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Chinatown / Olvera Street / Grand Central Market / Little Tokyo

From looking at the map, it looks that Chinatown, Olvera Street, Grand Central Market and Little Tokyo are within close walking distance and could be explored in a day before heading back to LAX via the Red/Blue/Green Lines.

Are there any favorites or "absolutely can't miss" for grabbing something to nosh on while wandering from one to the other?

TIA for your recs!

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  1. Chinatown and Olvera Street are quite close- in fact they overlap at a street or 2. Little Tokyo would -not- be within walking distance, it's at least a mile away. (if your in good shape and love walking, go right ahead!)

    Both areas are major tourist-traps, and good food isn't a highpoint of either. Overpriced in Olvera Street, and IMHO- not really good in both. Mind you, there -are- places to eat, like Philippe's for French Dip sandwiches that are either beloved or reviled by folks here on CH. I like them just fine, but don't eat there all that much.

    Little Tokyo has -much much much- better eats, to me. Good to great ramen abounds (if you like spicy, Orochon ramen is tops, if you love pork, Daikokuya is your place) and Japanese-American greasy spoons are plentiful. (I personally love most of them, like Suehiro, Koraku...YUM!) Sushi is decent to good, depending on what you like.

    All 3 places are quite interesting to explore- there is history in all of them. Food's only good in Little Tokyo, to me tho.

    1. I actually had some of the best guacamole I've ever had at Olvera Street. I've eaten at La Golondrina which is pretty good--I like the atmosphere. Across the way is a more laid back restaurant called El Paseo (I think)--and it was fabulous.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Emily227

        Atmosphere in Olvera Street is fantastic, I will agree. I don't eat guacamole, so I have no idea if it's good -anywhere-!!*LOL* I've eaten at La Golondrina as well- granted a good many years ago..I just wasen't overly impressed at all by the food, and the price seemed high as well. In a city like LA, getting much better, more authentic Mexican isn't hard to do, and is worth looking for. For instance, I don't think Mole is served anywhere in Olvera Street, and that's a huge thing for me. (If it is served- please let me know, and i'll be down ASAP! It's been about 5 years since i've visited Olvera Street)

        If your in Chinatown, you may want to head to Empress Pavillion. Like Philippe's it's got it's share of lovers and haters out there. I've enjoyed all my visits highly, and think the food's great. If you want to get dim sum, it's first on my list to go to. (if you do a chowhound search on it, you'll pull up numerous debates of it's "downhill decline" over the past few years.) I also personally like Hop Louie, for both it's design and food.

        1. re: Honeychan

          honeychan: What do you usually get at Hop Louie? I'm dying to find a good place in Chinatown, both for eat-in and takeout.

          I assume it's Cantonese, right?


        2. While both Olvera Street and Chinatown are pretty poor places for good grub, I'll give you a rec for each place.

          Olvera Street: Cielito Lindo for the taquitos.

          Little Tokyo: Fugetsudo for mochi.

          Grand Central: Wet carne asada burrito

          Chinatown: There's nothing good to eat here. Even the rats have left.

          12 Replies
          1. re: ipsedixit

            Wow. Harsh comment about Chinatown!

            Which stall at Grand Central do you get your burrito?

            Also heard that on Olvera Street, you can get a great Mexican hot chocolate at Casa de Souza and decent churros at Mr. Churros.

            1. re: Liquid Sky

              Tacos Tumbras A Tomas.

              It's on your left hand side if you enter from the Broadway entrance, if I recall correctly.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  and their lengua taco's rock as well.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I didn't know they had wet burritos! Their Carne Asada burrito is truly delicious but its a heart attack waiting to happen. But ooh sooo good.

                2. re: ipsedixit

                  I still recommend Golden City in Chinatown since it's probably the last oldtime restaurant left. In fact, I just saw it last night in Jackie Chan's 80s movie called "Rush Hour" in several of his scenes with Chris Rock. Still draw a good crowd at lunch times. That's gotta tell you something?

                  1. re: Clinton

                    I had the worst Chinese meal of my life here. It was inedible. Squid so rubbery it just couldn't be chewed, etc. There are many better places in Chinatown. Plum Tree Inn was decent, although I think they've moved. I like CBS on Spring and Ord. I've had good meals at Empress Pavilion, although I haven't been there in a year or so. The "B" Dash bus goes from Chinatown to City Hall and it's walking distance to GCM or Little Tokyo from there.

                    1. re: Clinton

                      Golden City, or Foo Chow? Foo Chow is the one that boasts the Jackie Chan claim. I've found the food there to be pretty meh, but recommended by Mark Bittman: http://travel.nytimes.com/2006/12/03/....

