Lucky Chinese Dishes in Los Angeles

Auspicious dishes for good luck any time of year

Ms Chi Cafe
Ms Chi Cafe

The Chinese New Year is the start of the new Lunar Calendar and the onset of the agricultural season. For the Chinese, this date is the single most important holiday of the year. It’s a 15-day soiree - a time for family reunions and festive gatherings. Each day has a theme - the first day is for lighting fireworks and bamboo sticks, the fifth day is for dumplings, and so on. The common link is food: the half-month is filled with an abundance of dishes. After all, food is the cornerstone of Chinese culture. Traditional dishes are steeped with symbolism – many of which are homophones for lucky phrases.

The Year of the Tiger begins on Feb. 1, 2022. For an auspicious start to the new year - or good fortune any time of year - here are ten lucky Chinese dishes and where to enjoy them in Los Angeles.

NOTE: Hours and opening dates change frequently. Check individual websites for updated information.

Ms Chi Cafe
Ms Chi Cafe

Dumplings - Ms Chi Cafe

The dumpling (jiaozi) is shaped like an ingot, which personifies wealth. They’re the hallmark of the fifth day of the Chinese New Year. It’s the birthday of the God of Wealth. According to legend, the more dumplings you eat during the New Year festivities, the more money you will make in the year ahead.

At Ms Chi Cafe in Culver City, Chef Shirley Chung features several house-made dumplings, including her Top Chef-winning dish, the signature Jumbo Cheeseburger Potsticker; Chicken Jiaozi (steamed or pan-fried), Vegan Garden Dumplings with spicy tofu aioli; and Wontons in Chili Oil. The Dumpling Combo weekday lunch special ($14) offers a choice of wontons, chicken or vegan dumplings, plus side salad and jasmine rice.

Lion Fish at Chengdu Taste in Alhambra
Lion Fish at Chengdu Taste | Photo: @dufflebagchef, Instagram

Fish - Chengdu Taste

In Chinese, the word for fish (yu) sounds like the phrase for “may the new year bring prosperity” ("nian nian you yu"). A whole fish is required, as it symbolizes unity within the family. Preparation methods differ depending on regions - the most common one is steamed fish garnished with ginger and infused with a light soy sauce.

For a Sichuan-style version, check out the Lion Fish at Chengdu Taste. The Alhambra restaurant (which is opening an Arts District location in the former Church & State) serves up an expertly fried tilapia that's amazingly intact and glazed with a sweet and spicy sauce. The "secret menu" dish is quite a sight and ready-made for Instagram.

Mustard greens at Tofu King | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Mustard Greens - Tofu King

Mustard greens (jie cai) are a standard vegetable dish for the celebration. They’re also known as chang nian cai, which translates to "perennial vegetables." This vegetable is a symbolic proponent for longevity - the associated phrase is chang chang jiu jiu, which means "long life." They can be found at any Chinese restaurant around town. Tofu King in Arcadia has a simple version, topped with a bit of minced pork for extra flavor.

Laghman noodles at Silk Road Garden | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Noodles - Silk Road Garden

Noodles are a symbol of longevity - the longer the better. They’re usually served uncut. Head over to Rowland Heights’ Silk Road Garden for some of the lengthiest noodles the county has to offer. Silk Road is a Xinjiang specialist and their laghman noodles are strikingly long. They’re served with lamb, tomatoes, wood ear mushrooms and bell peppers.

Roasted Duck at Sam Woo BBQ in San Gabriel
Roasted Duck at Sam Woo BBQ | Photo: @asiandonutraisin, Instagram

Poultry - Sam Woo

A whole poultry is symbolic of unity and a harmonious marriage between families. Chicken or duck is usually served whole with the head and feet attached. Sam Woo sells whole duck by the dozens. The carcass is air-dried for hours until the skin is like paper and then glazed with a maltose sugar coating. This is the Cantonese method of preparation. You can order a whole duck for the family, or if you dine in, get it served cut-up accompanied with a wonderfully tasty sweet and sour sauce on the side.

Primary image for Tasty Noodle House - Beverly Hills

Rice Cakes - Tasty Noodle House

Rice cakes (nian gao) come in both sweet or savory forms. The savory versions are more common; they’re usually shaped into thin disks and then stir-fried. The sweet ones, baked and stuffed often times with red bean, start appearing in local Chinese supermarkets exclusively around the holiday time. "Nian gao" correlates to the phrase “increasing prosperity year after year (nian nian gao sheng).”

Most Shanghainese restaurants offer savory renditions. Options at Tasty Noodle House include Shanghai Vegetable Pork Rice Cake and Black Pepper Seafood Rice Cake.

Spicy Fried Shrimp Dry Pot at Sichuan Impression
Spicy Fried Shrimp Dry Pot at Sichuan Impression | Photo: @sichuan_impression_, Instagram

Shrimp - Sichuan Impression

Shrimp is pronounced "xia" in Mandarin and "ha" in Cantonese. The words sound like laughter, so shrimp is consumed during the Lunar New Year in hopes of year-long happiness.

At locations in Alhambra and West LA, Sichuan Impression serves Spicy Fried Shrimp Dry Pot - boiled whole shrimp with potatoes, lotus root, and baby bamboo shoots. “Dry pot” comes from the northern area of Sichuan province and contains many of the same ingredients and spices as hot pot, but without the soup base.

Spring Rolls at Lunasia in Alhambra
Spring Rolls at Lunasia | Photo: Kevin Fai, Flickr

Spring Rolls - Lunasia

The Chinese word for spring roll (chun juan) literally mean "spring" and "roll." The golden color of the fried spring rolls represent gold bars, which of course symbolize wealth. Most Cantonese dim sum restaurants have these favorites on their menu.

At Lunasia in Alhambra, the portion sizes are massive and the spring rolls are deep-fried and stuffed with a generous helping of shrimp.

MIAN - West Adams

Sweet Rice Balls - MIAN

Sweet rice balls ("tang yuan" in Southern China, "yuan xiao" in Northern China) are usually eaten during the last day of the celebration, when the full moon comes out. The glutinous rice balls are traditionally stuffed with sesame paste, grounded peanuts or red bean. The roundness of the rice ball symbolizes a complete circle of harmony within the family.

Part of the Chengdu Taste group, MIAN ("noodle" in Chinese) opened its first location in 2016 and earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand listing. Hand-pulled Sichuan style noodles are the star, but for dessert you can enjoy Osmanthus Rice Balls - rice balls stuffed with black sesame and served in sweet rice wine and egg syrup.

Turnip cakes at Four Sea Restaurant | Photo by Clarissa Wei

Turnip Cakes - Four Sea Restaurant

Turnip cakes are embraced in Taiwan because the Taiwanese pronunciation for turnip cake ("cai tao gui") is a homonym for a Taiwanese phrase of good luck, "hao cai tao." These cakes are made from daikon radishes, steamed, and then pan-fried on the sides. They’re typically found at your local dim sum eatery or at Taiwanese breakfast establishments.

Four Sea Restaurant has one of the largest selections of Taiwanese breakfast items in LA. Locations in Hacienda Heights, San Gabriel and Arcadia open at 6:30am. Their turnip cake is made crispy on all sides and topped with a fried egg.