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Chinatown Central Plaza
Photograph: Courtesy Jesse HsuChinatown Central Plaza

The best Chinatown restaurants and bars

Cantonese classics, hot chicken and more: Here's the best of the Downtown neighborhood that's blending the old with the new.

Patricia Kelly Yeo
Written by
Patricia Kelly Yeo
Contributor
Stephanie Breijo
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L.A.'s Chinatown may not bear the same pedigree as its massive counterparts in New York and San Francisco, but there’s still plenty for your tastebuds to discover in the Downtown neighborhood that, in the last decade, has become home to a handful of destination-worthy gourmet eateries. (Of course, there's also plenty of excellent old-school spots.) During KCRW events in the summer and Lunar New Year celebration every late winter, the neighborhood population temporarily swells as revelers from all over come in, packing the normally quieter dining and drinking establishments. 

For those willing to wander, Chinatown offers plenty of off-the-beaten-path treasures. The area isn't just known for Chinese cuisine—it now offers several amazing sandwiches and Vietnamese fare as well. Outside of dining, you can even pick up vintage finds at East Meets West and cookbooks at Now Serving inside Far East Plaza. With three main shopping plazas (Central and Mandarin, as well as the aforementioned), there's plenty of great food and drink to found using our guide to Chinatown’s best restaurants and bars.

RECOMMENDED: See more in our full guide to things to do in Chinatown

Chinatown's best restaurants

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

Though char siu and Hainan first earned Johnny Lee's Pearl River Deli citywide acclaim, the ever-changing bill of fare and punk rock approach to cooking are what keep this new-school Chinese restaurant among L.A.'s very best. Now firmly established in a larger space on Hill Street, the casual eatery is a worthy dining destination thanks to chef de cuisine Laura Hoang's mouthwatering baked goods and whatever else the kitchen is into at the moment. Mostly, Lee and his team churn out Cantonese classics like pan-fried seafood chow mein and beef stew, but dishes from across the Sinosphere have been known to pop up from time to time—think Singaporean nasi lemak, Japanese tenshindon and Hawaiian poke made with ginger-scallion sauce. Note: Citing creative exhaustion, Lee has indefinitely taken the ultra-popular Hainan chicken off the menu.

  • Restaurants
  • Vietnamese
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

This small old-school establishment inside Far East Plaza might only be open during the day, but the zippy, clean-tasting bowls of steaming hot pho, budget-friendly banh mi and other well-executed dishes all make a morning or afternoon visit here worth the time, planning and money. Compared to Chinatown's other Vietnamese restaurants, Thien Huong is the rare restaurant where everything—and we mean everything—is solidly delicious. In recent years, the former cash-only spot has begun taking credit cards, and a remodeled dining room and extra outdoor seating have made this place our go-to place for Vietnamese food around Downtown. Note: This place fills up quickly on the weekends, so head here early or you’ll have to wait for a table.

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  • Restaurants
  • Filipino
  • Chinatown
  • price 2 of 4

The second iteration of this thoughtful Filipino restaurant in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza has found its groove as a reservation-free fast-casual spot with excellent natural wine. Focused on two staple dishes, chicken inasal and pork belly lechon, the latter being the standard by which most Filipino restaurants are judged, Lasita is a showcase in why, oftentimes, simpler is just better. Its spectacular atchara (pickled vegetables) pairs beautifully with either the flavorful, moist inasal and crispy, crackly pork belly, available by the half-pound or in a combo plate. Each of Lasita’s well-made dipping sauces are so delicious and distinctive you’ll likely want to order a trio, and the kitchen specials—typically announced on Instagram—are always worth a gander as well.

  • Restaurants
  • Sandwich shops
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

In business since 1908, Philippe the Original claims to have invented the French dip sandwich. Whether or not you believe them (Cole's will certainly contest this fact, claiming their own French dip version as the first), there’s no denying the eatery has an exemplary sandwich. Savvy customers make their way across the sawdust-covered floor to select a lamb, roast beef, pastrami or turkey filling, then ask their server to double-dip the bread in the meaty juice; add some of the sinus-clearing atomic mustard and you’re golden. A bevy of sides includes coleslaw, macaroni and potato salad, hard-boiled eggs and pickles—all to be eaten in the midst of friendly strangers you’ll inevitably wind up talking to.

