Title

Historic Chinese Menus From L.A.'s Chinatown and Beyond

Watch: Chop Suey's Next Wave

Chinese New Year kicks off this week, and for many, it's a time to wish for an auspicious future. I'm taking this annual celebration to reflect on historic Chinese menus from Chinatown and around Los Angeles, all courtesy of the L.A. Public Library Menu Collection. With stylish covers featuring dishes that now look like relics from the past, these menus tell the story of the evolution of Chinese food in L.A. and, essentially, that of the Chinese American experience.

The menus are in chronological order starting from the 1930s until the early '70s, when the Chinese community started to move east and settle in the San Gabriel Valley. Far East Cafe's Depression-era menu is the oldest in the collection, though its Little Tokyo location opened in 1935. However, Man Jen Low dates back to the late 19th century (the exact date is fuzzy, varying from 1878 to 1890) in the original Chinatown location (where Union Station now stands) before moving to Gin Ling Way (and eventually renamed as General Lee's by its owners). Note that Golden Pagoda, its neighbor within Old Chinatown Central Plaza, is now beloved dive Hop Louie.

I will always prefer soup dumplings to egg drop soup, but based on fifty decades of menus, the 1950s and '60s seem like the most fun -- imagine back to an era when Chinese restaurants served Polynesian-inspired tiki cocktails and people dressed up in tuxedos and furs for a night out in Chinatown.

fareast-cover
Far East Cafe, 1930s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 

 

fareast2
Far East Cafe, 1930s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 

 

zam1
Zamboanga, 1930s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
z2
Zamboanga, 1930s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
goldenpagoda-cov
Golden Pagoda, 1943 / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
goldenpagoda2
Golden Pagoda, 1943 / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
forbidden1
Forbidden Palace, 1940s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
forbidden2
Forbidden Palace, 1940s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
celestial
The Celestial, 1950s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
celestial2
The Celestial, 1950s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
celestial3
The Celestial, 1950s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
man1
Man Jen Low, 1950s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
man2
Man Jen Low, 1950s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.

Story continues below

 

manshu1
Manshu Low, 1950s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
Manshu2
Manshu Low, 1950s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
mandarincover
Mandarin Room, 1960s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
grandview1
Grandview Gardens, 1964 / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
grandview2
Grandview Gardens, 1964 / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 
sze
Sze Chwan, 1970s / Image courtesy LAPL Menu Collection.
 

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading