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Iconic Neighborhood Restaurants: East Hollywood & Little Armenia

 

Little Armenia, nestled within the borders of East Hollywood, was once home to the largest Armenian population in the Los Angeles area. It was officially recognized by the City of Los Angeles in 2000. Although the history of Armenians in Los Angeles goes back to the late 1800s, it wasn't until the Armenian Genocide that significant numbers of Armenians began settling in pockets of Los Angeles. During the 1940s they began to settle in East Hollywood, at about the same time that Japanese-Americans living in the area since the 1910s were brutally displaced to internment camps.

Following the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 which abolished quotas that favored Europeans, immigrants from Korea, China, Guatemala, India, the Philippines, and Thailand began moving into the neighborhood because the area also lacked racially restrictive covenants. East Hollywood also contains Thai Town and is bordered by Koreatown to the south. Historic Filipinotown is a stone's throw away to the southeast.

This heterogeneous mix of peoples represent the upheavals in practically every part of the world in the last century. World wars, rebellions, decolonization, and ensuing civil wars created millions of refugees and migrants seeking stability. For many families, the journey to East Hollywood took decades with layovers in different countries. Such was the story of the first family of Armenian-Lebanese rotisserie chicken.

 

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Zankou Chicken | Photo:Dawn Loh/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Zankou Chicken: For almost 20 years, the Iskenderians, an Armenian family, had a thriving rotisserie chicken business in Beirut, Lebanon before regional tumult displaced the family once again. When Zankou Chicken opened in 1984, the family had a built-in customer base of Armenian-Lebanese compatriots who fled Lebanon during the civil war. Angelenos loved Zankou Chicken's toum (garlic sauce) so much, they consumed it like a side dish instead of a condiment. Critics from all over the U.S. lavished them with praise. 5065 Sunset Blvd, (323) 665-7845

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Sahag's Basturma: Wherever there is an Armenian community, there is a confederation of food businesses catering to them. Bezjian's Grocery, Sasoun Bakery, Haykazuni Meat Market, and Sahag's Basturma make Little Armenia a one-stop destination for Armenian prepared foods and ingredients.
These businesses are small windows into food history and the diaspora where Armenians transported and translated their cuisine to the countries that welcomed them.

Armenians have long been highly regarded in the Middle East for their baking and pastry skills. They also have a penchant for preserving and curing all manner of foods, and basturma (air dried, cured beef) is one of them. When you step inside, the aroma of highly seasoned, garlicky basturma is unmistakable. You feel as if you've entered an alternate universe where Italian delis are Armenian delis. There are Armenian cheeses, yogurt drinks, sujuk (Turkish sausage), and Lebanese link sausages sold in shophouse manner. 5183 W Sunset Blvd, (323) 661-5311

 

Wah's Golden Hen: Before the proliferation of Panda Express, restaurants like Wah's Golden Hen dominated Americanized Chinese restaurants. While the San Gabriel Valley offers regional dishes from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, it was the Cantonese, mostly from the Chinese county of Toisan, who laid the groundwork for Chinese restaurants in the U.S. As restaurateurs, Toisanese were highly adaptive to mainstream and local tastes. Opened for almost half a century, Wah's Golden Hen still serves chop suey, a dish widely misunderstood as being a purely American invention. But the dish's name is a transliteration of tsap seui which means "miscellaneous leftovers." For decades, this dish captured the imagination of American diners as their introduction to Chinese food. While snobs and purists may turn up their noses at a dish derivative of Toisanese peasant food, Wah's Golden Hen has thrived serving what their customers want. 709 N Virgil Ave, (323) 661-0093

 

Ricky's Fish Tacos: You will find taco carts anywhere in Los Angeles where neighbors don't complain about them or in areas where the health department turns a blind eye. Ricky's Fish Tacos originally started as a stand under a rainbow umbrella on sidewalks and parking lots in East Hollywood and Silverlake. Ricardo Piña was eventually shut down by the health department for not having a permit, which only increased his media traction as an iconic David battling an unfair Goliath. Following a stint in LAX-C's (Thai Costco) parking lot in Chinatown, Ricky's returned to East Hollywood with a food truck. 1400 N Virgil Ave, (323) 906-7290.

 

The Hot Dog Lady: The Hot Dog Lady is not the official name of any business. She is not one lady but many unrelated ladies who sell hot dogs from carts on the streets of L.A. Sometimes she is itinerant. If she finds a regular spot, a customer creates a Yelp page for her. She sells bacon wrapped hot dogs with sauteed onions and hot pepper, the quintessential L.A. dog that has origins in Mexico. For micro entrepreneurs, a hot dog cart is even cheaper to open than a taco cart. A typical set-up involves a shopping cart, a propane tank, and a full sized baking sheet that serves as a makeshift plancha. The Hot Dog Lady in East Hollywood has been a regular feature for at least eight years feeding late night bar and club hoppers. By 4519 Santa Monica Blvd. and various locations.

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