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  • Restaurants
  • Vietnamese
  • Eastside
  • price 1 of 4

If you know, you know: This nondescript restaurant at the edge of Chinatown is home to some of L.A.’s best pho. With a deep, almost funkily beefy taste, Pho 87’s delicious namesake has drawn hungover Angelenos from near and far on late weekend mornings, but even the stone-cold sober will appreciate the affordable, steaming hot bowls of noodle soup. The family-run shop also offers a solid array of khai vi and combination plates with your choice of rice, vermicelli or banh hoi, but the reason to come to this lonely and desolate stretch of North Broadway is the pho.

  • Restaurants
  • Soul and southern American
  • Chinatown
  • price 2 of 4

Holy hot chicken! Johnny Zone may have spent time in the kitchen with some of the world’s best chefs, but the head of Howlin’ Ray’s is best known for turning Nashville hot chicken into an L.A. sensation via his Far East Plaza takeout operation. These days, most have migrated to the hot chicken spot's newer Pasadena location (where ample seating and a beer and wine license make for a better dine-in experience), but the original Chinatown location still accepts walk-in orders and local delivery. Choose your preferred chicken (white or dark) or a sandwich in whatever level of heat you can handle, from Country to Howlin’.

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  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

Though the family behind this Chinatown institution has expanded to over a dozen locations across Southern California, we'll always be partial to the first: The menu's gotten longer and the décor's been updated slightly, but the Phoenix Inn that started it all is still the same as ever. Families and late-night diners stream in for fried whole fish, deep-fried intestine, Chinese-style omelets, and hog maw with ginger, all found alongside Chinese American favorites like beef with broccoli and sweet and sour pork. Whatever you're craving, there's almost definitely a dish to suit you.

  • Restaurants
  • Sandwich shops
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

It’s easy to get caught up in the flashier new restaurants and pop-ups in Chinatown, but this classic banh mi shop at Broadway and Ord offers one of the cheapest and best Vietnamese sandwiches in the city. Besides crates of also-affordable fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors, the sizable $5 sandwiches come with fillings like grilled pork (sausage), chicken and pâté—and they all involve cilantro, jalapeño, shredded carrot and pickled radish on a crusty French loaf. Just note: This spot is cash-only.

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  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

After three decades in business, this casual family-run Chinatown staple is beloved among many for its large, affordable Cantonese-leaning menu available in Chinese, English and Spanish. During the day, locals gravitate towards comforting American-style takeout dishes like orange chicken and beef with broccoli, while egg foo young, heaping portions of chow fun and budget-friendly lobster take center stage for the dinnertime crowd. Though the average person's knowledge of Chinese cooking these days now extends beyond the likes of chow mein, wonton soup and kung pao chicken, Hop Woo knows it's best not to mess with the classics—making the restaurant a worthwhile pit stop for anyone craving well-executed Chinese American cuisine.

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

A no-frills mom-and-pop in the heart of Chinatown, Won Kok is a Chinatown mainstay that offers tasty dim sum at hard-to-beat prices. Forget the grand banquet halls or extravagant chandeliers—Won Kok is the quintessential hole in the wall for dim sum. Nosh on the glossy, soft and not-too-sweet baked char siu bao, and sip the complimentary pu-erh tea. While the dumplings are hit or miss, the addictive sesame ball with a smooth red bean center is a signature. Opt for baked goods—we love the baked coconut bun, rice cake, buttery almond cookies and delicate egg custards, which sell out daily.

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  • Restaurants
  • Sandwich shops
  • Chinatown
  • price 2 of 4

This daytime-only gourmet sandwich shop at the end of a circuitous route through Frogtown now has a second location in Chinatown, where Wax Paper makes cutting-edge versions of its most iconic sandwiches, plus creamy soft-serve and veggie salads thrown in for good measure. All sandwiches are served on freshly sliced loaves of local favorite Bub and Grandma’s, and substitutions are politely declined (so picky eaters, don't say we didn't warn you). In true cool-nerd fashion, each sandwich is named after a National Public Radio personality, while specials can take cues from chefs and local bands, and despite the aura of pretension, these sandwiches are the real deal.

