To celebrate LA’s Chinatown, it’s crucial to understand and appreciate its dynamic past. In the 1870s, the original Chinatown began in downtown LA between El Pueblo Plaza and Old Arcadia St and expanded east. In 1931, a California Supreme Court decision upheld the construction of the new Union Station on the site of Old Chinatown, leading to the formation of the Los Angeles Chinatown Project Association and plans to develop the new Chinatown on Broadway—where it remains today. Throughout the 1930s and ’40s, construction of several landmark buildings and plans for shops, restaurants and apartments created the framework for what became Chinatown Los Angeles. The new Chinatown was planned, owned and operated by Chinese-Americans to acknowledge culture and progress, and Chinatown Central Plaza was built to be the heart of the community. Today, many of the founding families still own the buildings that make up the vibrant, ever-evolving neighborhood.
We often walk through Chinatown, enjoying the architecture of the Cathay Bank, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (designed by Eugene Kinn Choy) and Thien Hau Temple—a gorgeous Taoist temple dedicated to Mazu the goddess of the sea. We snack on the famous strawberry cake at Phoenix Bakery, shop for Mahjong sets, and buy plants at Rainbow Nursery and KimThai Garden on Spring Street.
Fermentation specialist, culinary instructor and baker Jessica Wang of Pique-Nique LA has been planning pop-up events at Paper Please in Central Plaza. Inspired by her mother, grandmother and local California produce, she fills her butter mochi with sweet potatoes and buckwheat pastries with persimmon and umeboshi caramel. When Wang spends the day in Chinatown, she orders her favorite foods from the legacy restaurants in the neighborhood: handmade tofu special and the fried squid at Jade Wok, or salted fish fried rice at Hop Woo, which evokes family memories. “My grandmother was from Wenzhou, where they ate a lot of fish and seafood,” Wang tells us. “This is a beloved dish on many Chinese menus. The preserved fish has an intense umami flavor. It is so satisfying.” Wang also loves to shop at Phoenix Imports, where she has found formal vintage deadstock qipao dresses, raw silk pantsuits and quilted jackets.
All these places, along with some of the more recently opened stores, galleries and cafes, make spending time in Chinatown a feast for the senses. Here we spotlight just some of the many spots that make this neighborhood so special.
Pearl River Deli
In the southern side of Chinatown, the Far East Plaza is home to Ten Ren’s Tea Time, LASA restaurant where chefs Chad Valencia and Chase Valencia make modern Filipino food, cookbook store Now Serving and delicious coffee at Jack Benchakul’s Endorffiene. At Pearl River Deli (PRD), helmed by…