HOME > Chowhound > Los Angeles Area >
Brewing beer, curing meat, or making cheese? Tell us about it

Downtown old Chinatown

justanotherpenguin Dec 13, 2010 10:19 AM

I would appreciate some input. Many years ago (mid 50's) my uncle began dating a young lady who became my aunt. I was about 6-7 years old and my aunt-to-be and uncle used to take me many places. My parents were older and never went out, so this was a huge treat for me. One of my earliest memories is going to Chinatown. My aunt ordered some fried shrimp from a stand, and we ate it standing at the wishing well. I had never had shrimp before and to this day (50+ years later) still remember how good it tasted to me.

So now my uncle has passed and my aunt has serious health issues. She has a milestone birthday this week and on Wednesday I am taking her to lunch. For the sake of memories we will be going to Chinatown. I have not been there in ages and have no idea as to whether or not they still have shrimp stands and whether there are any decent restaurants either there or in the very near vicinity. I know that if this was purely a food situation, we should to the San Gabriel Valley, but the memory card trumps the food card this time. Any suggestions will be appreciated.

  1. justanotherpenguin Dec 17, 2010 07:13 AM

    So we went to Chinatown. To us eastern Europeans the entire concept was very unique in the 50's, and we always thought of the street (Gin Lin Way?) that runs from Broadway to Hill as the center of that community. The area is now a bit rundown, but also is showing signs of revival. Ironically, there is an outdoor food-stand right around the corner from the wishing well, but: (1) it was closed on non-touristy, rainy Wednesday; and (2) it's posted menu was hamburgers & hot dogs - NO SHRIMP! We walked around a bit and contributed some coins to the wishing well.

    From reading the recommendations here, I had decided that it would be between the Golden Dragon and JR Bistro. Since Golden Dragon was right across the street and we had actually parked in front of it, we peeked in the doors to decide. Keep in mind that the weather was lousy, it was not a touristy day, there was parking available on the street, very few pedestrians - you get the picture. THE PLACE WAS PACKED! We were amazed. The main room only had a couple of tables empty (of which we got one), and they were opening up the second room. This was around 12:30PM. There must have been 15-20 dim sum carts wheeling around. Mostly Chinese folk and it was quite loud.

    Even before we sat down carts started arriving. We selected several items (shui mai, shrimp balls & marinated mushrooms) and asked for a menu because there were no fried shrimp on the carts. It took a while to get a menu because it appears that almost everyone was simply picking off the carts. We ordered some fried shrimp, kung pao chicken and a couple of mai-tais.

    You know the old saying: "you can't go home again?" - it applies to the fried shrimp. In our memories the shrimp was very light with minimal batter. This shrimp was heavily battered and fried to a rubber-like consistency. We ate it because we had to clean our plates like our mothers had told us. The drinks were on the watery side, but the chicken was good. What really was very good were all three dim sum orders.

    So we had a great time and shared lots of memories. We drove around east LA for a bit by the homes that we had lived in half a century ago, then returned to reality in Woodland Hills.

    As far as the Golden Dragon is concerned, I will probably go again. Next time, though, I will take my daughter's Chinese father-in-law so that I will know what to get. And will most likely stick to the carts.

    Thanks to all of you for the input - it was very helpful.

    6 Replies
    1. re: justanotherpenguin
      mc michael Dec 17, 2010 07:45 AM

      Nice story. I await the next chapter.

      1. re: justanotherpenguin
        Mr Taster Dec 17, 2010 09:20 AM

        I had an experience with Golden Dragon many years ago in my pre-Chowhound days, perhaps 12-13 years ago. I believe that GD was the sponsor of the Chinese new year parade and a friend and I thought we would give them some business. They had "reserved premium seating" (read: plastic folding chairs on the sidewalk outside the restaurant) which you could reserve with lunch for some ungodly price.

        Well, we didn't reserve our plastic chairs, but we did eat. The place was almost empty, and the food? Terrible. Gummy shau mai, har gow. Everything taste old. We finished out plates too, but felt slightly nauseated afterward. Now that I know better, and I know where to go for dim sum, I'll never make that mistake again. However, I'm glad to know that your experience was better. (You also went at the proper time to get the freshest dim sum, which is to say brunch on a weekend. I don't remember when we went.)

