Looking for a nice, not too expensive, authentic Chinatown experience for lunch with my girlfriend on Saturday. I've never really been to Chinatown, only driven through briefly, so any recommendations would be helpful. (i.e. places to eat, safe parking, etc.)
I live near chinatown. This IMO is the best.
HUGE menu, service is ok, GREAT prices(cash only)
A little out of the way but well worth the search.
I always find parking in front or just around the corner.
5 bbq delicacy or Walnut Shrimp are two favs
Zen Mei Bistro
800 Yale St
Los Angeles, CA 90012-2328
You might try dim sum at CBS Seafood. They have a free parking lot if you can find a space on a Sunday. Street parking Sunday is free if you can find it.
If you don't want dim sum you can try Hong Kong BBQ on Broadway (formerly Sam Woo BBQ). They have 4 free spaces behind the restaurant, but you'd have to be very lucky to get one of those.
700 N Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Sam Woo Bar-B-Que Restaurant
803 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dim sum at the Empress Pavilion, way up at the north end of Chinatown, in a building with a multistory parking structure attached. Get your ticket validated in the restaurant and the first hour (or maybe more, could be an hour and a half) is free.
The Empress may not be as good as some of the dim sum restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, but it is pretty dang good nevertheless. It's been there for a million years, and it's very mindful of big dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong -- busy, bustling, noisy, lots of fun, and very much an "authentic Chinatown experience".
When you sit down they will bring you a pot of tea (if you want water too, you'll have to ask -- ask a waiter, not a cart lady), and little dish with mustard and chili sauce. Mix some chili sauce and soy sauce on your plate, and use the mixture for dipping stuff in. Carts come around, pretty much nonstop, and the cart ladies will tell you and show you what they have. If you don't understand them, ask them to tell you again. Get some char siu bao (steamed dumplings with pork in the middle), some shiu mai (pork dumplings), a selection of other dumplings, maybe a plate of Chinese greens (which are cooked to order on the cart), and some of the little egg custard pies for dessert. None of the dishes are overtly "weird" to a western palate, except maybe the chicken feet -- and once you get over the way those look, they are not all that weird either. If you run out of tea, turn the teapot lid upside-down and they will bring another pot.
When you are finished, tell a waiter you're ready to pay and he will total up the check. You and your girlfriend will eat a ton of food (you'd be better off, by the way, to take more people so that you can have a bigger selection of dishes); it will look as if World War III took place on your table; and the bill will be less than $15. After you leave, walk around the building where the restaurant is located and enjoy the tchotchkes -- maybe even buy one or two.
The whole thing is a great Chinatown experience. We've been going there since my kids were small, and now they are 28 and 23 and still love going there for brunch or lunch on a weekend. These days, sometimes one of them will even pay for it (though not often).
"Tchotchke" is a Yiddish word that literally means "little treasure" but in colloquial use has come to mean more like "little piece of junk that somebody gives you for a gift and you put on a dark closet shelf." In other words, it's the kind of thing you might find in great quantity in a tourist-oriented shop in Chinatown (e.g., a bamboo back-scratcher, a glow-in-the-dark My Little Kitty pin). It's pronounced CHOCH-keh (some folks say CHOCH-key, but those folks are not Jews).
Monku is pretty much correct about getting there relatively early, though I've gotten there at 11 and gone in without waiting. If there is a wait, what you do is elbow your way up to the reception desk inside the foyer and tell the hostess how many there are in your party. You'll get a slip of paper with a number on it. Mill around in the crowd until they call your number (it goes pretty quickly -- there are LOTS of tables turning over), then elbow your way back up to the desk and show them your number. A hostess will then seat you.
Enjoy -- and report back, if you get the chance.
Agree with the Empress Pavilion/ Garden recomendation for a start up chinatown experience. Besides the dim sum being good, the waiting, the listening to the numbers in Cantonese, mandarin and english and making your way to the front desk are all part of it.
If you and your girlfriend like this, then perhaps next time you can explore other places such as CBS, Ocean Seafood and other recs by fellow CH'ers.
I, too, prefer Ocean Seafood, primarily because of the shorter wait. However, if you arrive at 10:30 or 10:45 on either Sat or Sun we've found that there is no wait. And the Shrimp & Cilantro Har Gow come out at 11:00. Caveat - we're regulars (when we don't go to SGV) so probably receive some kind of special treatment. Still, you can't go wrong with either place. Why not try them both, get a feel for the experience, and then maybe venture into SGV to one of the many excelent places recommended on the board.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that since you're a Chowhound newbie (only 3 posts since 2007), and you've made the distinction between getting the "real" menu and the "foreigners" menu, that what you're looking for is the real deal... delicious Chinese food cooked by Chinese people for Chinese people.
If that be the case, you should consider skipping Chinatown and heading out 10 minutes east on the 10 freeway to the massive Chinese neighborhoods in the San Gabriel Valley. Do a search here for "San Gabriel Chinese", last 5 years, sorted by relevance, and prepare to have your mind blown.