  • Restaurants
  • Hamburgers
  • Chinatown

Fred and Max Guerrero grew up obsessed with burgers—they are, after all, the kids of the founder of the Oinkster in Eagle Rock. They turned that obsession into a Tumblr called Burgerlords, which eventually inspired this Central Plaza takeout window with a menu almost as simple as In-N-Out’s, but updated, upgraded and completely plant-based. (There's also a larger sit-down location in Highland Park.) Housemade vegan patties dot both classic cheeseburgers and the Brainburner: a crunchy, spicy sandwich full of jalapeño chips, chopped banana peppers, garlic aioli and vegan provolone. Although the nutty-tasting tahini shakes and golden fries are serviceable, our favorite side order is the crispy tofu nuggets, served with a choice of two sauces.

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  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

Kim Chuy is known for its Teochew-style noodle bowls, but that doesn't mean you should skip its other goods. The pan-fried leek dumplings are some of the best in the city, and Chinese doughnuts are some of the fluffiest crullers you'll find in L.A. Can't decide? Order a combo—all available under $10—to receive a bowl of noodle soup or an entrée with iced tea and dessert. This family-owned daytime spot (FYI: closing time is at 6pm) has been around since 1982 and remains a staple in Far East Plaza, and it's not hard to see why.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

This Chinatown daytime café and weekend dinner spot by Wes Avila, the founding chef of Guerrilla Tacos offers a little bit of everything: The tortas, tacos and burritos that comprise the regular menu are stellar, but the specials broadcast on Instagram really allow the founding chef of Guerrilla Tacos to play. You might find duck ramen one day, or an eggy Spanish tortilla topped with razor-clam conservas another. At dinner, available Thursday through Saturday, Avila's rotating menu of experimental dishes don't always land, but the ever-changing fare is part of the fun at Angry Egret—and luckily, the daytime fare consistently hits its mark.

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

After a successful run at nearby Smorgasburg LA, this gourmet Japanese sandwich slinger has transitioned to a brick-and-mortar sandwich shop on Broadway, selling katsu and curry available hot from the kitchen or cold and to-go from the konbini-inspired refrigerated section. Look for traditional katsu such as chicken and pork, as well as the unique walnut shrimp katsu and the high-end wagyu splurge. With an early 8pm close, it's best to pre-order head here for lunch or a quick handheld dinner on the earlier side, since there's no seating inside save for a thin, standing room-only counter.

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown
  • price 2 of 4

Housed in the massive banquet hall that was once the Plum Tree Inn, this beloved Chinatown dining palace was recently taken over by husband-and-wife duo Yi Long and Wen Yu, as well as two silent business partners—all of them with decades-long ties to the area. Here, diners can find everything from casual weekday lunch specials to delectable special occasion delights like whole pan-fried fish and Peking duck among Broadway Cuisine's dizzying selection of 200-plus different dishes. Maximalism might no longer be en vogue among Chinese restaurants situated further east, but this old-style newcomer in Chinatown offers a way to return to the lavish Chinese banquet dinners that have delighted Angelenos for decades—lazy Susans and all.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

Northern Baja-style tacos reign supreme at Chinatown's Mexicali Taco & Co thanks to head chef Esdras Ochoa’s housemade tortillas and excellent salsas made with ingredients from just across the border. While you can’t go wrong with their regular tacos and, of course, their wonderfully crispy, crema-laden Baja-style fish taco, the real draws here are more gluttonous dishes like the triple meat and cheese-filled Zuperman and the garlic-lashed vampiro stuffed with hand-chopped carne asada. Then again, when everything on the menu’s a winner, it’s pretty hard to pick a true favorite.

  • Bars
  • Wine bars
  • Chinatown
  • price 3 of 4

Follow the glow of soft pink neon for a light French dinner and even better glasses at Oriel, a stylish wine bar run by the same folks behind Los Feliz's Bar Covell. Hidden next to the Metro, Oriel offers comforting bistro fare and over a dozen different wines by the glass. Escargots and steak tartare might not exactly be top of mind for most people visiting Chinatown, but the must-order French onion soup and cozy, pink-hued dining room have made it a date night destination for Angelenos living in and around the area.