        Mr Taster

        1. re: Mr Taster
          Chandavkl Dec 17, 2010 11:08 AM

          Golden Dragon has made a remarkable revival in the past three or four years. Even I have been known to give them mild props on this board. Not sure if makes up for the previous 20 years of mediocrity just yet, though.

          1. re: Chandavkl
            rednyellow Dec 17, 2010 03:52 PM

            I like Golden Dragon. I went not too long ago with a couple buds and we had a good lunch.

            1. re: rednyellow
              redrover Dec 17, 2010 07:47 PM

              A few years back Monterey Park was called "the first suburban Chinatown," so I guess you could call it "Newer Chinatown."

            2. re: Chandavkl
              justanotherpenguin Dec 17, 2010 09:24 PM

              i think that as long as you stay away from the rubber fried shrimp, you'll be fine. ironic that we went to pay homage to the shrimp of our memories.

        2. o
          Ogawak Dec 15, 2010 10:51 AM

          I hope you find your fried shrimp and I hope you and your aunt have a great time in Chinatown, which technically is "New Chinatown". I don't think anyone has officially named the SGV as any kind of "Chinatown" yet. Besides, it's not tacky enough.

          The real "Old Chinatown" hardly exists anymore along San Pedro Street south of Little Tokyo, aside from Paul's Kitchen. But it is "Old Chinatown".

          Here is a link to story of how "New Chinatown" came to be.


          Paul's Kitchen
          1012 S San Pedro St, Los Angeles, CA 90015

          4 Replies
          1. re: Ogawak
            Chandavkl Dec 15, 2010 11:08 AM

            Well actually the original old Chinatown sits where Union Station now resides, torn down in the mid-1930s. That led many of its residents to resettle near San Pedro St., but that area was never referred to as a Chinatown, though it certainly qualified as one. Many of us still remember the San Pedro St. Chinese restaurants including New Moon, Moon Palace/On Luck, Modern Cafe, Man Fook Low, and the last survivor, Paul's Kitchen.

            Paul's Kitchen
            1012 S San Pedro St, Los Angeles, CA 90015

            New Moon
            112 W 9th St, Los Angeles, CA 90015

            1. re: Chandavkl
              Ogawak Dec 15, 2010 11:28 AM

              Thanks for the clarification. I guess in going to those restaurants you just mentioned we always referred to that area as Old Chinatown, since the area along Hill and Broadway is New Chinatown, which has now become quite old. New Moon has indeed moved back into the area but in a new location.

              New Moon
              112 W 9th St, Los Angeles, CA 90015

              1. re: Chandavkl
                raytamsgv Dec 15, 2010 01:10 PM

                Don't forget the Chinese market that was there. I think it was called Wing Cheung Lung or something like that (I don't remember the spelling).

                1. re: raytamsgv
                  Chandavkl Dec 15, 2010 02:19 PM

                  Almost correct. Wing Chong Lung it was, and I think it was related to New Moon.

                  New Moon
                  112 W 9th St, Los Angeles, CA 90015

            2. n
              Neta Dec 14, 2010 06:33 AM

              All I remember of Chinatown in the 50's was the Rice Bowl restaurant and Phil's bar upstairs. And the "Zombie" drinks that tasted like Hawiaan Punch!!! Ay yi yi yi yi!!!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Neta
                LesThePress Dec 14, 2010 09:12 AM

                My first Dim Sum experience was at Grandview Gardens in the mid 70's. I remember they charged by the number plates on the table when you were finished. They were an amazing $ .75 a plate and the more expensive items were served with two plates, which we thought at the time was very high!!

                Outside of going to Chinatown for the memory factor, there really isn't any reason to go there today.

                Let us know justanotherpenguin where you end up and your thoughts on your dining experience.

              2. justanotherpenguin Dec 13, 2010 02:21 PM

                now that monku has mentioned hong kong low, i am pretty certain that is where we got the shrimp - i remember going there again in the late 60's and early 70's. the quality had deteriorated pretty much by then.

                a couple of friends have suggested Yang Chow on broadway. any thoughts? please keep in mind that food is important, but secondary in this case. and thank you.

