"A lot of restaurants open, a lot of restaurants close," says Jimmy Li, owner and chef of Niu Gu. "You've got to have real skill" to keep up with the competition.
Chinese people have always been a part of Las Vegas -- and with them, Chinese food. "When Las Vegas was founded, the Chinese knew their services in restaurants and laundries would be needed, so they quickly opened those businesses," says Sue Fawn Chung, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who specializes in Chinese and Asian-American history.
An early Fremont Street version of Chinatown emerged on the west side of Downtown during the World War II era, lingering for years without making much of an impact. "It was anchored by grocery stores, restaurants, and small shops, but was not successful," says Chung. "Las Vegas' Chinatown was unusual because it was primarily a business center, not a residential and business area."
The Spring Mountain version of Chinatown we know today was born in the mid-'90s with the creation of Chinatown Plaza -- a shopping center built by a Taiwanese-American investment group led by James Chih-Cheng Chen as a hub to serve Asian locals and visitors. "I see so many Asian tourists here, but I see no Asian business people," Chen told The Los Angeles Times in 1996. "I dreamed of a place to serve food to Chinese people."
The district was in the perfect location -- between the Strip and its trend in the '90s of "family-friendly" resort tourism and a growing number of desert home communities in the west valley. "When James Chen started the Chinatown on Spring Mountain, he anchored it with [the Asian grocery store] 99 Ranch Market, shops, and restaurants, and drew the larger community in with special events like celebrating Chinese New Year (and) the Autumn Moon Festival," adds Chung.