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  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Chinatown
  • price 2 of 4

For a casual, no-frills approach to Chinese cuisine (and delicious deep-fried shrimp), look no further than this family-owned restaurant that's faithfully served Chinatown for over forty years. Though it boasts two other outposts in Long Beach and Pasadena, the unassuming North Broadway eatery is where the Yun family first began offering a mix of Mandarin and Sichuan specialties with plenty of Hong Kong-style and Americanized dishes, including their legendary slippery shrimp. When it comes time to order, think egg rolls, lo mein and fried rice—and you'll find the sort of well-executed, comforting old-school Chinese fare perfect for a lazy weekday dinner or takeout.

  • Restaurants
  • Creole
  • Chinatown
  • price 2 of 4

One of L.A.'s few Cajun specialists, this daytime-only deli and marketplace offers Big Easy classics like Friday-only jambalaya, po'boy sandwiches and freshly deep-fried beignets. All the cured, spiced and smoked meats used in Little Jewel's menu items are made in-house, and can be picked up from the deli case for home cooking as well. Homesick New Orleanians can also snag hard-to-find items like Slap Ya Mama! Hot sauce and Bayou Magic seasoning. Stop in for lunch and take a seat at one of the few tables steps away from the counter—and let the good times roll.

The best drinks in Chinatown

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Chinatown
  • price 2 of 4

If the name looks familiar, it's because this stylish bar on the industrial side of Chinatown is the sibling to New York City's Apothéke, which racked up accolades for detail-driven, botanical-toned drinks in a dimly-lit setting. Here in L.A., the vibe, atmosphere and menu are all similar, with a few unique drinks for good measure. True to the apothecary theme, cocktails are paired off into cures for what ails ya: stress relievers, stimulants, pain killers, euphorics and more, and they might include produce, tinctures or bitters such as cantaloupe, bee pollen, bell pepper, sage, coconut charcoal, or a honeyed chamomile cordial. Don't miss out on the side patio—one of the cutest in the city—nor the live programming, which has included bands, DJ sets, burlesque and even private cocktail classes.

  • Restaurants
  • Tea rooms
  • Chinatown
  • price 2 of 4

While we've found Steep's tiny daytime food menu lacking in consistency and flavor, we still love the tea offerings, pastries and evening drinks at this stylish new-school teahouse in Mandarin Plaza. The all-white interiors and patio seating out in the sunny courtyard are the perfect backdrop for a relaxing afternoon spent sipping tea or a meditative traditional Chinese tea ceremony. From 4 to 10pm, the sunny café also offers Steep After Dark, a standout tea cocktail program with plenty of Asian-inspired bar bites, including guacamole that makes ample use of Boon sauce, a spicy chili oil made by Max Boonthanakit of Camphor in the Arts District.

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  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

Thirsty craft beer geeks will find sweet relief at Melody Lounge, a dim-lit casual bar known for its draft selections and sultry-slash-divey atmosphere lit by dozens of red lanterns. Karaoke takes a backseat to great brews in a tiny room of lacquered walls and display tables stuffed with the cans of fallen beer brands. Catch labels such as Chimay, Angel City, Hangar 24 and Eagle Rock Brewery on the chalkboard tap list, while the cocktails take their inspiration from the neighborhood with ingredients such as five-spice syrup and a Tien Tsin pepper-infused gin.

  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • Chinatown
  • price 1 of 4

With loads of natural light and an industrial-chic feel, Highland Park Brewery's Chinatown warehouse offers larger and more airy digs than that of its Hermosillo taproom in Highland Park (though we've got a place in our hearts for that one, too). The Northeast L.A. brewery’s first full tasting room lives up to the anticipation, offering a full kitchen with killer bar bites, plus double the tanks, allowing the team to crank out more experimental, funky and collaborative new beers. Enjoy on that patio, for best results.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Chinatown
  • price 2 of 4

General Lee’s has all the makings of a mysterious speakeasy—except this bar isn't entirely secret, nor are its cocktails the standard selection of old-fashioneds and gin rickeys you might find in a password-protected bar. The split-level space houses a DJ booth on the first floor, while live jazz is a top-floor staple. It's a solid spot for catching up with friends and trying strong, affordably priced cocktails (even if they aren't the greatest you'll find in town).

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