International Cuisine An Hour Away: Sampling L.A.

Looking to study abroad? I recommend Los Angeles.

On a single street in Koreatown, you may stumble across an
Oaxacan taco vendor, a Korean barbecue joint, a Hong Kong yum cha parlor, a Salvadorian pupusa stand, an Isaan street food
restaurant and a Hokkaido artisan noodle shop. Immigrants cook for themselves,
not Americans, and it’s easy enough to think of certain ethnic communities as
neighborhoods displaced from their source. This is a quick guide to eating in the nearby city. I’m only
including restaurants that are reasonably affordable for college students, and
I’m focusing on cuisines that L.A. does particularly well.

Chinese in the San
Gabriel Valley

The SGV is the world’s largest Chinese-American suburb, home
to as many as 2 million. And, all of them
need to eat. For dim sum, stop by Sea
Harbour
, often considered the
best Chinese restaurant in America. Other excellent options include Elite, Lunasia, China Red, Shi Hai and King Hua. Make sure to order tea from
the menu or you won’t be taken seriously. The most famous Chinese restaurant in L.A. is Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese import that
specializes in xiao long bao soup
dumplings. You can also find them at Shanghai No.1 Seafood Village. For the spicy flavors of Sichuan, head to Chengdu Taste. Try the cold garlic
noodles, rich dan dan noodles and spicy
boiled fish. There’s also great dan dan
mian
at Lucky Noodle King. To sample the Hunan province’s even spicier cooking, try the fish
head and smoked ham at Hunan Mao. For
the wonderfully delicate cooking of Dalian, go to Tasty Noodle House, featuring the best garlic eggplant in the Western
Hemisphere. For the Shandong beef-roll, China’s closest culinary relative to a
burrito, try 101 Noodle Express, JTYH, Dean Sin World or Flavor Garden. JTYH is also famous for
its Northern-style knife-cut noodles. For dumplings, head to Flavor
Garden
, Luscious Dumplings or Hui Tou Xiang. For Nanjing-style duck,
take it to-go from Nanjing Kitchen. For rustic Chinese-Muslim and Northern
cuisine, try Omar’s Xinjiang Halal
and Shaanxi Gourmet

Vietnamese in the San
Gabriel Valley

The SGV is also home to stellar Vietnamese food, although it may be
worth the trek to Westminster in Orange County if you’re truly searching for
the best dishes. South El Monte has more great Vietnamese packed into it than most countries. If you’re interested in Vietnamese street food, which you
should be, try the pho bac with filet
mignon at Pho Filet, light chicken pho at Pho Ga Bac Ninh, rice noodle wraps (banh cuon) at Hai Nam
Saigon,
funky bun bo hue noodle
soup at Nha Trang and banh mi sandwiches at Banh Mi My Tho. L.A.’s best Vietnamese restaurant may be Summer Rolls, which serves
do-it-yourself spring roll wrappers with the Vietnamese meatball, nem nuong. Summer Rolls also serves
excellent banh beo—tiny, steamed shrimp
rice cakes.

Thai Town (Hollywood)

Los Angeles has the best Thai food in the United States, and
it’s about to get better: Portland-based Andy Ricker recently announced the opening
of a branch of his Pok Pok restaurant in Chinatown. For spicy Southern Thai cooking, head to Jitlada and try the green curry
mussels, mango salad, rice salad, crying tiger beef, catfish yellow curry and kua kling phat lung beef dish. If you’d like to try Northern Thai cooking, a cuisine exploding in popularity, you can
try the higher-end Night + Market
(maybe my favorite restaurant in L.A. right now), but the cheaper Pailin
is another excellent choice. The cuisine is meat-centric; dishes
include the delicious curry egg-noodle soup khao
soi
(the symbol of Chiang Mai and quite possibly my favorite thing to eat at any
given moment), minced meat salad larb,
chili dip nam prik, and spicy red
curry noodle dish kanom jeen. For Bangkok-style cooking, try the boat noodles—a sour,
spicy soup flavored with funky pig’s blood—at Pa-Ord or Sapp Coffee Shop.
For pad thai, try Krua Thai’s
awesome version. There’s a branch in West Covina, about 20 minutes from
campus. 

