The Leon and Liu family have a new San Gabriel Valley restaurant and a new collection of apparel.
Humberto Leon, the fashion designer/entrepreneur who co-founded Opening Ceremony and was co-creative director of Kenzo, is opening his second Los Angeles restaurant on Saturday.
And like his first restaurant, Chifa in Highland Park, the new Monarch in Arcadia is a family-run establishment that’s about getting back to your roots while updating old recipes and redefining Chinese food in America. Monarch is also where Leon is launching a new collection of apparel, chef totes, lunchboxes, pens and much more. You can shop the new Monarch x VistaPrint collaboration online or buy items at the restaurant.
Leon spent his teenage years in the San Gabriel Valley (specifically Arcadia, Rosemead and San Gabriel), so Monarch feels like a homecoming.
Monarch’s menu, spearheaded by chef John Liu, includes trinity fried rice.
James Emrani and Gardenia Rosales
“There’s so much amazing Asian food here,” he says. “It’s super exciting for us to open a restaurant in a community that I love and grew up in and continue to support. We’re just adding to the landscape and trying to bring something that I feel is complementary and a little bit different. We’re excited to see how we can offer something that is both traditional but also modernized in a way. At the end of the day, we’ve always said we cook for us. And the way we cook at home is the way we cook for our guests.”
Like Chifa, Leon is running Monarch alongside his sister (Ricardina Leon), his brother-in-law (chef John Liu) and his mom (Wendy Leon, also known as Popo). The Cantonese/Taiwanese restaurant’s opening menu includes crab and sweet corn soup, silken steamed egg (which can be topped with uni), sweet-and-sour pork, black pepper lobster tails, trinity fried rice (garlic, ginger, scallion with egg, shrimp and fish roe) and baked pork chop rice topped with Gruyere. There’s also, through a partnership with Australia’s Westholme, an array of premium wagyu. Liu is making his beloved family-recipe beef noodle soup with Westholme brisket. His menu also includes filet mignon tartare (which can be topped with Roe Caviar), braised short rib with tendon and big steaks, including a 32-ounce tomahawk, all from Westholme.
And it’s all happening in a transportive space Leon designed with architect Michael Loverich.
“I’ve always been about making an experiential dining experience,” Leon says. “My inspiration for the space was for people to feel like deities walking into the clouds.”
The dining room at Monarch is stylish and transporting.
Leon, whose extended family owns the Ho Kee noodle/Cantonese barbecue restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, worked in his uncle’s dim sum parlor as a teenager. He’s long adored and taken pride in the “duality” of this part of Los Angeles County. It’s a sprawling, diverse, celebratory place where you can eat some of the best inexpensive meals in the world but also ball out with an extra-large crustacean.
“As Chinese people going to eat Chinese food in the SGV, you’re always going to, whether it’s on-menu or off-menu, find and pay extra for that double-boiled soup and those amazing king crabs,” he says. “I think Monarch will also represent the duality of a good meal that isn’t too crazy expensive … but if you wanted to kind of elevate it, you could. I think that’s what Chifa does. You can have a meal for $25, which is great, or you can splurge. I think the elevation definitely also comes in the atmosphere. It just comes from my background and really wanting to make sure the aesthetics are equal to the food.”
Filet mignon tartare is one of the many ways Monarch is serving Westholme wagyu.
James Emrani and Gardenia Rosales
Also, there aren’t many San Gabriel Valley restaurants with strong cocktail lists, so Monarch is working with Asian-owned brands like Sông Cái (gin) and Vervet (canned cocktails) to create a proper drinking situation that pairs well with the food. The restaurant is eager to play around with various small-batch liqueurs.
Collaboration is key for Leon. At Chifa, friends like Spike Jonez, Ali Wong and Solange Knowles helped develop special limited-time-only dishes. At Monarch, the opening menu includes an exclusive black sesame brownie from Flouring LA (run by chef Heather Wong, who is opening a brick-and-mortar bakery in Chinatown soon) and exclusive plant-based ice cream flavors like white pepper and azuki red -bean-paste swirl from Lavender & Truffles (founded by Alice Liu, who, like Leon, transitioned from New York fashion to Los Angeles food).
And the merchandise that Leon’s debuting with VistaPrint is another way to enhance the experience of visiting Monarch.
The merch game at Monarch is strong, with a collaboration between Humberto Leon and VistaPrint.
Jessica Gabeler Deforges
“I’ve always been a fan of going to experience things, whether it’s theater or eating, and being able to walk away with something,” he says. “I’m a consumer at heart and I always tell people I’m the biggest shopper. I think what’s interesting at Monarch is I wanted to go beyond a T-shirt and a sweatshirt. I feel like so many restaurants are brands of their own. And if they offered the right things, I would want to buy it.”
So, with artwork from Naomi Otsu, Vanna Youngstein and Li Kuanzhen, he’s made a collection with everything from bottle openers and pens to clothing for both children and adults. Monarch’s logo is a butterfly designed by Otsu. Leon says he believes that butterflies have the ability to fly between worlds and dimensions. He’s eager to see where his new restaurant takes him, his family and his guests.