New Places to Eat in LA
One of my biggest passions is trying out new restaurants and eating new types of food. So when I came to LA, I thought I had made the right choice because I knew that LA was an ethnic melting pot and there would be a large variety of ethnic cuisines. What I didn’t know was how expansive or how authentic things would be. There is something for everyone here, no matter where you are from in the world. Never would I have imagined having such authentic Dim Sum on the other side of the Pacific. So without further ado, here are some ethnic areas and restaurants you might be interested in.
The first, Koreatown, is closest in proximity to USC, only roughly a 10 minute drive down Vermont. As you enter Koreatown, it is almost like you enter another country. The signs on all the billboards change, and you start to see a lot of different restaurants and shops. There is a very robust community here, and you could almost live solely in Koreatown and not wander out, given how self-sustaining it is. There are so many choices to choose from here, all different types of Korean cuisine are available. Very popular among college students is All You Can Eat (AYCE) Korean BBQ, which is increasingly becoming present in Koreatown. They are typically sorted by price tiers, ranging from $10 per person up to $15-20 per person. At the $10 per person, some of the more popular places are Sanya and Castle. Then, as you go up, some of the more popular ones (or ones I think are good) are Road to Seoul and Hae Jang Chon. Then the highest tier, is not All You Can Eat but definitely does serve the highest tier of meat: Kang Hodong Baekjeong and Park’s BBQ. But Koreatown is not just restricted to just that, there is a wide variety of traditional Korean cuisines in small mom and pop shops, each specializing in something different. For example, Mountain Cafe is great on a cold day, with it’s specialty in Oxtail soup and Abalone Porridge (for those who are sick).
Dessert and Cafes in Koreatown also spark a whole separate discussion, because there are so many choices and hidden gems. Each cafe is almost like a hidden oasis, and it would take much too long to try to find and try each one. But one cafe that almost always pops up (for the atmosphere, not the food), is Yellow Brick Cafe. With their intimate and special atmosphere, it is almost unrivaled in terms of a quiet and peaceful getaway in the evening time. Loft is another cafe where the food and atmosphere are both attractions for students to come study or friends to catch up. But some cafes specialize in desserts, which is the main attraction. If you’re craving shaved ice, Miss Coffee would be ideal to indulge in, with their large (and that’s an understatement) bowls of shaved ice and Ice Cream. If you’re feeling adventurous, Ice Kiss is where you can find shaved ice out of a (hopefully previously unused) dog dish.
Next, we move on to Little Tokyo. This area might seem a little further than Koreatown, but only so if you go on the 110 North or through Downtown during rush hour. Also a mere 3 miles away, this is almost a culinary mecca for those who are addicted to Ramen and Sushi, as this small haven packs as many of those shops as you would find anywhere. One of the most notable places for sushi is Sushi Gen, but good luck waiting for a seat at either lunch or dinner, given their popularity. But go during lunch, especially if you are on a budget, but if you have deep pockets, you can really just go anytime and sit at the sushi bar (with no wait). Other names that come up in the discussion are Hama Sushi, Sushi Komasa, Sushi Go 55, Sushi Enya, and those are all respectable shops in their own right. Sushi Go 55 is more notable for their unagi bowl, but it would be hard to find fault at any of these locations for sushi. As for ramen, there is almost a religious following of ramen lovers in Los Angeles, as can be seen from the almost impossible lines outside of Daikokuya during mealtime, but rightfully so. The ramen at Daikokuya may seem slightly overhyped with the line, but it is (almost) worth the wait. Also another popular location in Little Tokyo is Shinsengumi, where the wait may be more reasonable, and with the flexibility to customize your noodles. Men Oh Tokushima is becoming increasingly popular (and in my opinion, the best place) to get ramen in town, located in the Honda Plaza right across from Sushi Gen. Desserts are less abundant in this area, but traditional Japanese desserts are still offered in the plaza, and Four Leaf offers reasonably good drinks and crepes, as does Ozero. Demitasse offers a fantastic rendition of Hot Chocolate, and you are also able to find Mochilato (Mochi with Ice Cream filling) in the plaza.
Then we go really far away. While it may be tempting to get Chinese food in Chinatown because of it’s proximity (right next to Little Tokyo), you would be wrong in thinking that it is anywhere near the best Chinese food in town, even though Chego is a fantastic location that has garnered almost a cult of followers from Roy Choi, the inventor of Kogi Truck. To find real Chinese food, you would have to head East (ironic right) on the I-10, all the way to the Monterey Park/Alhambra area. More commonly referred to as the “626″ (due to the phone code), this area is comprised of many different districts (around 6-7 of them), where the population is predominantly Asian (more Chinese than anything else), but also home to some of the best Chinese food in LA (if not the US). Even in Chinese cuisine, there are so many different varieties that make it an adventure each time you choose to come to this area. Sinbala is an iconic Taiwanese restaurant, and rightfully so, with the Taiwanese sausages and other traditional street food that is not done justice in other locations. Tasty Garden almost always comes up on the topic of Cantonese cafes, given that they are open until 3 AM, and the wide variety of (pretty good) Cantonese food available. Sam Woo is another chain that offers very good Cantonese barbeque, among other (very well made) Cantonese dishes. And then you come to Dim Sum. Standing head and shoulders above all of it’s competition, Sea Harbour is almost undeniably the best Dim Sum that you will find in LA (maybe even the US), having been opened by a company that also serves some of the best Dim Sum in Vancouver (which is basically the best place to find Cantonese food outside of Hong Kong). But you will almost have to be prepared to wait, but it is always worth it. King Hua is opened by the same company, with a more reasonable wait and price, but with that comes a slightly lower quality that is still very (very) good.
Talking about the desserts/milk tea shops in the 626 area would be impossible, because it is such a large part of the culture here it would warrant a whole new discussion. I will just leave some names and just say that Factory Tea Bar is a popular place to hang out with (fantastic) brick toast, AU79 likewise popular (especially because it is open until 2 AM), Half & Half has it’s own following (good luck trying to get a drink on weekend afternoons). But there are many more great places to go in the 626, and I can’t even begin to scratch the surface on that. So instead, let me leave you with a video that maybe can do a little bit of justice to the area, by the Fung Brothers.
Now don’t think that just because I talked about these 3 areas that these are the only ethnic areas in Los Angeles. Realistically, if I tried to describe all the areas possible, it would not be realistic and I would almost certainly omit some critical locations. Some other notable areas that are very worthy of mention are Little Osaka (down by Torrance), Thai town (by Hollywood), Little Ethiopia (close to the Grove), Little Armenia (in Glendale), among others. I can’t even begin to describe the diversity in this city, so the only real way you can find out is to come and explore for yourself.