CHINATOWN

So, sure. Chinatown is much more than a destination for dim sum, red Chinese lanterns and feng shui products – but for the giant Chinese New Year celebration in February, that is EXACTLY what we were looking for when we ventured to the suddenly-super-trendy neighborhood.

Chinatown is nestled in downtown Los Angeles, between Echo Park and Elysian Park, and was once home to LA’s now-defunct Little Italy. The area grew as a Chinese cultural hub in the 1930s, and was the brainchild of Hollywood film set designers who wanted to build a California-version of Shanghai. It’s always been a hot spot for food lovers, but has taken on a new “Roy Choi sparkle” after the hometown hero moved his famous eatery Chego to the neighborhood in 2013 (he’s helped put the Far East Plaza on the culinary map). You can now order Ooey Gooey Fries and Kung Pao Fried Rice bowls next to a joint serving classic Peking Duck and Mu Shu Pork.

Like so many neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Chinatown serves up a beautiful blend of old and new, nostalgic and fresh, sweet and very spicy. Come hungry – there’s just so much to try in this place.

Stop 1: Philippe the Original

Did you know the French Dip was invented in Los Angeles? Yep, that’s right. Just like hamburgers and tacos, this juicy sandwich is an LA staple – and it was created by Philippe Mathieu, owner of Philippe’s. According to folk lore, while making a sandwich one day in 1918, Philippe accidentally dropped a sliced french roll into a pan filled with juice right outta the oven. The police officer waiting for the sandwich said he would be happy to take the sandwich anyway – and, voila! The French Dip was born.

This restaurant is historic by West Coast standards, and the sandwiches are just as delicious almost 100 years later. We ordered the double dip beef with jack cheese (a must!) If you wanna go crazy, order the chili and spoon it straight onto your sammie.

(1001 N Alameda Street, Los Angeles)

Stop 2: Los Angeles Golden Dragon Parade

No big deal, this was just the 117th annual parade celebrating the Chinese New Year. It’s clearly one of LA’s longest running (and beloved!) traditions, and incorporates kung fu demonstrations, Chinese beauty queens, traditional music, and many, many dragons.

(Starts at Hill and Ord Streets)

Stop 3: Ten Ren's Tea Time

Located inside the Far East Plaza, one of the trendiest slices of Chinatown (ramen! bowls! cold-pressed coffee!), Ten Ren has an extensive list of delicious hot and cold teas. We recommend using the cheat sheet on the wall (Ten Ren’s “Top 10 Teas”) to help you pick your favorite – we ordered milk tea with boba and the thai iced tea with boba, which were sweet and creamy and icy-cold. A perfect Chinatown treat!

(726 N Hill Street, Los Angeles)

Stop 4: East/West Shop

We recommend stopping into this intimate vintage shop BEFORE you stuff your face at Chego’s (right next door). They have a great selection of t-shirts, jackets, and accessories and most items are under $60. The shop focuses on the idea that handicraft skills should be celebrated, so also offer community classes. The gals behind the counter were super friendly, and the tunes were top-notch as well. Great local spot to support!

(727 N Broadway, Los Angeles)

Stop 5: LAX-C

If you love Costco, we welcome you to your new obsession: LAX-C . It’s a warehouse and wholesale Thai market open to the public, and offers everything from fish sauce to furniture (and most things in between!) We wandered the aisles for almost an hour, checking out the reasonably-priced tea pots, house plants, Thai herbs, and kitchen knives. If you’re hungry, there’s a small food stall near the front, and the seafood counter is a great place to ogle.

Insider’s Tip: Free parking in their lot!

(1100 N Main Street, Los Angeles)

Stop 6: Shareen Vintage

Shareen Vintage has been one of our all-time favorite shops since we first stepped foot in Los Angeles, and became even more near and dear when Ashley bought her wedding dress there last year! It’s another warehouse, chock full of spunky vintage dresses organized by era. Need a sparkly, shoulder-padded dress a la “Pretty in Pink?” Shareen has plenty of those. Looking for a 1950s pastel cocktail number? There’s one of those, too. There’s also a section for “reimagined” vintage dresses, designed by Shareen herself.

Insider’s Tip: no boys allowed!

(1721 N Spring Street, Los Angeles)

Stop 7: Chinatown Central Plaza

This outdoor plaza is home to restaurants, small shops, and cultural events. When the original Chinese community (which started as far back as the 1850s) resettled to its current location in 1938, Central Plaza was dedicated as the vibrant center. As part of the New Year festivities, we sipped cold brews in the beer garden and caught some of the bands playing on a nearby stage, and then wandered through the confetti-laden madness.

(950 N Broadway, Los Angeles)

Stop 8: Plum Tree Inn

In a sea of stylish new “it” restaurants, there are still some old-time staples that are well worth the visit. Plum Tree Inn offers a large menu of Chinese favorites (and even the elusive “New York egg roll!) We started with the vegetarian steamed dumplings and the Shanghai juicy dumplings (cuz we gotta have SOME meat!), and then ordered the sweet pungent shrimp (our absolute favorite), the seafood soft noodles, and the hot & spicy eggplant. Round things out with fortune cookies, and you’ve got yourself a pretty amazing meal of Chinese comfort foods.

(913 N Broadway, Los Angeles)

The Details:

The Gold Line serves the Chinatown area (Gold Line stop is at: 901 N Spring Street) and is just one stop from the famous Union Station (we just walked from there). Most of the neighborhood is easily accessible on foot, with the exceptions of Shareen Vintage and LAX-C (both are on the outskirts).

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