Dr. O John Ma on LA’s Hottest Food Scene

To Get a Taste of LA, Go to Chinatown, Dr. O John Ma Says

The most exciting culinary destination in Los Angeles is Chinatown, Dr. O John Ma says. Over the lockdown, this neighborhood enjoyed an influx of new dining destinations, with featured dishes ranging from carry-out pork roast crackling to California stone fruit panna cotta.

Chinatown in Los Angeles has had to renew itself several times. Torn down to make way for Union Station, the entire neighborhood was rebuilt several blocks away.  For decades, Chinatown has pursued the needs of its own community against the demands of developers and the expectations of tourists.

But a small group of cooks has defied all odds and reinvigorated the district’s dining scene, per Dr. O John Ma.

Samuel Wang and Lydia Lin opened their informal Tea Shop, Sleep, about seven months before the pandemic shut down their daily offerings of warm, informal tea ceremonies. But they developed a delivery app and created dishes to expand their menu. Located in Mandarin Square, Sleep is the perfect place to get your bearings for a culinary excursion in Chinatown.

Connoisseurs of Chinese cuisine will marvel that Sleep’s noodles are perfect every time, whether eaten in the courtyard with a cup of tea or taken home in a hot car. Owner Lydia Lin explains that the chefs cook the noodles for varying amounts of time, depending on whether they are ordered to go. Noodles served at the table come with a timer and precise instructions for diners to remove them from the kettle at the right time for a perfect chew.

Next door to Lin and Wang’s tea shop is The Angry Egret Dinette, a sandwich shop with a menu that changes frequently, even daily. Repeat diners are assured of finding something different every trip, ranging from a tart of squash blossoms and sliced zucchini glazed with duck pan drippings to meat and potatoes flautas.

Owner Wes Avila formerly ran Guerilla Tacos. His idiosyncratic menu still includes tortes and burritos elevated to an art form.

For tourists up early, just a block away on North Hill Street is Vivian Ku’s Taiwanese breakfast place, Today Starts Here. Ku assembles bowls of pork floss and preserved vegetables with thick pieces of you tiao that curl up on the edges as they soak up soy milk. Today Starts Here also offers daikon rice cakes to go, crispy on the edges and gooey in the middle for dining in the car.

Dr. O John Ma notes that Thank You Coffee is in the same building. They will make you an umami latte with a dash of MSG if you want it. Also in the building is a stationery shop with interesting gifts and amazing sweets.

Thoughtful chef Jess Wang announces her pop-up pastry shop Picque–Nique on Instagram daily. There is a Filipino rotisserie called Lasita, and a unique burger joint called Am Boy—all within walking distance. there is no better place for a casual culinary vacation in LA, Dr. O John Ma says, than Chinatown.

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