Food & Drink

Where the hell to go in LA's Chinatown

Published On 12/16/2014 Published On 12/16/2014

Nothing makes you go ¯\(°_o)/¯ more than LA's Chinatown. It's one of the largest and oldest Chinatowns in the entire country, but for years it's also been one of LA's whatever-est neighborhoods. Well, not anymore: with a recent resurgence in food/booze/super-nerd awesomeness, the area’s again got a lot going for it, starting with these 15 must-visits that mix the oldness with the newness.
 

Best late-night dim sum: Won Kok

210 Alpine St
Not only is the name super fun to say aloud (ha ha ha), but you'd think more places would follow the example of this Chinatown pioneer, which keeps a ready-to-go steamer full of sticky rice, shu mai, and har gow, even after last call: they're open 'til 3am nightly, which means that sweet, savory salvation's just stumbling distance away.

Phoenix Bakery

Best for sweets: Phoenix Bakery

969 N Broadway
This old-school bakery is one of Chinatown's best spots for inexpensive Chinese delicacies like steamed pork buns, flaky egg tarts, and almond cookies, but the move is to special order one of their spongy, lightweight cakes. Trust.
 

Best for traditional Chinese: Zen Mei Bistro

800 Yale St
There’s hole-in-the-wall, and then there’s super-super-hole-in-the-wall. This place is the latter, and they’ve got ridiculously easy-on-the-wallet Chinese food, including lobster that falls right off the shell and spicy-salty pork chops.

Starry Kitchen

Best non-traditional Chinese: Starry Kitchen

943 N Broadway
This formerly Downtown-based joint operates out of Grand Star Jazz Club’s kitchen (for now, they're Kickstarter-ing their own place!), where they're doing roast pork belly fried rice and garlic noodles made with schmaltz (Jewish for chicken fat!). Stay after to watch the place turn into a funky dive bar. Or don't. We're not the boss of you.

Mae Ting's Coconut Cakes

Best street food: Mae Ting’s Coconut Cakes

1100 N Main St
Speaking of LAX-C, on weekends you can find this stall in their parking lot, run by a Thai woman who whips up amazing street-style nosh like skewers, papaya salad, and their famous coconut cakes, which are crisp on the outside, pudding-like on the inside, and we want, like, right now.
 

Best WTF?: Tin Bo

841 N Broadway
If, for some reason, you ever needed shark cartilage or fish oil, this little market is the place to go. It’s also packed with traditional Chinese medicines, herbs, and teas, and a load of other cool/exotic-sounding/hard-to-find/you-have-no-idea-what-that-is-but-it-looks-amazing-type stuff.

Chego!

Best hidden restaurant from a famous chef: Chego!

727 N Broadway
Deep inside Far East Plaza, Roy Choi’s rice bowl concept serves up amazingly soul-satisfying Asian-meets-Western mash-ups, usually based on rice or noodles and some kind of richly flavored meat topped with sauces. And eggs.

Phillippe The Original

Best not-Chinese: Philippe the Original

1001 N Alameda St
You don’t go to Chinatown without at least considering a visit to this cafeteria-style deli that claims to have invented the French dip, and offers a nostril-clearing house-made mustard to go with their double-dip sandos.

Flickr/Kent MacElwee

Best for beer: Melody Lounge

939 N Hill St
This cash-only bar is probably the only place in the city where you can geek out about craft brews under a ceiling strung with glowing Chinese lanterns.

Eastside Market Italian Deli

Best monster sandwiches: Eastside Market Italian Deli

1013 Alpine St
There's a giant-sandwich-making Italian deli in the heart of Chinatown, and by giant-sandwich-making, we mean you're basically gonna have to use a fork and knife. Pro tip: get the popular D.A. Special, a pile of meatballs, roast beef, pastrami, and peppers stuffed between bread and doused in marinara.

Chimney Coffee House

Best coffee shop: Chimney Coffee House

1100 N Main St
Thai tea lattes and snacks like green tea brick toast (basically a giant carb vessel smothered in matcha ice cream and syrup) are the go-tos in this out-of-the-way crazy cafe.

Ooga Booga

Best nerd-gasms: Ooga Booga

943 N Broadway
This gem hidden on the second floor of a nondescript building stocks indie magazines, graphic novels, art, clothes, and other rare super-nerd finds. In other words, you could walk out with anything from a DVD about cats to a silk-screened Wu-Tang Clan poster.
 

Best chachkies: LAX-C

1100 N Main St
Despite its name, this supersized Asian emporium has nothing to do with our airport, and everything to do with selling mostly Thai spices, bulk produce, and snacks, including Lay’s potato chips in flavors you won’t see at Trader Joe’s.

Charles Lin

Best for booze: General Lee’s

475 Gin Ling Way
Impress a date at this dimly lit, rendezvous-worthy, recently renovated bar that’s tucked away in an alley and hawks terrific craft cocktails with Street Fighter-inspired names, like Red Dragon Highball and Kahn Punch.

