Authentic Chinese cuisine has never been a strong suit on the west side of Los Angeles. Some even refer to the area as a food desert when it comes to good Chinese food, compared to the more heavily Asian populated enclaves to the east. But the west side’s reputation is slowly improving, thanks to chefs like David Kuo and their desire to bring good Asian cuisine to more people outside the typical areas known for Asian cuisine.
At Little Fatty in Mar Vista, just a few miles from Santa Monica, Kuo is serving up modernized Taiwanese cuisine. After graduating from UCLA, chef Kuo attended the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena before working under acclaimed chefs like Charlie Palmer, Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Kuo refers to Little Fatty as “Taiwanese soul food.” The term of endearment “little fatty” was also Kuo’s childhood nickname, xiao pang, given to him by his family.
“We call it Taiwanese soul food, as we have some similarities to the soul food of America. Taiwan used to be a poor country, and people used off-cuts and made them delicious by simmering for a long time, adding spices. It's food that feels familiar and, served with a bowl of rice, is instant comfort food,” said Kuo.
Little Fatty’s restaurant is simple and unpretentious, like its menu. One of the most exciting parts about the restaurant is that it is attached to a cocktail bar called Accomplice, which is convenient for guests since they can order drinks and food from both the restaurant and the bar.
For Little Fatty, Kuo created a menu that specializes in renditions of popular, traditional classics like kung pao chicken, braised pork belly, walnut shrimp, and lu rou fan, a.k.a. Taiwanese braised pork rice.
Little Fatty’s menu is tasty, and the words modern and hip can be used to describe the experience. The flavors work well together and the dishes, though modernized, are still reminiscent of the traditional dishes they are inspired from. Even those who are used to having the traditional versions of these dishes could appreciate Kuo’s updated interpretations. Kuo sees his cuisine as a modernized take on the food he grew up with.
“Our menu is our interpretation of Taiwanese Chinese food, but done in what we think is our ‘best version,’" said Kuo. “We give it our own twist, pouring into it new techniques from fine dining restaurants we've worked at, using the bounty of California ingredients and making it modern, light and accessible to our audience.”
The most eye-catching and extremely Instagrammable dish on Little Fatty’s menu is probably their take on Chinese BBQ pork. The cooking process involves braising the pork shank, air-drying it, then frying it for a crispy, Peking duck-like skin. The pork is then glazed with their house-made Chinese BBQ sauce and served with baos, spicy cabbage slaw and Chinese mustard.
Another unique dish is their black xiao long bao (soup dumpling) made using squid ink. The unique colored dumpling is filled with shrimp and pork, and served with the traditional black vinegar dipping sauce with ginger slice fixings.
One of the other extremely innovative and unique spins that Little Fatty puts on traditional Taiwanese dishes is their Sunday Gravy, which is Kuo’s take on braised pork rice (lu rou fan). The Taiwanese Sunday Gravy is a fusion of Taiwanese and Italian, comprised of a bowl of pasta with a five-spice seasoned pork sauce similar to a Bolognese. The pickled radish and cabbage bring some much-needed crunch and acidity to the dish.
Lu rou, a.k.a. Taiwanese braised pork, is usually served over rice, but at Little Fatty, it is served over Kuo’s own house-made pasta, made with semolina (Italian-style) and flavored with Korean gochujang chili paste.
According to the server, legend has it that it's called Sunday Gravy because it was made from all the different cuts of meat left over from the week and simmered for hours on Sunday to become a rich pasta sauce.
One of the most surprising and most mouth-watering dishes was General Tso’s Cauliflower. As a nod to the Chinese American dish, General Tso’s Chicken, the cauliflower is battered to a crunchy crisp almost exactly like orange chicken.
Another classic Chinese American dish Little Fatty puts a twist on is walnut shrimp. Little Fatty’s version is gluten-free. Kuo uses a cornstarch coating to give the shrimp an extremely light, airy and crispy taste. Kuo’s version uses sauce that is a much lighter version of the typical gloopy, sweet mayo sauce. Little Fatty also candies their own walnuts, which gives it a sweet crunch.
Dan Dan Noodles are a staple in Chinese and Taiwanese restaurants and households. It’s a tried-and-true dish that is hard to modernize, but Kuo’s version uses chile de arbol, Korean chili flakes and Sichuan peppercorns, along with peanut and sesame pastes.
Of course, being on the west side of town, Little Fatty also offers a number of vegan choices as well. Their vegan fatty noodles have been a crowd favorite.
All in all, Kuo’s food proved to be an exciting and innovative take on Chinese/Taiwanese cuisine. Each dish may have been recreated and modernized, yet it still has that home-style, grandma’s cooking vibe. Even those traditionalists who may be weary of modern takes on classic dishes can find something to enjoy at Little Fatty.
Little Fatty is located at 3809 Grand View Blvd, Los Angeles, Calif., 90066.