What a time to be alive—in L.A.'s Chinatown, at least. While the Downtown-adjacent neighborhood has in some ways remained stagnant, with old Chinese bakeries and restaurants sitting untouched, one section in particular has been a vortex of change: Far East Plaza. The food hall has seen old vendors get swept out while new restaurants move in, drawing lines at lunch time that rival those at Hollywood clubs. If you're due for a visit to Far East Plaza—or wondering what the latest iteration of this Chinatown staple looks like—check out our guide to dining at Far East Plaza.
Get to know Far East Plaza's vendors
Holy hot chicken! The chef behind Howlin' Ray's, Johnny Zone, has spent time in the kitchen with some of the best chefs in the world, but he's really found his calling by bringing Nashville hot chicken to Los Angeles. Once a food truck, Zone opened Howlin's first brick and mortar in Chinatown's Far East Plaza, where you can wait in line (and oh, how you'll wait) for a plate of chicken (white or dark) with whatever level of heat you can handle, from "Country Fried" to "Howlin' Hot."
Eddie Huang's NYC Baohaus has made its way to Far East Plaza, offering baos, bowls and taro fries to hungry Chinatown visitors (or those who want a momentary respite from the nearby line at Howlin' Ray's). Try the Birdhaus Bao, a definite standout made with fried chicken, crushed peanuts, Taiwanese red sugar and cilantro, or the Chairman Bao with pork belly. The taro fries are an unusual take on classic French fries, made with hand-cut taro and Haus spices.
It's all about the rice bowls at Chego, Roy Choi's popular comfort food spot inside Far East Plaza. Head here for lunch or dinner, where you'll find dishes like the kimchi spam bowl (butter-fried kimchi, Spam, scrambled eggs and baby bok choy) or the chubby pork belly (kochujang-lacquered Kurobuta pork belly rice bowl with a fried egg, pickled radishes, water spinach, Chinese broccoli, cotija and peanuts).
LASA began as a pop-up inside Unit 120, and now operates from the space as a full-blown restaurant. Filipino-American brothers Chad and Chase Valencia have crafted a fantastic concept with elevated dishes from their childhood, like pancit, lumpia sariwa and crispy duck arroz caldo. The new LASA will feature a takeout window for lunch, and both à la carte and prix-fixe meals for dinner.
Kim Chuy is known for its noodles—its egg noodles, its rice noodles, its thin and short and flat noodles, its fried noodles topped with vegetables and chicken or its noodles floating in hearty bowls of soup. The family-owned restaurant has been around since 1982, and remains a staple in Far East Plaza. Don't forget to order a side of Chinese donuts at the end of your meal.
With locations in both Chinatown and West L.A., Qin offers decadent, traditional noodle bowls to L.A. denizens. The Saozi noodle dish (both as a soup or dry) is a standout, made with homemade diced pork, potato and tofu; diners can make it as spicy as they wish. There's also the Chinese Mo—a bao-like sandwich stuffed with marinated pork. A few tables are available inside, but you may need to venture outside in Far East Plaza's communal space if Qin runs out of room.
Lao Tao is a Taiwanese street food concept helmed by chef David Wang, a small, 25-seat restaurant decorated with retro grade school posters and wooden planks depicting the Chinese characters for various spices. Here you'll find Taiwan's national dish, Beef Ban Mian: flat noodles coated in an eight-hour marrow sauce and topped with five-spice beef shank, Taiwanese napa cabbages, pickled veggies and green scallions. Two of Wang's best dishes are the Chao Shou—pork filled wontons—and Century Egg Tofu Salad. The tofu salad could hardly be considered a salad—instead, silky tofu cubes are accented by that same Hong You sauce, and surrounded by rousong (a pork floss that has the texture of cotton candy) and century eggs, a blackened delicacy that looks far more intimidating than it tastes.
Endorffeine fuels Far East Plaza with coffee from Heart Roasters, offering a number of caffeinated options in a sleek, minimalist setting. The café is known for its vanilla pandan coffee, as well as a palm sugar-whiskey iced latte. But their most ambituous concept is "9," an intimate dessert experience that takes place at Endorffeine on a semi-regular basis (sign up for their newsletter to hear about the next event). Cocktails accompany each of the three dessert courses, enjoyed by just nine people who were lucky enough to snag a seat.
Surrounded by newcomers to Far East Plaza, Thien Huong is a beloved, old-school establishment that serves bowls of steaming pho and thick banh mi sandwiches in a somewhat cramped dining room. The pho options range from a vegetarian option to those chock-full of brisket and fatty slabs of beef, while banh mi can be ordered with tofu, bbq beef and pork. Be forewarned that this place is cash only.
As one of L.A.'s best ice cream shops, Scoops offers a stellar dessert option within Chinatown's Far East Plaza. There are a couple locations across the city, though this might be the most bare-bones of them all. Order your cup or cone inside, then settle in at one of the communal benches within the food hall. You can sample flavors to your heart's content, but may we suggest the ricotta toffee or basil coconut?
Located on the second floor of Far East Plaza, Fortune Gourmet Kitchen draws a crowd for dim sum lovers seeking classic Cantonese cuisine. The banquet room offers dishes like sizzling rice soup, shrimp with cashew nuts, variations of chop suey and more. Stop by mid-day when the restaurant serves great lunch deals.
In the original iteration of Unit 120, Alvin Cailan's culinary incubator, the space was used for pop-ups and experimental collaborations, primarily the Filipino pop-up LASA. LASA has since taken over the space, and Unit 120 has moved into the old Wing Hop Fung unit, and will re-open as another incubator in May 2017.