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Sep 3, 2009 10:09 AM

Chinatown eats

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.)

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  1. Hop-Li meets those requirements.

    1. 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
      (213) 626-7113‎

      5 Replies
      1. re: Scootrvil

        Looks great. Did some research and many said they cook differently for locals vs people they've never seen before. Any truth in this? Any way to get the 'local flavor'? Still open to other suggestions as well...

        1. re: aecowan10

          You need your CH Passport with the entry "I have an American face but a Chinese stomach."

          1. re: TomSwift

            Instead of "American" you do mean "European" or "White"? "American Face" doesn't have the same meaning for many others.

            1. re: Ogawak

              I'll check my CH Passport and let you know what is says exactly.

              1. re: TomSwift

                Are you implying that "American Face" refers to White Americans only? Surely Pakistani Americans, Nigerian Americans, etc. can have American faces as well? I know you don't mean any harm, but this is a real issue for me.

      2. I asked for some authentic Chinatown eats recently:

        We ended up at Golden City Seafood which was a decently good Cantonese seafood joint. Not sure how much damage your party of 2 can do, but get the crab.

        1. 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.

          CBS Seafood
          700 N Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

          Sam Woo Bar-B-Que Restaurant
          803 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012

          1. 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).

            14 Replies
            1. re: ozhead

              If you get there after 10:30am on a weekend expect to wait 30 minutes to an hour.
              Don't go after 2pm, they start winding down and the selection gets dismal.

              1. re: ozhead

                That sounds perfect! Thank you for the advice. One question: Whats the tchotchkes, how do you pronounce it, and where do you go to get one?

                1. re: aecowan10

                  "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.

                  1. re: ozhead

                    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.

                    1. re: selfportrait93

                      I think Ocean Seafood is better than Empress, and not as long a wait.

                      1. re: wienermobile

                        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.

                        1. re: TomSwift

                          Ditto on Ocean Seafood. A friend of mine treats me to birthday dim sum there every year and we always arrive by 10:30am. Though I think he recieves special treatment because his mother gives red envelopes to *everyone* emplopyed there for Chinese New Years.

                          1. re: SeaCook

                            Isn't it remarkable what a little bribe will do for preferential treatment? I slip Nancy at OS some dough each time and we get the first shipment of shrimp & cilantro. Also I think we get more than our one pound of steamed live shrimp.

                            1. re: TomSwift

                              How's the parking situation at Ocean Star? The reason why I go to Empress is their parking lot.

                              1. re: Galen

                                It's not covered, but it is validated (you pay a minimal charge). They have a pretty efficient valet operation. Leave your windows cracked and the car won't get too hot.

                    2. re: ozhead

                      My grandmother was a Yiddish speaker and she pronouced choch-key.

                        1. re: ozhead

                          Gallitzianer. She has passed away many years ago but she told me that one of her ancesters was an original follower of the Bal Shem Tov.

                          1. re: SeaCook

                            She was a Gallitz and she pronounced it choch-key? Hmm ... as a fellow Gallitz, I may have to re-think this.

                            By the way, do you know the Litvak recipe for chicken soup? It starts, "First, steal one chicken...."