Yah, I eat in the burbs. I eat the heck out of the burbs and I don’t give a hoot.
Having soft opened on November 15, Aga is relatively new in Artesia, CA. Everyone considers this stip of Pioneer to be Cerritos anyway, and the clientele they serve mainly live in Cerritos. Artesia is a much smaller town, with a relatively horrendous city government, but the city taxes, licensing, and commercial property rent are all cheaper. It’s always been Cerritos’s little bitch when it comes to being whored out for cheap land. The restaurant density in Artesia is so much higher than Cerritos even though Cerritos has a much higher percentage of the target clienteles, especially because the city’s median income is so much higher than Artesia. I rant, I know.
Back to the food.
So, Aga is relatively new, and it’s being operated by a bundle of Taiwanese twenty-somethings fluent in both Taiwanese and English. At least it feels like a place being operated by a bunch fo twenty-somethings. The seats are uncomfortable, the accoustic is a tad lousy, and the incredibly long bar, with its scant seats, in a restaurant that serves tea, makes zilch sense. The interior design is some sort of horrible, as there is so much dead space simply being wasted between the bar and the wall bench. But whatever, Aga is paying the retail strip mall rent, not I.
Still, Aga is the real deal. It’s helmed by a third generation Taiwanese restauranteur who blubbers on video, but who has also managed to recreate dish his family is known for since 1958. This chain is not a shanzai knock-off like the current Yung-Ho disaster in the SGV. It’s bona fide; I’ve seen Mr. Guo himself bouncing in and out of the kitchen:
The menu at Aga is terse, just like it is in Chiayi city, Taiwan. There are only a handful of “entrees”, which arrive at the table looking basically like this:
That is the signature dark meat turkey rice. The rice is salted and steamed with turkey soup stock. It tastes nothing of Thanksgiving. This is how I grew up eating turkey. This is the reason why I can’t stand “American” turkey and sliced turkey from a dlei. This dish reminds me how I truly despise “American” food 49% of the time. At $8, it’s not the cheapest meal in Artesia, it’s not even the cheapest, nor the biggest, Taiwanese rice dish along Pioneer Blvd, but I don’t care. I’ll pay an extra US$ for the Aga name, another $0.50 for some weak display of interior design. After all, the cliche goes something like: well it’s cheaper than an airplane ticket.
Another popular entree is the black Taiwanese sausage. It’s black because there are no nitrates nor food coloring. The sausage is rather dry, and lean. But more important, it tastes like Kaoliang wine. Specifically, it tastes like a highly proofed Kaoling wine. There is no other sausage in America, Chinese, Taiwanese, Italian, French or otherwise, that tastes like this. This is also only $7. Note the casual vegetable sides come room temp, and if the weather is a bit cool, the vegetables are cold. It’s a style and homage thing. Just eat it.
The other dishes arrive looking rather plain. These snacks, as sold in Taiwan, typically costs $0.75 to $1, so there is no plating to speak of what-so-ever. Aga attempts to mask the humble origins of the food by using some crotchety aged modernism bowls more suited for pasta and western soups. How I wish they’d stop. Thankfully, the lousy ceramic ware doesn’t translate to lousy food. The deep fried sticky rice pork “pie” (or dumpling), is a thing only a native would love. It’s crazy, it’s incomparable, and it’s actually texturally unpleasant. But it’s wonderfully tasty:
Aga, we salute you for not sticking to the same damned pork chop rice and shaved ice. Currently, entrees orders receive get a free tea drink during lunch. The teas are flavored in the current popular Taiwanese way: no fruity syrups, just brewed fruit and tea.
Aga Taiwanese Bistro
Pioneer Blvd, Artesia, CA