Local food lovers will most likely be familiar with the name “Pine and Crane.” The casual Taiwanese eatery in Silver Lake has made a name for itself by bringing a variety of Taiwanese comfort food dishes to a mainly non-Asian community for years. It’s helped introduce a multitude of people who may not be familiar with Taiwanese cuisine to dishes like Dan Dan Noodles, and San Bei Ji (Three Cup Chicken), and/or a variety of Taiwanese Oolong Loose-Leaf Teas like Shan Ling Hsi and more.
During COVID-19, Chef-Owner Vivian Ku tested out a Taiwanese Breakfast Pop-Up in Chinatown called “Today Starts Here.” It featured a variety of traditional Taiwanese Breakfast items and delivered some respectable / solid items. It soon closed down, as it was always just a temporary Pop-Up, but now, Vivian Ku and team have found a new permanent location to open up a 2nd branch of Pine and Crane, while integrating some of her Taiwanese Breakfast items, opening up for early Breakfast and Lunch (and eventually Dinner).
Walking into the new space, it’s sunny, very clean with a bit of an Ikea-meets-modern-minimalist feel. The restaurant space is very airy (with huge garage doors that roll up and open up both sides of the restaurant, allowing plenty of airflow. It feels like you’re dining al fresco and it’s quite pleasant.
It’s also very casual, with customers ordering up front before taking a table to eat. The Breakfast menu features dishes between $5 - $9.
Daikon Rice Cakes (Luo Bo Gao) (Zai Lai Rice Flour, Fried Shallots, Shiitake Mushrooms):
I love a good Luo Bo Gao (Daikon Radish Cake), so I was looking forward to seeing how the new Pine and Crane’s version would turn out. Our 1st visit was during their 1st Opening Week, so the kitchen seemed to have been a bit frazzled.
They had mistakenly packaged our Daikon Rice Cakes To-Go and let it sit for a few minutes before our server discovered it and brought it over to us. Those few minutes in a To-Go container ended up steaming the Seared Daikon Rice Cakes. As a result, they turned out soggy and a bit rubbery. The actual flavors were tasty. We’ll have to give them another try in the future.
Savory Soy Milk (Pork Floss, You Tiao, Preserved Vegetables, Scallions, Vinegar, Chili Oil):
One noteworthy item is that the new Pine and Crane Downtown makes their own Soy Milk from scratch. This savory Soy Milk is tasty, but we’re still getting used to it (I’m just used to “Soy Milk” being a sweet, chilled beverage at the local supermarkets), but ever since one of my Taiwanese best friends introduced this savory, hot version to me a few years ago, I’ve come to appreciate it more and more.
It’s got a delicious earthy, clean Soy Bean flavor that shines through. It’s lightly spicy from the Chili Oil, the Scallions, You Tiao (Fried Cruller) and Preserved Vegetables help to bring this all together.
Pan Fried Pork Buns (Sheng Jian Bao) (Taiwanese Cabbage, Kurobuta Pork, Scallions):
Besides the Sheng Jian Bao (Pan Fried Pork Buns) being cooked on the wrong side (they pan seared the normally crimped, raised top of the Bun, flattening the entire Bao), these were surprisingly tasty. I remember the OG Pine and Crane’s version being quite lackluster before COVID-19, but this new Downtown location, with all new staff, are doing some pretty solid cooking. These Sheng Jian Bao had a nice pliant, fluffy exterior, juicy Marinated Pork filling, and the sear (even on the wrong side) gave it a slight crunchy crust. We’d order these again and they were better than the last couple of places we randomly tried in the SGV.
Thousand Layer Pancakes (Organic Egg, Cheese, Thai Basil, Chili Sauce):
Probably the only menu item we saw that veered into hardcore American-Chinese Fusion, Chef Ku and team decided to take a traditional Zhua Bing (Hand Pulled Chinese Pancake) - which they make from scratch in-house(!) - and they crack an Egg, American Cheese, Thai Basil and some Chili Sauce, then fold it over so it’s like a “Flattened Breakfast Burrito / Handheld Vessel.”
The Housemade Thousand Layer Pancake was crispy and tasted freshly made, the Egg with it was fine, but Melted American Cheese?! You can totally see why they went in this direction (it’s their take on a Breakfast “Sandwich / Burrito” item for the local Downtown crowd), but it just felt / tasted odd. (And I grew up eating Breakfast Sandwiches / Burritos and love them.) This was quite heavy as well.
Pig Ear Salad:
A good version of the classic Chilled Pig Ear appetizer found at many Chinese restaurants, this had a nice spicy kick, a good brightening from the Green Onions and Cilantro.
Chive and Egg Pockets (Chinese Chives, Scrambled Eggs, Vermicelli):
They also make their Chive Pockets in-house as well, and you can taste the quality here. It’s not too thick, it has a nice sear for crispiness, and the Chinese Chives, Vermicelli and Eggs make a delicious combination here.
Eastern Beauty Oolong Tea:
Continuing one of the highlights of the OG Pine and Crane, Chef Ku offers a nice variety of Taiwanese Loose Leaf Teas, to explore the spectrum of interesting Taiwanese Tea Leaves.
