The Los Angeles Chinese food scene is incredibly diverse. Of the 34 official provincial-level administrative units in China, 21 of them (and counting) are represented in restaurants in the greater Los Angeles area.
Although New York is home to the largest population of Chinese-Americans in the States, Los Angeles has the most diverse population of Chinese, which makes all the difference in the dining scene.
In LA, you can find Hong Kong roasted duck, beef noodles by way of Gansu, tongue-numbing hot pots from Sichuan, hot noodles from Wuhan, Xinjiang cumin-laced skewers, and Jiangsu dumplings so big that you need straws to suck the soup out of them. Chefs are selected from some of the most prestigious institutions in the East, and competition is fierce. Local restaurants are held up to the highest standards; after all, Los Angeles County is the chosen stomping grounds for China's wealthy.
It's hard to create a comprehensive listicle of Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles without being biased. Chinese food varies dramatically by region.
The north of China is fixated on wheat. Southerners include rice with nearly every meal. People in the southwest are huge fans of spicy food. In contrast, those in the southeast might wince at just the sight of a chili pepper.
By that same logic, what is considered good Chinese food completely varies depending on whom you ask. Many listicles have been done on the topic, but seldom have people asked Chinese expats about what they deem to be the best Chinese food in Los Angeles. These people are, after all, the main clientele for Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles. These restaurants would not exist if it were not for them.
I got in touch with Amy Duan, the founder of Chihuo, Los Angeles' most popular Chinese-language food website. They have more than 250,000 followers on the Chinese social networking site Weibo, and cater exclusively to Chinese expats looking for places to eat. Readers can add reviews and photos about certain restaurants, and the in-house editorial team produces listicles and features on the Los Angeles restaurant scene.
They, of course, are not limited to Chinese restaurants, but given their readership, that often ends up being their main focus.
Duan admitted that food, especially Chinese, is incredibly subjective and that it's impossible to create a list without possibly offending anyone. At Chihuo, they create similar lists, but are insistent on sub-categories like breakfast, lunch, dinner, or regional divides.
"Immigrants are from different places of China, it's hard to simply give a top five," she says.
But at my persistence, she gave me a list on what she considers to be her general favorites.
Shanxi Noodle House
The Shanxi province of China is known for their diversity of noodles. Thick, knife-shaved versions, known as dao xiao mian, are the mainstay of this eatery, which features an open kitchen where diners can watch chefs shave their noodles in real time. Shanxi is heavy on black vinegar-based dishes and many of the dishes are drenched in the condiment, which offers a welcome respite to all the fat and the dough. Beef and lamb are the main meats, which can be found as a topping on the noodles, mixed in with saucy bell peppers.
18219 Gale Ave A, City of Industry, CA 91748
Beijing Tasty House
This is a Beijing duck specialist and considered by many expats to be in direct alignment with how the duck tastes in Beijing. Beijing duck is always a grand affair and features crisp, maltose-glazed skin and dark meat, layered together for crackle and crunch on a paper-thin wheat pancake. They also have a comprehensive list of meat skewers, covered in a shower of cumin.
172 E Valley Blvd San Gabriel, CA 91776
Hai Di Lao
While hot pot restaurants are plentiful throughout the greater Los Angeles area, this particular one resonates the most with expats because it's a famous high-end chain in China by way of Beijing. It features performative noodle dances and a touchscreen ordering system. There's a comprehensive wine and spirits list, plus top-notch service. Each table shares a large herbal pot of broth and you cook the ingredients yourself. Hai Di Lao is prone to lines especially during weekend hours, and so they've kindly stocked the waiting area with games and snacks.
Westfield Santa Anita, 400 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007
Started by two men by the name of Henry, Henry's Cuisine isn't purist when it comes to regional flavors. Their dishes range from Cantonese to Sichuanese, with the occasional Western twist. There's pig feet, salted and deep-fried, and free-range chicken covered in a delectable spicy sauce. Typical of Cantonese-style cafes, shrimp is fried and covered in a mayonnaise sauce, served with walnuts. Salted congee is available for early diners, and puffy Hong Kong-style egg waffles are there for those with a sweet tooth. This is a casual eatery that caters to nearly all taste buds and occasions.
301 E Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91801
Dong Ting Chun
While Westerners are still enamored by Sichuanese cuisine, for Chinese expats, that is a fad that's long passed. They've moved onto Hunan food, which is far spicier than Sichuan cooking. Hunan cooks utilize fresh chili peppers, whereas Sichuan priorities dried chilies and spices. The most prized dish in this restaurant is a steamed fish head, blanketed in a blend of fresh, multi-colored chilies. The pork intestines ladled in a dollop of spice is another must.
140 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776