Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

THE GASTRO ECONOMIST

In Chinatown, there's plenty of room for other cuisines

July 10, 2008|Cynthia Dea

Chinatown has changed significantly throughout its 70 years in its current digs -- from being forced out of its original location to make room for Union Station to the recent influx of art galleries that have taken over antique gift shops -- yet some things seem frozen in time, and the Chinese food is no exception.

One of the neighborhood's many charms is its continued ability to satiate a nostalgia-induced craving for greasy, cabbage-filled egg rolls or the inelegant, rubbery-skinned pot stickers that seem to still exist only among Broadway's bakeries. But sometimes the stomach just knows better than the heart -- which is why the unsentimental eat in Chinatown for its non-Chinese food instead.

There are still remnants of the time before the area was Chinatown. Philippe the Original (1001 N. Alameda St., [213] 628-3781), marking its 100th anniversary in October, maintains itself as a tenacious institution for French dip and 10-cent coffee. Going back to when "Chinatown" was actually an Italian neighborhood, Eastside Market & Italian Deli (1013 Alpine St., [213] 250-2464) can set you up with meatball and eggplant sandwiches.

These days Chinatown is home to a new group of immigrants, by way of Southeast Asia. There are pho and banh mi eateries installed in nearly every mini-mall, and Vietnamese food is also easily found on the street. Old ladies stand on corners selling freshly made banh chung -- glutinous rice filled with mung beans and meat, and wrapped in banana leaves. A Vietnamese lunch truck on the corner of North Spring Street and College serves takeout banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches), rice bowls and iced coffee to workers on the go. Au Pagolac Cholon (861 N. Spring St., [213] 680-8838) and Pho Hoa (818 N. Spring St., [213] 485-0074) are two Vietnamese sit-downs serving noodles, rice dishes and summery iced drinks topped with condensed milk.

The immensely popular lunch spot New Battambang (648 New High St., L.A. [213] 620-9015) serves Chinese-Cambodian food with Vietnamese flourishes. During the afternoon rush, a big bowl of clear broth is hastily placed on your table with a giant pork bone (sucking out the marrow is optional). There are plenty of dishes that seem like Chinese staples -- steamy bowls of noodle soup, fried crispy noodles and the salt and pepper shrimp, but for Cambodian specialties, go for the beef lok lak ($8.95) -- chunks of peppered beef served on a bed of grilled onions with a side of pickled vegetables and a tart, limey dipping sauce -- or the fish curry ($8.95) -- ground pork in a fish sauce and a side of raw cabbage and squash.

The most random eatery for non-Chinese in Chinatown would have to be the biker-who-enjoys-sports vibe at Spring Street Smoke House (640 N. Spring St., L.A. [213] 626-0535). Throughout the day, a mix of the downtown lunch crowd, motorcyclists, fixed-gear enthusiasts and cops converge along the bar for hickory smoked meats. Get the sampler platter to try the hot link, tri-tip, chicken and ribs ($10.95). Beer aficionados give this place props for serving Angel City Brewing on tap, but we'll just hand it to them for their $3 beer and $5 barbecue sandwiches during the weekday happy hour.

--

-- Cynthia.Dea@latimes.com

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|