                      If I had to eat a meal in Chinatown, I'd go with Sam Woo on Broadway. Not what it used to be, but not awful.

                      1. re: garvanza girl

                        It's the one that has the signs that they were in some Jackie Chan movie. I thought it was Golden City. Could be wrong... In any event, Sam Woo does have decent food. I always liked their duck noodle soup.

                        1. re: garvanza girl

                          Foo Chow was across the street from Golden City. That was the scene where Jackie did his hilarious "War" (what is it good for?) impersonation skit. Sam Woo is pretty good for roast duck as well as their won ton noodle soup. My favorite for beef stew (gnau nam) won ton noodle soup is still Golden City...and that hasn't changed since the 60s. Ever since Hong Kong Low shut down a few months ago, decent take out dim sum is hard to find in LA Chinatown. For quick and dirty, I just pick up take out at Lucky Deli on Broadway. Not the best but convenient.

                          1. re: Clinton

                            Beef stew wonton noodle soup... that sounds good! Do they add a lot of MSG though?

                            1. re: Liquid Sky

                              Most probably? Their soup stock is what gives it the flavor. Hasn't changed since I began eating there. The beef stew is made with brisket and beef tendons flavored with five star anise. Typical Hong Kong street food I was told. Great comfort dish.

                    2. Others have said it well already - Chinatown and Olvera Street do cater towards the tourist palate. It's been ages since I've been to either, but when spent more time in the area, my favorites used to be:

                      Chinatown: Family Pastry on Spring Street for takeout dim sum. Zero atmosphere, not for clean freaks or germophobes, but you can get a giant box of dim sum for under ten bucks and feed an army!

                      Olvera Street: La Luz del Dia, for carnitas and handmade tortillas.

                      Little Tokyo: Hanaichimonme for noodles and an as-close-to-being-in-Tokyo atmosphere as you can get here. Suehiro for cheap comfort food and good people watching.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: garvanza girl

                        Hanaichimonme is good, but a different type of ramen. My DH actually hates what they make, but I like it as a change of pace from Orochon. Hanaichimonme is -fantastic- (at least they used to be) on Japanese-style of desserts, parfaits and sweet beverages. Their lemon squash is the best i've tasted, nice and really tart! I like their atmosphere, even if that indoor mall is quite abandonded.

                      2. Chinatown: Sum Woo (Wu?). VEry good Cantonese food.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: slacker

                          It seems a shame that with the boom in downtown residents and the number of Asians living down there that there aren't some WONDERFUL Chinese restaurants. Hmmm... Maybe I should open a good Chinese restaurant downtown??!! Sepcializing in Szechuan, Shanghainese or Taiwanese cuisine. Not all of us want to drive to the San Gabriel Valley!!

                          1. re: Liquid Sky

                            My Grandmother lives at the senior apartment building on broadway (chinatown), and says there's a new restaurant that just opened up next door. The rumor is that its Yum Cha Cafe, but she says the name is different? Does anyone know of this place?

                          2. re: slacker

                            It's Sam Woo (three harmonies) not to be confused with Sam Wo in San Francisco.

                            1. re: Clinton

                              It used to be Sam Woo. It's now Sum Wu/Woo. btw I was referring to the one located upstairs in the plaza on hill.

                          3. Chinatown- I like Jade Wok

                            Jade Wok
                            625 W College St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                            1. Olvera Street: Used to get good fast taco lunches at Luz del Dia, and Golondrina has good margaritas and the food is quite acceptable, especially if you are not from a place with lots of Mexican food. The carts have some fun snacks like candied pumpkin.

                              Little Tokyo: I will leave it to other to recommend sushi but don't miss Fugetsudo for first class mochi (rice cake) sweets. Also liked Suehiro for plate lunches.

                              Chinatown: Favorites for dimsum would be CBS Seafood or Empress Pavillion, or buy some for take out as you're wandering around. I always like the shrimp with spicy salt and eggplant/black bean sauce at Hop Li, but it's on the outer edge of Chinatown and maybe too far for walking.

                              Not that much of a Grand Central fan for eating other than the licuados stand out the back. But it's fun to wander inside and look at the pig heads and rotting fruit.

                              Take a look at the DASH bus routes for stops, some of the locations are on the A or B lines. It's only 25 cents a trip. You'll see them circulating along Temple and First.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: mlgb

                                Hop Li, huh? Maybe I should finally venture out there. Shrimp and eggplant dishes sound good...

