Monday, December 25, 2006

Magic Wok - Grand Re-Opening - Artesia

Christmas came early for me this year. Magic Wok, one of my favorite restaurants in the whole world, re-opened after the fire that gutted one of its neighbors last September forced it to close.

We were in the area on Saturday, and in a practice that had become routine, we drove by with our necks craned out of the window, checking if our beloved hole-in-the-wall had recovered. Then, amidst all the scaffolding and propped-up wooden boards, we saw it. A sign of hope, a sign of life, a sign that said "We're Open".

It was a Christmas/Festivus miracle!

We hailed "Hallelujah!" and jumped for joy in our seats. Or as close to jumping as our seatbelts would allow.

I swung the car around in a hasty U-turn and parked. We were going to eat there. And were going to eat there now. Nevermind that it was only four-o-clock in the afternoon. Nevermind that we weren't hungry. We'd been waiting three months for this and we weren't going to wait any longer, not even the two hours to dinnertime.

As we stood outside gawking, the setting sun struck the top of the building. The marquee -- one that the Filipino owners never bothered to change when they bought the space from the Magic Wok Chinese fast-food chain -- twinkled triumphantly. Nothing in a strip mall had ever looked so beautiful.

The blaze that engulfed the take-out joint at the opposite end of the row had not touched, singed, or sullied the unit that Magic Wok occupied. It escaped with nothing more than water damage to its exterior. A walk inside confirmed this. In fact, it looked as if nothing had happened.

The same red pleather seats occupied the same cramped booths. The same Latinas waited tables. Even the familiar absence of music remained. All that can be heard was the chorus of smacking of lips; the clink of spoons on plates; the sounds of people eating a good meal.

And the food is exactly as I remembered, prepared the way Filipino cuisine is meant to be enjoyed: home-style and cooked rocket-hot to order.

We ordered a trio of dishes for the two us. It was too much food, too early. But upon consuming my first spoonful of it, my eyes crept back into my head in a state of blissful fulfillment. Up to now, the food from nearby Goldilocks and Salo-Salo Grill had been pale surrogates, filling our stomachs but not our hearts.

This is what I call a homecoming.

The first dish to arrive was Pinakbet ($5.99), a stir-fry that eats like a stew, overflowing with almost every product found in the Asian produce aisle. The variety is such that it might actually be easier to recite what's not in it.

In the roster, there are yellow squash, bittermelon, eggplant, okra, onions, and string beans, each contributing its own eye-popping color and distinct texture to the elaborate potpourri.

Some fatty pork and shrimp rides along as protein, but by far, its defining characteristic, what makes pinakbet pinakbet, is the addition of a flavoring agent called bagoong alamang.

This pungent purplish paste, made from the fermentation of brine shrimp, is concentrated and potent. Alone, its sharp odor could be used as a smelling salt to revive the unconscious. But dissolved in the pinakbet gravy, it pulls the dish together like the force of gravity, rendering it more addictive than crack, especially when the runoff is spooned over rice.

Next was Bistek Tagalog ($5.25). It is marinated steak, sliced thin, caramelized, and glazed with a mix of garlic, soy sauce, and vinegar, finished with sauteed onions. The beef is a little chewy, a little dry, existing in the middle ground between jerky and fajitas. This is one of my favorite dishes there. And it should come as no surprise that it's perfect with hot rice.

Last but not least, glass noodles -- clear, elastic threads which stretch like bungees and wiggle like gelatin -- form the basis for Pancit Sotanghon ($5.25). Stir fried with green beans, lean pork, and tofu, it's something a Filipino mother would whip up for a quick supper. One can't help but slurp when eating it. It's just that kind of dish.

Our bellies doubly full, and our hearts content, we drove away with plenty of leftovers. Magic Wok is back. It's going to be a great new year.

Magic Wok
(562) 865-7340
11869 Artesia Blvd
Artesia, CA 90701

To read my previous posts on Magic Wok:
--->>> CLICK HERE <<<---
--->>> AND HERE <<<---


At 2:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I can say is *yay!* I better inform my parents about this new turn of events.

Btw, have you ever eaten at Asian Noodle?

At 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The marinated steak looks yummy :-)

At 7:49 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Haven't tried Asian Noodle. But I heard about it at MMM-YOSO, and it sounds like my kind of place!

The Bill,

I ate the leftovers yesterday for breakfast and lunch...still pretty darned good!


Definitely one the best dishes made of beef I've ever had. No joking. This is good stuff.

At 8:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pinay and i can't eat pinakbet becuase of the bitter aftertaste.

i'd go there for the bistek. looks really good!

i always enjoy your blogs! it's torture to read it when i'm trying to lose the holiday calories.

At 10:30 AM, Blogger Deb said...

YUM! I'm heading to Sushi 5 today. Happy Holidays Elmo!

At 1:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an interesting post! We live literally about 5-10 minutes from Magic Wok, but I've never been there--my parents went several years ago and said they had the worst Chinese food ever there. I always see it when we go to Don Jose's though, which is in the same parking lot.

We'll have to give it a try one of these days, now that we know what they serve. Thank you for spreading the info!