                19 Replies
                1. re: justanotherpenguin
                  Chandavkl Dec 13, 2010 02:46 PM

                  Well there is one restaurant still open fairly close to the wishing well, Hop Louie. Back in the 1970s and before it was Golden Pagoda. Hop Louie never gets mentioned on this board for food, but it is in a historic building right in Chinatown Plaza and it would be nostalgic to eat there.

                  1. re: Chandavkl
                    monku Dec 13, 2010 03:21 PM

                    Have you ever seen the menu at Hop Louie?
                    It's an insult to Chinese restaurants and people.
                    The only people who go there are people who think Panda Express is too Chinese for them.

                    1. re: monku
                      ipsedixit Dec 13, 2010 05:11 PM

                      I think Chandavkl nominated Hop Louie for its nostalgic and historic significance, and less for the food. Plus, back in the 1950s, I'd bet what Hop Louie serves today is a pretty good facsimile of what they had back then ...

                      1. re: ipsedixit
                        monku Dec 13, 2010 05:26 PM

                        Their menu is choose one from column A and one from column B.

                        I know people who still go there and think that's what Chinese food is all about..they think Panda Express is too ethnic for them.

                        1. re: monku
                          ipsedixit Dec 13, 2010 05:27 PM

                          Panda Express was probably "too ethnic" in the 1950s.

                          1. re: ipsedixit
                            monku Dec 13, 2010 05:40 PM

                            OK...so what was the name of the dim sum place across from Hop Louie(Golden Pagoda)?

                            (there's an empty lot there now with a sign that says Chinatown that resembles the Hollywood sign)

                            1. re: monku
                              Chandavkl Dec 13, 2010 09:06 PM

                              Grandview Gardens. First modern era Chinese restaurant in L.A. to create a buzz with Chinese and non-Chinese alike waiting to get in for Sunday morning dim sum.

                              1. re: Chandavkl
                                monku Dec 13, 2010 09:08 PM

                                That was it...Grandview Gardens.

                                1. re: monku
                                  Chandavkl Dec 13, 2010 09:24 PM

                                  Yes, it was almost 40 years ago when dim sum at Grandview Gardens was the rage.

                                  1. re: Chandavkl
                                    monku Dec 13, 2010 09:29 PM

                                    I remember the decor being black and not really Asian.

                                    1. re: monku
                                      Chandavkl Dec 13, 2010 09:50 PM

                                      I remember more about waiting outside to get in than the interior.

                                2. re: Chandavkl
                                  Clinton Dec 14, 2010 08:17 AM

                                  Ah Grandview Gardens, I remember we had to stand in line outside the little window for takeout dim sum on busy Hill Street next to the parking meters. I used to complain about the size of their tiny little char siu baos comparing them to the humongous ones from Hong Kong Low. Nevertheless, they had one of the best take outs in those days.

                                  1. re: Chandavkl
                                    Hughlipton Dec 14, 2010 12:08 PM

                                    Oh thank you Chandavki. As I read this thread I was trying to think of the neame of the place across from the wishing well in Old China Town and it certainly was Grandview Gardens. My mother loved that place and I would take her there just because she did. Actually they had a fairly decent Peking Duck and their dim sum in those days was passable. A second choice for the poster might be the Golden Dragon. Went there for some Dim Sum about three four months ago. Ninety percent Asian clientele with a good variety of dim sum. Food should be good, no reason why not.

                                    China Town
                                    10935 Magnolia Ave, Riverside, CA 92505

                      2. re: justanotherpenguin
                        monku Dec 13, 2010 02:54 PM

                        Hong Kong Low dim sum take out went out of business this year and some of their dim sum is available from Phoenix Bakery.
                        Yang Chow is alright. Food is important, but at that age sometimes the familiarity of what they once had is just as comforting.
                        If my Chinese grandmother were still alive she'd prefer a place like Golden Dragon across the street on Broadway from Chinatown Plaza where the wishing well is. Golden Dragon has been around maybe since the days of Hong Kong Low and they probably make that fried shrimp of your memories. I know what you're talking about.

