Diamond Bar, a middle-class suburb of tidy tract homes enjoys the benefits of straddling LA, Orange and Riverside counties, has become a bastion of all things Asian. Sure, you might have to get lost figuring out the geography of the 57/60 interchanges, but once you’ve found that random Asian enclave it’s almost as good as being in the San Gabriel Valley.
Just like the community it anchors, Diamond Palace sports a sleepy, laid back attitude that sets it apart from its ancestry up north—a minimally decorated, square box of a space that won’t pack customers in like a can of sardines. Even on the busiest days there’s room to breathe and space to sit back and relax after a hefty Cantonese meal. Hey, even the six gigantic fish tanks perched along the wall doesn’t offend, its soon-to-be tabled creatures seeming to live an unforeboding, comfortable existence. Nothing smelly, sparkly clean and bright. Okay, so maybe it doesn’t aspire to the San Gabriel stamp of authenticity, but that’s all right by me. Even the waiters defy San Gabriel standards—no snarky rudeness here. What you get is the genuine article, people who are quietly efficient and almost as personable as your friendly waiter at the local Coco’s.
Like most Americanized Chinese affairs, Diamond Palace offers up a picture-perfect selection of bargain-basement priced lunch entrées starting at $4.75, like the sweet and sour pork, fried rice, the Kung Paos and Orange Flavored chickens, shrimp in lobster sauce and chow mein. However, interspersed among the usual Panda Express knock-offs (and these dishes could honestly use a bit more salt and seasoning at times) are the offbeat ones picky Chinamen dive into at the more acculturated mess halls, like the pan-fried lotus or fish filet and veggies cooked in black bean sauce, beef chow fun or taro with chicken and preserved meats. Even the starter soup looks like the stuff my Asian nonna makes, a meatless, poor man’s soupy beef broth with the occasional floating lotus root and carrot, a lip-smacking palate teaser that makes the standard egg drop schlop look and taste like excruciating three-day old gruel. That’s after the cold but sweet Chrysanthemum tea the waiters bring as you sit down, generating a nice appetite-warming sugar buzz before the meal.
Fresh seafood is the money maker here, and no matter which table you sit at or which side you look, diners are ordering it in droves, be it the deep-fried shrimp with spicy salt or freshly caught lobster or crab cooked in light brown gravy with ginger and scallions. So maybe I do see the occasional sweet and sour pork and shrimp with lobster sauce at nearby tables, but I also feel giddy with delight at the thought of those other favorites I’ve grown up with, pan-fried string beans at a table occupied by a Mexican family. Not one narrow-minded Chinamen can say that white men don’t know how to eat. The baby rock cod, cooked simply in a soy sauce and oil infusion with chopped scallions, velvety sweet and smooth flesh dissolving on the tongue, is a pleasure to behold. A simple meal of just the fish, a plate of fatty and tangy Peking Style Pork Chops, and Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce are enough to relive the dreams and smells of the Chinese home kitchen.
Diamond Palace may not be the epitome of Chinese food perfection, but out in this pocket of Asian American suburbia, it’s good enough to pass for the real McCoy—or the real McWong in this case.
Diamond Palace Seafood Restaurant, 225 Gentle Springs Lane, Diamond Bar, (909) 860-6339. Lunch for two, less than $15. Open daily, 11AM–midnight. AE, D, MC, V