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Lao Tao
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman Century Egg Tofu Salad at Lao Tao

The best Chinatown restaurants and bars

Check out the best Chinatown restaurants and bars with our guide to the nabe's newcomers and old-school favorites

By Erin Kuschner, Time Out contributors and 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 here. The neighborhood is packed with treasures for any pedestrian eager to explore off-the-beaten-path discoveries—from pho shops to old-school Chinese classics, from dive bars to cutting-edge culinary experiments. Rediscover your love of old-school dim sum houses and explore present glories with our guide to Chinatown’s best restaurants and bars.

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

Best Chinatown restaurants and bars

Pearl River Delta Chinatown restaurant
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

1. Pearl River Deli

Restaurants Chinese Chinatown

Johnny Lee is the underground king of char siu and chicken, and, if you can believe it, that’s just a fraction of what makes Pearl River Deli one of our favorite restaurants. Lee’s Cantonese comfort-food involves grilled and pached meats galore within Far East Plaza, but the techniques used to create them is painstaking and old-school: a labor of love and method that Lee devotes much of his time to perfecting. Head to this quick-and-casual stall for gorgeously lacquered char siu, special-order Hainan chicken, Typhoon-shelter shrimp, the occasional leaf-wrapped rice zhong (made by Lee’s own mother), Hong Kong-style beef curry, a Macau-style fried pork chop sandwich, and an absurdly silken scrambled egg with shrimp. Keep your eye on the fridge near the front door to see what sauces and curries Lee might have for sale that day.

LASA
Photorgraph: Courtesy LASA

2. LASA

Restaurants Filipino Chinatown

In early February, LASA announced it would pivot into Filipino rotisserie and natural wine spot Lasita. Since we haven’t had a chance to try it yet, our original LASA write-up appears below—but we’re sure you can expect nothing less than excellence from Lasita.  

LASA began as a pop-up inside incubator Unit 120, and my, how it’s grown. Through the years Filipino-American brothers Chad and Chase Valencia crafted a fantastic, nationally lauded restaurant with elevated dishes from their childhood, such as pancit, lumpia sariwa and crispy duck arroz caldo. During the daytime, drop by for familiar favorites—like the addictive coconut adobo chicken—and at night, the menu flips to inventive, off-the-charts-creative composed plates, such as a Filipino take on surf and turf with octopus a la plancha, house-made longanisa, charred yu choy, tomatoes and calamansi. Don’t skip the hand pies, always order a side of lumpia.

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Philippe's
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

3. Philippe the Original

Restaurants Sandwich shops Chinatown

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.

Howlin' Rays hot chicken
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

4. Howlin’ Ray’s

Restaurants Soul and southern American Chinatown

Holy hot chicken! The chef behind Howlin’ Ray’s, Johnny Zone, may have spent time in the kitchen with some of the world’s best chefs, but he’s really found his calling bringing Nashville hot chicken to Los Angeles. Head to his brick and mortar in Far East Plaza for a plate of chicken (white or dark) or a sandwich in whatever level of heat you can handle, from “Country” to “Howlin’.” You’re supposed to be sweating. You’re supposed to get messy. You’re supposed to be eating some of the best fried chicken in town. Of course, the fact that it’s some of the best is no secret—though it’s gone delivery-only for now, Angelenos and tourists would wait in lines that can take up to three hours long and snake their way through the plaza. (Our tip? Keep your eyes on this spot’s social media for line updates, once in-person service resumes.)

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Jesse Hsu Photography

5. Majordōmo

Restaurants Contemporary Asian Chinatown

David Chang’s first flag planted in L.A. is inspired by the city’s diversity, by Korean comfort food, by Chinese classics, by American sensibilities—so it’s unsurprising that the menu can feel overwhelming. The best bet is to bring a crew to tackle the large-format dishes (such as the Momofuku chef's famous ssäm) and mix and match the farmers' market-fresh vegetable small plates, the sausage-stuffed peppers, the noodles and of course the bing, a now-signature chickpea flatbread with a bevy of toppings available. Chang's West Coast foray is sleek, modern and always a lot of fun, albeit one of the neighborhood's priciest options.

Phoenix Inn Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Regine D.

6. Phoenix Inn

Restaurants Chinese Chinatown

A Chinatown institution, this old-school haunt is almost identical to its 1965 self. There are now 14 restaurants in the Phoenix family, but 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 such as beef with broccoli and sweet and sour pork. Whatever you're craving, there's almost definitely a dish to suit you.

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7. Won Kok Restaurant

Restaurants Chinese Chinatown

A no-frills mom-and pop-restaurant in the heart of Chinatown, Won Kok is a hidden gem that offers round-the-clock 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.

Photograph: Courtesy Oriel

8. Oriel

Bars Wine bars Chinatown

Temporarily closed.

Oriel is a must-visit for lovers of French wine and stylish places to perch. Follow the glow of soft pink neon to this cozy, comfortable wine bar that’s as dotted with plants as it is solo imbibers, families and trendy denizens on dates. Tucked away from the neighborhood’s main drags, this spot’s almost hidden beneath the Chinatown Metro stop but manages to whisk you away to France with roughly 20 wines by the glass. The petite spot keeps a French focus not only on its vino, but its food: French onion soup, roasted bone marrow, escargots and gnocchi à la Parisienne all round out the menu of Paris-comfort classics.

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Lao Tao
Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

9. Lao Tao

Restaurants Taiwanese Chinatown

David Wang’s 25-seat spot in Far East Plaza is an ode to Taiwanese street food with a few Western influences thrown in, making this Chinatown menu eclectic and one of a kind. You’ll find Taiwan’s national dish, a traditional beef ban mian—flat noodles coated in a rich marrow sauce and topped with five-spice beef shank, Taiwanese napa cabbage and pickled veggies—but the specials are always worth ordering, especially the poutine, a Taiwanese-Canadian mashup that tops French fries with pork belly, gravy and scallions. Wash it all down with Taiwanese sodas, earl grey milk teas and ube iced coffees, and you’ll be all set.

Katsu Sando Chinatown
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

10. Katsu Sando

Restaurants Japanese Chinatown

Smorgasburg’s popular Japanese katsu sando slinger is now a brick-and-mortar sandwich shop, selling katsu and curry available hot from the kitchen or cold and to-go from the conbini-inspired refrigerated section. Look for traditional katsu such as chicken and pork, as well as a unique walnut shrimp katsu and the high-end wagyu splurge.

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