At 2:48 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Yum! I have my appetite back, and here you go talking about three of my favorite dishes in Filipino cuisine! Pinakbet is my absolute favorite! I am definately a fan of bitter melon!

At 8:17 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I think that bistek is reason enough to try it. But their menu is large, and covers the gamut. You can even have a traditional Filipino Breakfast there. It's served all day.


Likewise! I hope you like Sushi 5. Some reports say that they don't have as many ready-made sushi rotating, but that's fine by me since I usually like to order everything I want to eat. Go there when you have some time to kill.


Yes, it's confusing. The first time I heard about Magic Wok, I said, "Isn't that the Chinese take-out chain?". But nope, although they adopted the name from the take-out place that occupied it, they serve home-style Filipino. If you're new to the cuisine, that Bistek dish is a good place to start! Yummmm!


Isn't pinakbet great? I tasted it for the first time at Magic Wok maybe about a year or two ago. And the stuff you get at turo-turo places just doesn't cut it for me anymore. It's gotta be fresh like they do it. Fresh, and scorching hot out of the wok.

At 12:44 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

Glee! =D

Now you have the bitter choice to make. Cafe Hiro or Magic Wok for the next meetup. Ho ho ho...

- Chubbypanda

At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, we picked up from there the other night--everyone liked it! We ordered exactly what you noted in your post along with the broccoli beef (I know...I know...but my Dad likes it)--we particularly liked the tagalog and the noodles.

I was told that the place was packed when they went to pick it up, so I guess it's doing well. Thanks! We would never have tried it if you hadn't mentioned it.

At 7:32 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Well that's easy, I'll let you guys choose!


You tried it! Great! Although I notice that you didn't mention what you thought of the pinakbet. It is usually pretty foreign to the non-Filipino palate at first, like it was to mine. An acquired taste, I think is what one would call it. Also, if you did take out, did it stink up your car for days afterward? That bagoong is pretty pungent stuff.

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

I have a similiar "re-opened" restaurant up here in Oakland, called "Fenton's." It is similar because it too was decimated by a fire set by two ex-employees, but now it is back better than ever! Delicious post and just wanted to wish you a "Happy New Year" and wish for many more posts on Monster Munching in the future!

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Ed said...


You mean Fenton's the ice cream place in Oakland??

At 6:06 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Whoa! Two ex-employees set the place on fire!? Those are some mean Mr. Grinches!

But Happy New Year to you as well! I'm looking forward to reading your blog and hopefully keeping up on my side of the fence.


A fire at an ice cream parlor? Somewhere in there is irony.

At 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We liked the pinakbet too, although it did have something in it with a slightly bitter aftertaste--I think it would take a little getting used to, but the rest of it was good.

Now if I could only persuade people here from constantly picking up from Taco Bell (apparently the default choice for take out,) we could try some of the other things...

At 4:29 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Ah, that bitter taste is from the aptly named bittermelon. It's definitely an acquired taste. There's a dish that Magic Wok sells (called Ampalaya) that uses it as a main ingredient, and the first time I tasted it, I thought it tasted like soap. Then, after a while, I craved it. Strange how once our palates become used to something, it begins longing for those flavors.

For example, I never liked beef tendons before. Now, it seems like I've developed an obsession for it.

At 8:15 PM, Blogger Ed said...

Actually, "ampalaya" refers to the bittermelon itself.

It's cognate with Indonesian "peria" and Balinese "paya".

At 8:15 PM, Blogger Ed said...

And beef tendon - mmm!

At 3:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

how do you get such clear pictures for your digital camera? do you shoot in manual mode and play with the aperatures? I have a high end sony dsc v3 and my pictures come out drab.appreciate your help.

At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

how do you get such clear pictures for your digital camera? do you shoot in manual mode and play with the aperatures? I have a high end sony dsc v3 and my pictures come out drab.appreciate your help.

At 8:09 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I had no idea Indonesians ate bittermelon too.


I actually just use the P setting, and also use Photoshop to readjust the levels. But you should see how many photos I throw out. For every good picture you see on my blog, there are six bad ones.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger raissa said...

I will agree, Magic Wok has the best Filipino food there is outside of the Philippines. The Bistek Tagalog is one of my favorites along with Pancit Bihon, Crispy Pata. The calamares is good too. When we have parties its usually Magic Wok catered. Its hard to get a table for Sunday Lunch. They were supposed to move to a bigger space before the fire. Dont know if its still going to push through.

At 12:51 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Have you tried their SISIG?! OH. DEAR. LORD! I've never tasted anything so great in my life. SOOOO GOOD. Great with rice, of course.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger raissa said...

Oh I havent! I should try it one of these days. The sisig in Pinoy Bistro is pretty good too but there's new resto about to open in Cerritos called Gerry's Grille and we are waiting for it because its known in the Philippines to have the best sisig. Cant wait till it opens.

At 11:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow ! I' am so glad to know this place is still open . My family and I used to go there every sunday after church and it has never failed us . The BEST filipino food in Cali for sure .The Best Crispy pata , delicious .


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