Koreatown

Understanding Koreatown is practically impossible. Let’s
just say that if multiple sections of Seoul were smashed together and
transported across the Pacific, the result would be K-Town. Korean restaurants are typically a one-dish affair, where
everyone is expected to eat a single thing: maybe dumplings, cold noodles, or goat
stew. For beginners, the best place to understand Korean cuisine
as a whole may be at Roy Choi’s latest restaurant, POT, where you can try Korean hotpots, man doo dumplings, seafood pancakes, barbecue, and kimchi fried
rice in one sitting. It would probably be a crime to study in L.A. for four years
and not experience Korean barbecue. There are many options, but my favorites
are Park’s (expensive, but worth it)
and Soot Bull Jeep.

Japanese (Little
Osaka)

Although many think L.A. has the country’s best sushi, it’s criminally
expensive (one of the great misfortunes in my life). The best deal may be the
$40 omakase lunch special at Kiriko. Ramen, however, is cheap. You haven’t tasted true ramen
until you try the bowl at Tsujita L.A.,
a Tokyo import. Also try the de-constructed ramen, tsukemen. Other popular ramen spots include Santouka and Jidaiya.

Mexican

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that L.A.’s Mexican food is
stunningly good. One could spend many
years eating through the city and still encounter hidden gems. Some of the most iconic taco spots are Chichen Itza, Guisado’s
(get the sampler plate), Mariscos
Jaliscos
, Coni’Seafood (marlin
taco), Mexicali Taco & Co. (try
the vampiro), Carnitos El Momo (pig skin taco), Guerilla TacosRicky’s Fish
Tacos
(best fish taco in L.A.) and Tacos
Baja Ensenada
. There are dozens of incredible places to try barbacoa (like Aqui Es Texcoco), mole
(like Guelaguetza), birria (like El Parrian) and other dishes, but often, you will stumble upon
extraordinary Mexican food simply by exploring. Pomona actually has a very good Mexican scene. Try Juanita’s, Tijuana’s Tacos and Taqueria
De Anda
.

Indian, Pakistani,
Sri Lankan

L.A.’s Indian scene is mostly limited to Artesia (Little
India), where you can find great Gujarati thali
meals at Rajdhani and chaat snack foods at Surati Farsan Mart and Jay Bharat. There’s also Ambala Dhaba for Punjab food and Shan for the meat dishes of Hyderabad. There’s a very good chaat
joint just 10 minutes away from campus on Foothill called Ashirwad the Blessings (the owners
recently told me they are contemplating a move to Claremont Village). For Pakistani, try Al
Watan Halal
. For Bangladeshi, try Swadesh.
For Sri Lankan, try Apey Kade.

Other Cuisines

There’s a Cambodian neighborhood in Long Beach (try Phnom Penh Noodle), a Burmese
neighborhood in Monterey Park (go to Yoma
Myanmar
or Daw Yee Myanmar) and
an Indonesian neighborhood in San Gabriel and West Covina (try the Hong Kong Plaza Food Court in WC or Borneo Kalimantan in Alhambra). L.A. doesn’t have
great Peruvian, but Mario’s is
decent, and, if you’re willing to drop some money, Mo Chica and Picca (same
chef) are very good. For Cuban, Porto’s
Bakery is basically an institution here.
For Salvadorian and other Central American cuisines, simply walk around
downtown and eat somewhere. For iconic Jewish deli food—pastrami, lamb shank, latkes,
lox—go to Langer’s Deli (get the
#19), if only to smile at the number of bourgeois strolling through one of the
city’s worst neighborhoods.

James Gordon PO ’15 is a food writer at L.A. Weekly. Naturally, he spends a lot of time eating. If
you’re interested in eating with him or want recommendations, contact him at
james.gordon@pomona.edu.
 

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