The New Chinatown

Watch: Chop Suey's Next Wave

Generally speaking, Chinatowns all over the U.S. have pretty interesting histories. There's usually a background of corrupt political manuevering and a whole lot of violence. L.A.'s Chinatown also has a half-glamorous, half-sad Hollywood background: the neighborhood's second iteration was essentially a movie set, a theme park of sorts that tourists could visit and easily forget that it was home to many of the servers and dancers working to entertain them. (We can't entirely blame those guileless tourists, though. Many of the storefronts had been used as sets on the 1937 film The Good Earth.)

Chinatown is also where many people experience Chinese food for the first time. Almost all Angeleno lifers have memories of late-night slippery shrimp at Yang Chow and family lunches at Empress Pavilion. But for the past twenty years or so, Chinatown's restaurants have lost their destination status as the San Gabriel Valley has grown and L.A. diners have become more sophisticated -- they'll now venture out to the eastern reaches of the county to find the best regional Chinese cuisine in the U.S.

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So what's going on with all the neglected kitchens in Chinatown now? Well, they're seeing some action again, but they're not serving lo mein and lacquered duck. L.A.'s latest iteration of Chinatown is eclectic, international, and for the most part, quite delicious. Here are some of the latest arrivals:

Little Jewel of New Orleans: Chef Marcus Christiana-Beniger cited cheap rent and proximity to "Thai Costco" (officially named LAX-C) as two compelling reasons to open in Chinatown. His Louisiana-style deli offers house-made sausages and all manner of po' boys. (Its location across the street from banh mi cult favorite My Dung is making Ord Street sandwich heaven.) Having never been to New Orleans I can't speak to authenticity, but I'd eat Little Jewel's shrimp po' boy forever.

Chego: Roy Choi has a proven knack for sussing out new culinary trends, and moving his Korean-inspired rice bowl shop from the westside to Chinatown a couple years ago is just another example. The food is hearty and very L.A. (spicy sauces, Pacific Rim ingredient mash-ups). Perhaps more importantly, Choi has been instrumental in bringing this new cohort to the neighborhood.

Noodles and seafood @pokpokpdx in LA. #padthai #thaifood #chinatown

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Pok Pok Phat Thai: An Oregon-based Thai restaurant chain owned by a white guy opening in L.A.? Now that's a bold move. Andy Ricker's first installation in Chinatown is a simple noodle shop; he has another restaurant with a bigger menu opening a couple blocks north later this year. Try the kuaytiaw.


Ramen Champ: The owner of Grand Central Market's wildly popular Eggslut has ventured into Japanese cuisine. Ramen Champ rounds out the newcomers to Far East Plaza, which is the heart of Chinatown's new culinary movement. In addition to traditional dishes, they also serve tako tots. Couldn't get more L.A. if they tried.

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