L.A.’s Chinatown

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Which way to go? Chinatown offers a dizzying array of offerings.

In my previous post, we took a look at the growing area of Little Tokyo near Downtown Los Angeles. Today, we’ll head north a bit. A few city blocks up and only a few stops away from Little Tokyo via Metro’s Gold Line is Los Angeles’ Chinatown–an older and even more immersible cultural experience than that of LIttle Tokyo. Here, you’ll find lots of plazas, malls, courtyards and streets lined with shops. Let’s have a closer look. First, though, a little history.

Chinese immigrants began settling in the area of what would become Union Station near downtown Los Angeles in the mid to late 1800s. Eventually their settlement shifted slightly north and west of the original settlement, creating the nation’s first modern Chinatown, officially deemed so, in the late 1930s.  Urban planning projects at the time helped shape the boundries, types of developments, and style of buildings in the area. With its official opening in 1938, it brought unique and distinctive shopping plazas, restaurants, and other Chinese-owned businesses to the area.

Entrance to the main plaza.
Entrance to the main plaza.

Lining the streets are all sorts of small shops. The offerings can be almost overwhelming. Street-side sales of fruits, vegetables, and ethnic grocery items are abundant here. Shops selling clothes of all sorts–from casual to formal–jewelry and accessories are also readily available at almost every turn.

Inside the main plaza.
Inside the main plaza.

The area is full of restaurants–dozens and dozens of them. One shopping plaza is comprised completely of small take-out style restaurants.

One of the larger restaurants here, Hop Louie, is located in Chinatown’s Central Plaza. The food here is good and extremely affordable for the area, especially for the style, decor, and size of the restaurant. It is a large, old, multistory restaurant with unique architecture inside and out. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner every day. Dinner ends quite early (9 p.m.), but the bar inside remains open until 2 in the morning.

Chinatown's Hop Louie, in the mid-day sun.
Chinatown’s Hop Louie, in the mid-day sun.
As you can see by the menu, somewhat limited, but very affordable sit-down lunch or dinner service.
As you can see by the menu, somewhat limited, but very affordable sit-down lunch or dinner service.

Of the plethora of shopping plazas here, some of them look more modern than others. Chinatown Plaza stands out as one of the more modern ones as its design and layout is more of a modern two-story shopping center.

The very cold-looking Chinatown Plaza near the corner of Broadway and Alpine
The very cold-looking Chinatown Plaza near the corner of Broadway and Alpine

It is very linear and cold compared to the character and charm of the rest of the area. There was growth and rehabilitation to the area that took place around the mid to late 1980s, during Chinatown’s 50th anniversary. This and a couple of other plazas look very 1980s in architectural design, and appear more utilitarian than most anything else here.

So what does the future hold for Chinatown. Some could argue a steady movement toward expansion and progress, while others might argue an unwelcome change to the look, feel and overall historical and cultural value of the area. As of Fall 2013, near the corner of Sunset and Hill, a high-rise building is being completed and a large banner now hangs from it, soliciting future tenants. The building is mostly residential, while the first floor houses a steady lineup of storefronts. A banner mentions a Starbucks will be opening in the building soon–a sign of probable additional future corporate influences in the neighborhood.

Just last month, a Walmart opened up to neighborhood protests. There was a long debate leading up to its opening.

Of recent cultural importance: A bronze statue of Bruce Lee was unveiled at the start of this past summer. Local businesses are hoping to raise the money needed to make the statue a permanent fixture in the main plaza.

"Keep Bruce Lee in Chinatown."
“Keep Bruce Lee in Chinatown.”

Chinatown is a very unique place to visit, shop, eat and simply walk around and explore. With so many hidden alley-ways, plazas, and dozens upon dozens of restaurants and shops over several blocks, you’ll definitely want to give yourself enough time to explore. You’ll  also very likely leave with something. It’s too hard to resist. This time, I left with a plant, some random trinkets and a tasty meal. What will you take away on your visit to Chinatown?

Official Chinatown Los Angeles website.

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