Even though this is a casual spot, they deliver every pot of Taiwanese Tea with a Timer set to steep the proper amount of time before you pour it out to enjoy. (This is such a simple solution and tool to make sure you’re enjoying properly steeped Tea. This casual eatery accomplished something that Michelin-chasing Kato for all its bells & whistles failed miserably at.)
This Eastern Beauty Oolong Tea was extremely delicate and fragrant, and the timer indeed yielded a nicely steeped pot of Hot Tea that really allowed you to enjoy the delicate flavor notes of this Oolong.
Wonton Soup (Shrimp Wontons, Chicken / Pork Broth):
The Wonton Soup itself was quite light and delicate, the Housemade Shrimp Wontons were also solid. They were pure Shrimp Wontons (not Shrimp & Pork as some versions can be), and the Shrimp tasted pretty fresh, the Wonton Skins delicate and silky.
Sauteed Spinach with Garlic:
A solid version of Sauteed Spinach with Garlic. Not overly salted, nicely seasoned and just a great Vegetable dish to enjoy.
Beef Roll (Five Spice Beef, Hoisin, Cucumber, Cilantro):
Chef Vivian Ku and team also make their Beef Roll Pancake Wrappers in-house as well. Their take on the classic Beef Roll is slightly crisped on the outside, not too oily, and the Five Spice Beef is delicious!
It might have a little bit less Beef than 101 Noodle Express’s massive Rolls, but this tastes pretty good and tastes cleaner, lighter as well. We’d order this again. (@strongoxman @paranoidgarliclover @BradFord )
Taiwanese Sticky Rice (Dried Shrimp, Taiwanese Sausage, Peanuts, Cilantro):
I’ve had a version of this Taiwanese Sticky Rice years ago, when my best friend from Taipei took us to eat some Taiwanese cuisine. I don’t remember it being as gloppy sweet as this version, though. The Sticky Rice itself is fine, the Peanuts, Taiwanese Sausage Slices and Cilantro were all tasty. But that Sauce on top was super sweet and really off-putting. I’ll defer to our Taiwan cuisine Onioners (@ipsedixit @paranoidgarliclover @A5KOBE @Sgee @BradFord and all) to chime in on the authenticity here.
Sauteed Mustard Greens (Edamame, Tofu Skin, Ginger):
It should be noted that Chef-Owner Ku’s family has their own farm where they grow a variety of Vegetables for their restaurants (neat!). So we appreciated the fresh, locally grown Mustard Greens, and the Edamame and Tofu Skin combined to evoke the classic Hsue Tsai Mao Dou Bai Yeh (Snow Cabbage, Edamame, and Tofu Skin) dish seen on many menus. Except the Mustard Greens are fresh here (not pickled). The flavors were great, but I wish they better integrated the Tofu Skin (they threw 3 small slices on top, and it didn’t taste well-integrated like the traditional version). But as a Vegetable dish? Tasty and we’d order it again.
One our 2nd visit, we showed up just as they were transitioning from Breakfast to Lunch (11:00 a.m.), so we were able to get in a few Breakfast items and Lunch items at the same time.
Soy Milk (Hot, Half-Sweetened):
While I enjoyed the Savory Soy Milk from the 1st visit, ordering their Housemade Soy Milk, Hot and “Half-Sweetened” (you can also order it regular “Sweetened” or “Unsweetened”) was more enjoyable. You can really taste the earthy, deep Soy Bean flavors from their Housemade Soy Milk. Excellent.
Fan Tuan (Pork Floss, You Tiao, Soy Braised Egg, Preserved Vegetables Wrapped in Sticky Rice):
One of the most popular items from their “Today Starts Here” Breakfast Pop-Up during the pandemic lockdown era, we’re glad to see Chef Ku and team bring this back for their new brick and mortar location. Their Fan Tuan is a respectable version, the Pork Floss, You Tiao (Fried Cruller), Soy Braised Egg, Preserved Vegetables all work well with the exterior Sticky Rice. It’s a tasty, albeit filling bite. (They also offer this in Purple RIce, but the kitchen had some issues with the Purple Rice batch so they ran out early.)
(They can also make this Fan Tuan Vegetarian or Vegan as well.)
Smashed Cucumber Salad:
A much livelier version of the classic Chilled Cucumber Salad found at many local eateries, Pine and Crane’s version incorporates not only the ubiquitous Garlic and Salt, but also a Chili Paste. The result is a slightly spicy (but not overly so), more flavorful version of this Chinese Cucumber Salad. Refreshingly cool and tasty.
Ali Shan Jin Hsuan Oolong Tea:
On this visit we tried another of their extensive list of Taiwanese Loose Leaf Teas, Ali Shan Jin Hsuan Oolong Tea. Once again, there was a timer set to the ideal amount of time to steep before pouring and enjoying. The Ali Shan Tea was more aromatic than the Easter Beauty Tea we tried last time. Also with a nice round mouthfeel, just a quality Loose Leaf Oolong Tea.