                                1. re: Liquid Sky

                                  Please don't attempt to take the metro from LAX to downtown and back. I've heard it's very frustrating and time-consuming. The shuttle bus from Union Staion (downtown) to LAX (and back) is fantastic! It's called the Flyaway. It's about $5 each way, very quick and direct (the bus uses the carpool lane and the trip is about 20-30 min one way). Very comfortable and it stops at each terminal at the airport. I'm a huge fan (if you couldn't tell).

                                  To stay on topic, I've never been but thought that Mandarin Deli in Chinatown was well-liked (I believe the Little Tokyo location closed a while ago). That might be the only place worth eating at in that area, but there are definitely gems in Little Tokyo and Overa St is fun in a touristy way. I think a lot of it depends on where you are from and what you have usual access to. But, as spread out as LA is, hitting these adjacent neighborhoods and sampling differnt dishes is a great way to spend a day here.

                                  1. re: fat kitty

                                    Unfortunately Mandarin Deli closed just a little while ago (sigh).

                                    1. re: fat kitty

                                      Yes, the Mandarin Deli in Little Tokyo closed a few years ago, I believe. A shame, I really loved their scallion pancakes and beef noodle soup.

                                        1. re: Honeychan

                                          I think Liquid Sky is referring to the Chinatown MD Broadway location, which was closed as of several months (or more) ago.

                                          Mr Taster

                                  2. I just took the new $1 Megabus to San Diego over the weekend and while waiting I decided to finally check out La Luz Del Dia on the end of Olvera Street, directly across from the main Alameda entrance of Union Station.

                                    This place has been on my list to try for years now, and I'm glad a finally got a chance to give it a shot. I ordered the carnitas (fried pork) plate, nopales salad and a small cup of champurrado.

                                    The tortillas which came with the carnitas plate were wonderful. These are thick, ruddy and unevenly colored discs of lovely, chewy masa-fied bliss. Truly rustic, unmistakably handmade. There's no way anyone would mistake these lovely things for the telltale uniformity of the machine pressed/plastic bag supermarket tortilla.

                                    The carnitas itself was also really quite good-- on par with a local shack in Ensenada my Lovely Tasting Assistant (LTA) and I were taken to by a local friend some years ago. The exterior texture varied between crispiness, chewyness and jerky-ness which the interior was lusciously soft. Some of the smaller pieces were a little too dry but overall I had few complaints. The portion was not American Sized, but it was enough to satisfy me without busting my belt, and at a price of about $6.50 it was certainly a decent value. Accompanying the carnitas were the requisite beans, rice, salsa and guac, which I appreciated only for their aesthetic element.

                                    The nopales (cactus) salad was light and fresh, cut with garlic, tomatoes and who knows what else. A great contrast to the carby-meatiness of the cartinas plate.

                                    The champurrado (a masa-thickened drink made from chocolate, cinnamon and other spices) was sinfully thick, likely representing several tortillas worth of carbs alone. However on this rainy Friday night in which I was waiting for my bus, it was warm and soothing and just the thing to settle me in for the bus ride to San Diego.

                                    Mr Taster

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                      I haven't been to La Luz in quite a long time, but this sounds *exactly* as I remember it. The tortillas are definitely the main event, and yes, the carnitas is pretty darned good too :)

                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                        Yes, thank you for adding to the small cadre of voices trying to point out that, yes, there is actually some decent Mexican food on Olvera Street. Did they have the little cardboard manger scene set up? It was always fun to go there around the holidays.

                                      2. If you're not from LA, avoid Philippe's. it's nothing great unless you grew up with it or want to see nostalgia.

                                        Custard filled churros from Mr. Churro of Olvera Street should definitely not be missed.

                                        Go to Grand Central Market and look around. if lots of people are eating a certain dish or waiting at a certain stand...it's gotta be good. it's a great place.

                                        1. If you are truly walking Chinatown/Olvera Street/Grand Central/Little Tokyo:

                                          I would stop at Phillipes and try the French Dip or lamb sandwich
                                          Actually there is a Hawaiian Chicken restaurant on Spring that serves huli huli chicken.
                                          My go-to place in CTown is Won Kok on Alpine for some of the best noodle dishes around, also Chinese baked goods, like baked bao.
                                          Little Tokyo has special shops to stop at, Fugetsu-do for the best manju.
                                          Mitsuru in the LT Plaza has something called "Imagawayaki", something I've never seen done anywhere else. It's like manju but is made of pancake batter and red beancake an in little cups right before your eyes. Worth a stop.
                                          CeFiore, also in LT Plaza, is better than Pinkberry for Frozen Yogurt, although Pinkberry is also there.

                                          I haven't done this yet, but anxious to try Groundworks Coffee @ Second and Main

                                          Enjoy your walking trip.