lap jeong bao, hot dog buns, pineapple buns, pork sung and mayonnaise buns and a container of fried fish skin chips. She looked around, then passed me the bag; I hurried back to my car.

I’m Jenn Harris, a columnist and video host in the Food section, filling in for restaurant critic Bill Addison, who’s on vacation.

I had ordered from a company called Delish Bao, an online operation where you order and pay online, then arrange for a pickup location. It’s run by Sarah Lai and Zhi Cheng Li, a father-daughter duo from Guangzhou, China. Li started baking in China in the late ’70s and has worked at multiple local bakeries, including the JJ Bakery chain and the bakery department of HK Market. The two started baking and selling pastries when Lai lost her job during the pandemic in 2020.

The buns and bao brought me right back to the bakeries I used to roam as a kid in the San Gabriel Valley. At strip malls (and sometimes in markets), I would peruse the shelves of plastic-wrapped bao and pastries, pleading with my grandma to buy me a hot dog bun and a cheese corn bun for a snack.

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The Delish Bao pastries come with warming instructions but they are excellent cold. The hot dog buns are similar to the ones I ate as a kid, only prettier. The bun is soft and fluffy, shiny and golden, wrapped around the sausage, which peeks out of both ends. It’s a sweet, rich, milky bread that sticks to the roof of your mouth. Pigs in a blanket never tasted so good.

The pork mayonnaise buns are especially indulgent, blanketed in pork floss and congealed mayonnaise. Warm the buns as instructed in the oven and the pork and mayonnaise melt as one into a glorious, crumbly, porky, fatty mess on top of the buns.

I’m constantly on the lookout for my next great bite, even in a sporting goods store parking lot. I recently launched a column called What to Eat Now, inspired by the many (many) evenings I spend out, trying new restaurants, trucks and stands. Each week, I offer recommendations for the dishes you should seek out now. The bao from Delish Bao definitely made the column.

And here are the rest of this week’s recommendations:

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Chopped cheese from the N.Y. Chopped Cheese food truck

Classic chopped cheese from the New York Chopped Cheese food truck.
(Jo Stougaard)

When I told friends I was driving to Woodland Hills to eat chopped cheese off of a food truck, they were confused. The sandwich, I explained, is a New York phenomenon that involves seasoned ground beef and American cheese. Imagine a Philly cheesesteak but with ground beef instead of steak, and swap the peppers for lettuce and tomato. It’s the main attraction on the New York Chopped Cheese truck, a mobile operation that’s been cruising around Los Angeles for about a year now. The meat for all of the sandwiches (except the chicken and the Impossible sandwich) is hamburger meat that’s been chopped, Cold Stone-style, on the flat-top with American cheese thrown in. It turns into a chunky, gooey mishmash that fuses to one side of a hero roll that’s coated with ketchup. The other half of the roll is slathered with mayonnaise and layered with iceberg lettuce and tomato.

I devoured the confused burger-sandwich and didn’t get hung up on trying to classify it as one thing or another. It satisfies like a good burger but with the heft and length of a sub. I licked the bits of cheese that stuck to the paper. My friend Jo ordered the Bing Bong, a creation that invites cooked ramen noodles and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos to the sandwich party. I didn’t try the Bing Bong, which looks like it was inspired by the prison ramen burritos making the rounds on TikTok (Google it, if you dare). Jo insisted it was delicious. Follow the truck on Instagram for locations.

Alma tacos and chicharron de queso

Al pastor tacos from Alma at the Grove.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

I had a ritual in graduate school. Finish my work, drive to the Leo’s Tacos truck parked at the gas station on the northwest corner of La Brea Avenue and Venice Boulevard, and eat three al pastor tacos as a reward. It’s not hard to find good al pastor in Los Angeles. It is surprising, however, to find it at the Grove shopping mall. The new Alma Cocina de Mexico restaurant is lavish and multistoried. Everything — the coasters, the thick braided strands of rope forming a wall in the dining room, the kitchen, the leather barstools, the squat palm trees — makes you feel like you’re at a beach resort.

From my seat at the bar, I could see the chefs cutting away meat from a trompo in the kitchen. The al pastor has that familiar caramelized meat crust that forms after it’s slowly turned in front of a flame. It’s piled on top of hand-pressed corn tortillas and garnished with chopped cilantro and onion. The bartender plopped three jars of salsa down with a warning about “the spicy one.” Upon further inspection, it was a habanero salsa. I used a couple of dabs to moisten the tacos, which needed no help. It isn’t quite the same experience as the gas station parking lot, but it will do. The restaurant also serves chicharron de queso. It’s a mini version of the ones you’ll find at lamb barbacoa specialist Aqui Es Texcoco (there, each one is the size of your arm). It will be a hit with your friends on the keto diet and any fans of giant, rolled, crispy cheese cigars (everyone).

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— Celebrity chef Mario Batali was found not guilty of indecent assault and battery in a Boston case stemming from an incident in 2017.

— Stephanie Breijo reports on two IHOP franchises in Southern California that are keeping their Ramadan halal menu specials due to demand.

— Definitely read this moving tribute to chef Lupe Liang of Chinatown, by local food writer Eddie Lin. “The chef was ... the embodiment of Chinatown and, by extension, the best of L.A.'s multiethnic ferment,” Lin writes.


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