The Dining Guide to Far East Plaza in Chinatown

Explore the eclectic mix of old school and new restaurants

Howlin' Ray's Nashville Hot Chicken | Photo: Howlin' Ray's


Built in 1976, the Far East Plaza food mall in Chinatown has become iconic for its mix of old school and new, creating a buzz among L.A.’s foodie crowd since local chef Roy Choi relocated his first brick-and-mortar there in 2013.

Since then, this unassuming two-story space has become a top L.A. culinary destination. Visitors come for authentic regional Asian bites, restaurant-hop for a taste of everything, or hunker down in line with coffee and ice cream, waiting for service at a trendy pop-up. Communal tables arranged between stands selling knick-knacks serve the many fast-casual options along the corridor. Positioned in the heart of Chinatown, the plaza is worth checking out whether you’re a fan of traditional Asian street food or seeking out the next big food thing. And for pro and amateur chefs alike, Now Serving is a hybrid cookbook store and pop-up space that opened in January 2017.

Parking is easily found at surrounding paid lots; street parking is also available, but hard to come by with busy weekend crowds.

Baohaus Far East Plaza | Photo: @cookingwithcocktailrings

Baohaus Far East Plaza



In November 2016, chef/author Eddie Huang opened this West Coast outpost of his popular pork bun stop in the space that formerly housed Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok Phat Thai. Keeping the same hip fast food vibe as its predecessor, Baohaus offers a variety of affordable and inventive bao, addictive taro fries, rice bowls, Taiwanese soft drinks, and fried sweets to take away or eat at the long rows of picnic tables in the mall outside. Return diners recommend the $14 three bao + fries combo with zeal. Not bad for a new addition to the city Huang himself recently called the “most interesting place in America right now” for food.

Ooey Gooey Fries at Chego! | Photo courtesy of Muy Yum, Flickr

Chego!



When Roy Choi’s closet-sized rice bowl emporium opened in 2013, it brought a new kind of diner to Far East Plaza. Choi, whose Kogi BBQ trucks started L.A.'s modern truck food craze, set out to create a new brand of comfort food when he relocated his first brick-and-mortar from Palms to Downtown L.A. Chego! fuses Korean, American, Mexican and Chinese influences (among others) in playful creations such as the spam kimchi rice bowl with baby bok choy and scrambled eggs, and beer-battered Ooey Gooey Fries with sour cream sambal, cheese and pickled garlic. Add the speaker system playing vintage hip hop or pop music out into the communal seating area and the recipe for youthful indulgence is complete. And they deliver, too.

Espresso at Endorffeine | Photo: Joshua Lurie

 |  Photo: Joshua Lurie

Endorffeine



If you need a place to park your laptop and sip a huge slushy drink, this is not the coffee shop for you. Proprietor Jack Benchakul previously worked as both a biochemist and a pastry chef, and the level of detail and perfectionism of these trades comes through in his coffee. There are no tables or chairs, just a gleaming stainless steel bar separating customers from coffee gear that will make your inner java geek rejoice. Espresso, cold brew, and pour over options are prepared with precision, and a variety of non-dairy, nut-and grain-milk options are available. For “adventurous” guests, treats such as a palm sugar-whiskey cold brew latte and the matcha-coconut latte await. Those signed up for Endorffeine’s newsletter can RSVP to special tasting events featuring food and drink pairings in an intimate setting.

Howlin' Ray's Nashville Hot Chicken | Photo: Howlin' Ray's

Howlin’ Ray’s



What started out as a popular food truck run by a husband and wife team dishing out the crispy, spicy chicken they learned to make in Nashville found a home at Far East Plaza in April 2016. Riding the crest of the Nashville hot chicken craze sweeping the city, there is hardly a moment during business hours when this counter-only space isn’t attended by an hours-long line of hungry Angelenos. The menu is focused: chicken by the piece, chicken sandwiches and sides with heat options ranging from “Country” (no heat) to “Howlin!” (take a guess). No matter what you think about they hype, the chicken is fantastic - crunchy and tender and perfectly seasoned to order. Weekends bring an outstanding chicken and waffle plate. Be careful, even the mild heat level can bring tears to the eyes of the uninitiated.

J&K Hong Kong Cuisine | Photo by Kiriks Dembuto, Facebook

J&K Hong Kong Cuisine



Another veteran member of the Far East Plaza community, J&K showcases the mixed Cantonese and European influences on Hong Kong cuisine. A popular spot for takeout and delivery, the sit-down cafe is lauded for its reasonably priced congee, family-style meat and seafood dishes and sweet-crisp Hong Kong waffles. The savory congee porridge is a crowd favorite no matter what the temperature.