Yang Chow 

Best seafood: Yang Chow

819 N Broadway
This old-timer joint’s known for its slippery shrimp -- a Westernized take on a Chinese favorite that involves dunking shrimp in a spicy-garlicky-sweet batter and deep-frying each morsel to a crisp.

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Tiffany Tse is a freelance contributor for Thrillist, and also the deputy editor at Clique Media (Who What Wear, Byrdie, and Domaine). Check out what’s she doing on Twitter at @twinksy and Instagram at @twinksy.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
1. Won Kok 210 Alpine St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Not only is the name super fun to say aloud (ha ha ha), but you'd think more places would follow the example of this Chinatown pioneer, which keeps a ready-to-go steamer full of sticky rice, shu mai, and har gow, even after last call: they're open 'til 3am nightly, which means that sweet, savory salvation's just stumbling distance away.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
2. Phoenix Bakery 969 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (Downtown)

This old-school bakery is one of Chinatown's best spots for inexpensive Chinese delicacies like steamed pork buns, flaky egg tarts, and almond cookies. But the move is to special order one of their spongy, lightweight cakes. Trust us.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
3. Zen Mei Bistro 800 Yale St, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (Downtown)

There’s hole-in-the-wall, and then there’s super-super-hole-in-the-wall. This place is the latter, and they’ve got ridiculously easy-on-the-wallet Chinese food, including lobster that falls right off the shell and spicy-salty pork chops.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
4. Starry Kitchen 943 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (Downtown)

Originally a guerrilla cookery in the Valley, this Asian Fusion joint's now a legitified nook, serving up always-changing deliciousness like crispy tofu balls, roast pork belly XO fried rice, and Singaporean chili crab.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
5. Mae Ting's Coconut Cakes 1100 N Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (Downtown)

Run by a Thai woman, Mae Ting's whips up amazing street-style nosh like skewers, papaya salad, and their famous coconut cakes -- which are crisp on the outside and pudding-like on the inside.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
6. Tin Bo 841 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (Downtown)

If, for some reason, you ever needed shark cartilage or fish oil, this little market is the place to go. It’s also packed with traditional Chinese medicines, herbs, and teas, and a load of other cool/exotic-sounding/hard-to-find/you-have-no-idea-what-that-is-but-it-looks-amazing-type stuff.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
7. Chego! 727 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (Downtown)

Chego! offers up a wide array of cuisine-types in this downtown brick-and-mortar location. From rice bowls to something called a "Sriracha Bar" for dessert, this restaurant is sure to have your taste buds singing.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
8. Philippe the Original 1001 N Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Open since 1908, Philippe the Original is an iconic deli in LA that claims to have invented the French dip sandwich. That said, it's not your typical sandwich shop where you wait for your ticket number to be called. Here's how things go down at Philippe's: if you're getting a sandwich, get in the specified line and watch as one of the "Carvers" works his magic, then order any sides (like a bowl of chili). If you decide post-French dip bliss that you want a slice of cheesecake, line up at the non-sandwich counter instead.

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9. Melody Lounge 939 N Hill St, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (Downtown)

This cash-only bar is probably the only place in the city where you can geek out about craft brews under a ceiling strung with glowing Chinese lanterns.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
10. Eastside Market Italian Deli 1013 Alpine St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

A true and authentic Italian deli, Eastside is a landmark eatery for their outstanding sammies (both hot and cold), pasta dishes, and salads.

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11. Chimney Coffee House 1100 N Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (Downtown)

Thai tea lattes and snacks like green tea brick toast (basically a giant carb vessel smothered in matcha ice cream and syrup) are the go-tos in this out-of-the-way crazy cafe.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
12. LAX-C 1100 N Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (Downtown)

Despite its name, this supersized Asian emporium has nothing to do with LA's airport and everything to do with selling mostly Thai spices, bulk produce, and snacks -- including Lay’s potato chips in flavors you won’t see at Trader Joe’s.

Previous Venue Next Venue Venue Description
13. General Lee's 475 Gin Ling Way, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (Downtown)

This two-story "Modern Tiki" concept is serving up an unexpected lineup of Asian-inflected concoctions with twists like wasabi-infused vermouth and black sesame syrup. The friendly team behind the bar is also happy to go off-menu to ensure you get just what you're craving. As the night wears on and the DJ takes over, the place tends to get a bit packed, so if you’re looking for a peaceful sip, get there early.

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14. Yang Chow 819 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (Downtown)

It's hard to miss this Chinatown legend with its distinctive roof and bright yellow exterior. The menu is filled with Mandarin, Sichuan, and Americanized (ahem, chicken and broccoli) plates, but what you really want to order is the Slippery Shrimp. You'll find plenty of copycat dishes at other Chinese restaurants, but there's only one place to get the real thing -- that is, a platter of sweet and salty shrimp that's golden and crispy on the outside, and soft and chewy on the inside. Yang Chow's round tables, set with white tablecloths and lazy Susans, are perfect for groups.

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