Vegan Mapo Tofu (Organic Silken Tofu, Spicy Doubanjiang, Mushrooms) + Brown Rice:
This new Pine and Crane (Downtown) only offers 1 type of Mapo Tofu, which is vegan. We have no issues with enjoying vegan dishes, as many Chinese dishes are naturally vegan (no faux meat). Taking a bite:
The Silken Tofu is coated with a delicious Spicy Doubanjiang Sauce. It doesn’t have the numbing spice (from Szechuan Peppercorns) that some versions have, but it’s delicious! The multiple types of Mushrooms, the Housemade Mapo Tofu Sauce is comforting, the Silken Tofu and eaten with some fresh Steamed Brown Rice, and you have a fantastic meal. (@ElsieDee @paranoidgarliclover and all.)
Bok Choy Potstickers (Shiitake Mushrooms, Bean Curd, Vermicelli):
We were craving Potstickers, and hearing that Pine and Crane (Downtown) makes their Potstickers and Dumpling skins in-house from scratch, made us want to try their Potstickers even more. First, there is an incredible pan-seared crust on these Bok Choy Potstickers! Serious crunchy deliciousness.
The filling with Bok Choy veggies, finely chopped Shiitake Mushrooms, Bean Curd and Vermicelli (be sure to try it straight up and with a bit of Chinese Black Vinegar (tableside condiment)) was seriously one of the most delicious Potstickers I’ve had, and it was naturally Vegan(!). (@ipsedixit @ElsieDee @BradFord @Mr_Happy and all.)
Hakka Mochi (Rolled in Peanut and Black Sesame):
Seeing they had Hakka Mochi (and yes, they make their Mochi (Pounded Rice) in-house), it was a must-order, as we’re seeking out great Black Sesame Desserts for @paranoidgarliclover (and ourselves). The Hakka Mochi itself was nice and tender and pliant. It had a delicate chew and was pleasing. The Black Sesame… was too weak. (Sorry @paranoidgarliclover .) If we felt there wasn’t enough nutty Black Sesame, then for sure it won’t be enough for @paranoidgarliclover. It wasn’t bad at all, but it needed more “oomph!” and more deep, roasted, nutty Black Sesame flavors.
The Peanut side was delicious! Fragrant, roasted Peanut flavors, it had a touch of salt as well, so you got that salty-sweet combo.
One interesting observation (we didn’t even realize it until now), is that besides our Fan Tuan, our entire 2nd Visit was 100% Vegan(!). (@ElsieDee ) And we appreciate that it’s naturally vegan - nothing was forced. It’s just a great use of Vegetables, Tofu, Vermicelli, and Housemade Sauces, etc.
Looking over their menu they have a lot of Vegan and Vegetarian offerings, again, without faux meat. (I know my vegan friends are going to enjoy stopping by regularly.)
Ultimately, the new Pine and Crane (Downtown LA) is a welcome addition to the area, bringing some well-made Taiwanese Breakfast and Lunch dishes where there were no options before. While we weren’t that impressed with the OG Pine and Crane in Silver Lake, the new Taiwanese Breakfast items here, and execution on their Lunch items generally shine and make them standout compared to the original location (which had Lunch / Dinner only).
Getting freshly made, Housemade Soy Milk (Sweet or Savory), a Fan Tuan (Breakfast Rice Roll), and a Chive & Egg Pocket in a relaxing, sunny setting? I’d take that Taiwanese Breakfast if passing through Downtown any day of the week. One thing we sincerely hope Chef-Owner Vivian Ku considers bringing back from their “Today Starts Here” Pop-Up, however, is their Housemade Shao Bing (Flaky Sesame Seed Pastry):
They made this Shao Bing from scratch, in-house, and it was flaky, light, nutty and excellent! If they add this back on the menu, then that would make Pine and Crane (Downtown) a much more exciting option for Breakfast.
Besides that, their Lunch menu features quite a few standouts as well. Hopefully their Taiwanese Sticky Rice was a fluke (overly gloppy, and too sweet), but their selection of Cold Appetizers (Smashed Cucumber Salad, Pig Ear Salad, etc.), their Housemade Taiwanese Pancake Wrappers for their Beef Rolls (excellent), their Housemade Dumpling and Potsticker skins, and more all shine here. Those little touches really make a difference, but what’s even more impressive is that Chef Ku trained a whole new set of staff (front and back of the house) to execute on the service and cooking.
Don’t sleep on their amazing (naturally) vegan options, either. Their Bok Choy Potstickers were fantastic, the Vegan Mapo Tofu was comforting, their Seasonal Sauteed Veggies (from her family’s farm) were all very fresh and bright, and their Taiwanese Loose Leaf Tea menu has a large array of choices. And we’ll be back to try their Dan Dan Noodles and Dou Hua (Tofu Flower Dessert, made in-house!, with Taro Balls, Red Bean, Ginger Syrup).
Pine and Crane (Downtown L.A.)
1120 S. Grand Ave., Unit 101
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Tel: (213) 536-5292