Teochew-style comfort food at Kim Chuy | Instagram by @trungle89

Kim Chuy



Chinatown residents have been coming to family-owned Kim Chuy for Teochew (Chiu Chow) style cooking for decades. Founder Kim Chuy Tang hailed from China via Cambodia, and the food here shows that Southeast Asian influence on its traditional offerings. You won't find the modern signage and decor of some of the newer arrivals - this is a food experience with the emphasis on the food. A longtime destination of foodies and locals seeking the real deal when it comes to noodles, fried rice, porridge, Chinese doughnuts and particularly leek cakes, Kim Chuy is consistently busy at mealtimes. This is a definite "yes" for an affordable piece of Chinatown history.

Brunch sets at Lao Tao | Instagram by @maggieeats

Lao Tao



Chef David Wang’s fast-casual take on Taiwanese street food has a bit more breathing room than some of the ground floor establishments, but no less culinary chops. Order at the counter for small bites ($5-$7) or “Big Bowls” of noodles or rice ($9-$12), featuring such crowd favorites as the Century Egg Tofu Salad with its cured boiled egg, silky blocks of tofu, and savory “pork floss.” The beef noodle soup is soaked in an 8-hour bone marrow broth and topped with diced tomatoes, pickled mustard greens, Taiwanese napa cabbage and green onions. Sadly, the famous Oolong tea-marinated egg is no longer on the menu, but is sure to be replaced with something equally delicious.

San Miguel Steamed Manila Clams & House Longanisa at LASA | Instagram by @lasa_la

LASA



Brothers Chad and Chase Valencia had long been making their elevated Pinoy (Filipino) fare for friends and at pop-up events around town when they took up residence in Far East Plaza’s former restaurant incubator space, Unit 120. What they created there was so popular that the brothers wound up making the place their own. Lunch at LASA is available through the takeout window, and offers favorites such as pancit (noodles) and adobo chicken on a limited menu. Dinner is a bigger affair - a luxury that comes with their bigger floor space - with an a la carte menu that shows off Chef Chad Valencia’s imagination and heritage. Lunch is walk-up window only; reservations are highly recommended for dinner.

Guilin Soup and Liangpi Noodles at Qin West in Far East Plaza | Instagram by @nom_yums

Qin West Chinatown



A staple of the Plaza since 2012, the family-operated Qin West is a small, no frills space with a loyal following. Qin West is one of two locations serving up Chinese comfort food - a mix of Shaanxi and Guilin styles with a focus on the rich noodle dishes of the former. Diners rave over the spicy Guilin Soup and the housemade noodles in the cold Liangpi Noodle salad. Portions are large and service is notably friendly, but be prepared for a hectic environment, and know your spice tolerance, as things can get intense.

Tokyo Ramen at Ramen Champ | Instagram by @ramenchamp

Ramen Champ



After a rocky first couple of years, under its current management Ramen Champ has proven a fixture in the Plaza. Chef Kazuaki "Kaz" Urabe serves up traditional, straightforward bowls of ramen for $9-$11 along with rice dishes and sides - not to be overlooked, according to a neighboring chef. Located on the second floor, it's a surprise gem for those lured by the buzzier places downstairs but turned off by long waits. There are a small number of seats inside, but the best views are to be had sitting out on the mezzanine, which is equipped with a counter and stools for excellent people-watching over the lower level.

Peanut butter-pickle and cornflakes ice cream at Scoops Chinatown | Instagram by @tiffanycooper_

Scoops Chinatown



One of three locations of L.A.’s beloved ice cream shop, the Chinatown Scoops offers the brand’s signature premium ice cream in a range of adventurous flavors. Constantly rotating offerings have included flavors such as Guinness coffee, blueberry lavender, and yuzu poppy seed. Vegans and the milk-averse are welcomed with a constant supply of at least two soy- or nut-based options, so they never have to settle for sorbet.

Bun Bo Hue at Thien Huong | Instagram by @theinconspicuousdiner

Thien Huong



Representing Vietnamese cuisine in the Plaza is this small but beloved spot for pho fanatics. Family run, with the proprietor working the floor most days, Thien Huong is frequently overlooked by those creeping by in long lines for Howlin’ Ray's. Those who enter leave happy - the deeply affordable and tasty pho, banh mi and spring rolls satisfy and the sweet iced tea and boba refresh. Space is a concern here, and the volume can be, too, but sandwiches are easily brought out into the arcade area if the scene is overwhelming. Note: this old school place is cash only.