                        Wishing well

                        Yang Chow Restaurant
                        819 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                        Phoenix Bakery
                        969 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA

                        1. re: monku
                          Clinton Dec 13, 2010 05:23 PM

                          Across the wishing well was the old Man Jen Low or General Lee's which closed down maybe in the late 60s or early 70s. Don't honestly remember any "shrimp" stands but only that little hut across the parking lot which sold char siu and roast duck back in the 60s. We did many a lion dance performances in that Chinatown square back in the old days in front of Hong Kong Low.

                          1. re: monku
                            Clinton Dec 14, 2010 08:28 AM

                            Golden Dragon was once THE place to go in Chinatown back in the late 60s and early 70s. My in-laws held their wedding reception there and it was a much-to-do affair. When the banquet started off with shark fin soup, you knew the rest was going to be spectacular in which it was!

                            1. re: Clinton
                              monku Dec 14, 2010 02:10 PM

                              Little worn around the edges, but still the place to go for some (not me). I went for dim sum a couple years ago and it wasn't that bad.
                              They still hold a lot of banquet functions there because it's one of the largest restaurants in Chinatown. I think they can seat around 400 for a banquet there.

                              1. re: monku
                                Chandavkl Dec 14, 2010 03:20 PM

                                Actually we had 600 for a banquet there once.

                                1. re: Chandavkl
                                  monku Dec 14, 2010 03:24 PM

                                  I was going to say it held 500+, but I really wasn't sure.

                        2. monku Dec 13, 2010 02:09 PM

                          Not a shrimp stand, but it's possible that the "shrimp stand" was a dim sum place that was across from the wishing well. Forgot the name (it will come to me) of the dim sum place, but the property still sits empty there on Hill Street. There was also Hong Kong Low dim sum take out around the corner where you may have gotten fried shrimp to go.
                          Close by you could take her to Empress Pavillion for dim sum or Golden City (it's alright).
                          The wishing well is still there....I know the family that owns it.

                          1. ipsedixit Dec 13, 2010 01:56 PM


                            I am almost positive there are no longer shrimp stands in Chinatown, but if you are looking for some information or perhaps a walk down memory lane, you might want to check with the Chinatown Historical Society ... http://www.chssc.org/

                            And to keep this food related, if you dine in Chinatown I'd suggest CBS Seafood, Ocean, or maybe JR Bistro.

                            Good luck!

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: ipsedixit
                              happybaker Dec 14, 2010 08:25 PM

                              I just went to CBS Seafood for the first time - and really enjoyed it. Normally my husband and I will drive to Rowland Heights for dim sum but we were pooped, and wanted decent dim sum for not too much money - CBS Seafood was great for that! They had the standards (I think I could just eat har gow for days) but also had neat surprises (shrimp stuffed tofu! fresh spinach dumplings!) Plus they spoke a good amount of English which, for a lame gal like me, is not mandatory, but can be helpful.

                              Pat of Eating LA also rec'd JR Bistro. I haven't gone there but it's on my list! Here's her post about it, she liked that they had old fashioned standard dishes, which might be just what the OP was looking for...


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

                              1. re: happybaker
                                Chandavkl Dec 14, 2010 10:00 PM

                                J.R. is probably as good as it gets in Chinatown, but it's not old school. They get enough tourist types to know how to fix those dishes if requested, but it's a solid Hong Kong/Cantonese place.

                                1. re: happybaker
                                  ns1 Dec 15, 2010 11:24 AM

                                  Maybe it's a cultural thing but those pictures are disturbing.

                                  1. re: ns1
                                    cfylong Dec 16, 2010 08:06 AM

                                    Then, you better not try sushi.

                                    1. re: cfylong
                                      ns1 Dec 16, 2010 08:57 AM

                                      sushi looks hot and not smothered in gravy

                              2. Mr Taster Dec 13, 2010 10:27 AM

                                Wow, what a great story.

                                I've lived in Los Angeles for 14 years and have never seen any shrimp stands near the wishing well or otherwise. But I can tell you that to my eye, that area of Los Angeles hasn't changed considerably in the time I've been visiting.

                                I'd love to see some old photos of those shrimp stands, though. I wonder if the Central Library has anything in their photo archives? Off to lapl.org!

                                Mr Taster

                                Show Hidden Posts