JUST A 10-MINUTE DRIVE FROM THE MARTS, CHINATOWN OFFERS A HEADY DOSE OF HISTORY, DIVERSITY, CULTURE — AND COOL. FORGET THE NOTION THAT A TRIP TO THIS NEIGHBORHOOD YIELDS ONLY SPRING ROLLS AND PAPER LANTERNS. L.A.’S BURGEONING ART SCENE — AND THE STUDENTS, COLLECTORS AND SCENESTERS WHO LEAD IT — HAVE TURNED THIS STOP INTO A VERITABLE GOLDMINE OF HIP.
Byline: Marcy Medina
ON THE EDGE
Hop Louie, 950 Mei Ling Way, 213-628-4244. Restaurant open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. daily; bar open 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. daily.
China Art Objects, 933 Chungking Road, 213-613-0384. Call for hours.
Goldman Tevis, 932 Chungking Road, 213-617-8217. Call for hours.
Black Dragon Society, 961 Chungking Road, 213-658-8852.
Loyandford, 969 Chungking Road, 213-680-2225. Open 12 to 6 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday.
The sliver of a passageway known as Chungking Road, all but hidden behind rows of larger buildings, is home to up-and-coming art galleries, avant-garde fashion and traditional jewelry shops, antique dealers and dressmakers. It’s not unusual to spy Christina Ricci, Gwen Stefani, Beck or Iggy Pop amid the art students, collectors and locals who crowd the narrow walkway during Friday and Saturday night events.
During the week, the street remains quiet until about noon, when proprietors, working on their own bohemian schedules, open their doors. By midafternoon, the mood shifts to a quasi-exotic, communal street party. After dark, crowds convene across the street at Hop Louie, a pagoda-style restaurant and bar located in a courtyard known as “Old Chinatown,” for turntable jams and mai tais.
Gallery must-sees include China Art Objects, owned by Steve Hanson and Giovanni Intra, the first to showcase rising art world stars and East Side locals Jorge Pardo, Laura Owens and Pae White; Goldman Tevis, where video artist Jessica Bronson shows her work; and UCLA painting professor Roger Herman’s Black Dragon Society, which takes its name from the space’s original signage.
So what’s the dress code for such hip gallery hopping? Look to Stefan Loy and Frank Ford, darlings of the city’s edgy designer scene, who have one-upped their peers by setting up shop on Chungking Road. Upon entering the tiny boutique, which still sports the original pagoda-like facade, the look changes to a minimalistic, blond wood interior.
SUM OF THIS, SUM OF THAT
Empress Pavilion Restaurant, Bamboo Plaza, 988 North Hill Street, 213-617-9898. Open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5:30 to 10 p.m., Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5:30 to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Main courses are $11-18.
With many considering it the ne plus ultra of haute Chinese dining, Empress Pavilion offers discerning foodies everything from shark’s fin soup to dim sum. If you’re going for a dim sum brunch, be prepared: the wait often exceeds one hour for those showing up after 10 a.m. But it’s worth waiting for the crisp-fried taro dumplings, mussels and steamed pork buns.
To order, flag down one of the servers pushing steaming carts. For dinner, a fleet of black-tie waiters serve specialties like sliced abalone and sea cucumber, hot clay pots of seasonal seafood, and Peking duck (served in two courses, first sliced ultrathin and sandwiched in a small bun with plum sauce and scallion, followed by bigger dark-meat pieces).
Don’t pass up dessert — after all, it’s on the house. Choose from melon tapioca “blossoms” with coconut or mango pudding. Another tip: When your teapot is empty, turn the top upside down to signal a quick refill.
TAKING A DIP
Philippe The Original, 100 North Alameda Avenue, 213-628-3781. Open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Melting pot that Chinatown is, it’s inevitable that not every eating establishment serves egg rolls. One of the oldest eateries in the city, Philippe’s was founded in 1918 by Philippe Mathieu, who claimed he created the French dip sandwich when he inadvertently dropped a French roll into a juice-filled roasting pan.
The restaurant, in an old machine shop located one block north of Union Station, is decked out in ceiling fans, neon soft drink and beer signs, sawdust on the floor and long wooden tables with stools. The signature sandwich comes in roast beef, roast pork, leg of lamb, turkey or ham served on a freshly baked roll dipped in gravy. Patrons order from a long display counter equipped with 10 “carvers,” many who have been slicing meat there for decades. The plates are paper, the service is fast and the sandwiches are de-lish.
Alex Cheung Co., 936-938 Chungking Road, 213-629-4705. Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
In this dusty, cavernous store, shoppers with a sense of adventure will be rewarded with finds such as loose strings of freshwater pearls, hand-engraved metal rings from the early 1900s, ancient turquoise beads and ivory trading pieces. If you’re game for hunkering down the street with a larger parcel, you may be tempted by the inlaid wood panels, enameled housewares and giant ceramic vases. The shop is open consistently, unlike many of the businesses on the tiny street. If you want to visit the maximum number of shops, it’s best to go on either an afternoon or a weekend.
Saigon Plaza, 828 Broadway. Open 12 to 6 p.m. daily.
A bargain basement of sorts, this collection of tiny stalls within a deep courtyard boasts everything you might find on the streets of New York or San Francisco’s Chinatowns — but in one neatly arrayed, if crowded, space. Luggage, video games, shoes, T-shirts and kitschy collectibles abound, and browsing is often more fun than fruitful. Stall number five, called Diem Ca, has Fendi and Gucci bag knockoffs that’ll fool many a casual observer.
Imperial Dragon Gifts, 451 Gin Ling Way, 213-628-4782. Open 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Monday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.
Once you pass through the bright red, dragon-flanked gates of Old Chinatown on Broadway, you’ll be on Gin Ling Way, a charming courtyard full of eateries and shops, including Imperial Dragon Gifts This high-ceilinged, wood-paneled emporium overflows with Sanrio sundries, dashboard buddhas, fans, lanterns, chopsticks, cheongsams and soaps to tickle your every fancy. A perfect stop for anyone looking for an inexpensive, fun gift to take home.
ALL THAT GLITTERS
Hong Chong Jeweler, 931 Chung King Road, 213-620-1824. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
From the tiniest 14-karat gold charms to the weightiest, most elaborate necklaces in jade, ivory, turquoise and coral, Hong Chong has the baubles that make any jewelry lover’s beat a little faster. Smooth and carved jade bangles can sell for a relative bargain, as do delicate 24-karat gold chains, pendants and earrings. As with many traditional businesses in Chinatown, shopkeepers tally purchases on an abacus instead of a cash register.
CBS Seafood Restaurant, 700 North Spring Street, 213-617-2323. Open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Main courses are $15-20.
Though it doesn’t boast the kudos of Empress Pavilion, this 180-seat Hong Kong-style seafood house has become a popular downtown hangout, and it’s a great alternative for those who can’t stomach the Pavilion’s hour-long wait. Contrary to its clientele’s nocturnal habits, CBS begins serving more than 50 varieties of dim sum at 8 a.m. Favorites include steamed or baked bao (buns filled with chicken or barbecued pork), har gow (translucent shrimp-filled dumplings), jing joon (sticky rice and meat steamed in lotus leaves), deep-fried taro turnovers and creamy egg tarts. The dinner menu features 250 a la carte items, including large prawns, orange chicken, and lobster or king crab fresh from the restaurant’s tanks.