Chandavkl discusses the myriad of authentic Chinese dishes you can get in West Yellowstone, Montana, but which are unavailable in Los Angeles Chinatown

Is Chinese food in Montana outpacing LA?

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how many other chinatowns in the US were uprooted and relocated to make way for a train station, among other things?

i have a number of hispanic friends who love to eat in chinatown and feed a family of 6-8 for only $40 at places like won kok, which is a place i frequented back in the early 90’s and everyone else in the place spoke cantonese. i stopped in once a few years ago after a summer concert downtown and the clientele was almost exclusively hispanic.

Interesting write up on whats going on outside of major Chinese population hubs but I cat help but wonder why it’s framing the narrative so heavily on what can’t be found in LA’s Chinatown when it is no longer and has not been for a long time the Chinese cultural center of Los Angeles, are these are dishes one can find in the San Gabriel Valley? I think it’s interesting enough to say that you can find these dishes in the middle of nowhere in America, I don’t think it needed to be framed it as a knock on LA’s Chinese food scene.

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Probably the closest analog to LA Chinatown is that of Chicago, which was moved to its location a bit over 100 years ago when the old downtown Chinatown lost its lease. The destruction of the old LA Chinatown led to the creation of the “tourist only” New Chinatown and China City of the late 1930s and later (when the City Market was the real Chinatown), and it wasn’t until the Hong Kong infusion after the 1960s immigration act changes that New Chinatown became Chinese at all. But yes, the Hispanic factor seems to be the single distinguishing factor. Though the article is linked in the current article, here’s a look at the prior article on the Hispanic factor for those who missed it.


The point is that Los Angeles Chinatown is such an anomaly–not saying whether it’s good or bad, but why is it still so authentically (though anachronistically) Cantonese foodwise in a world where Cantonese food is receding? Obviously Los Angeles Chinatown is no longer the prominent Chinese community locally–but it still is a Chinese community of importance, both locally and nationally.

I think you know the answer to that, at least I think I do and that’s because newer Chinese immigrants have no interest in “Chinatown” as it only has a cultural relevance to the Chinese community in namesake. Most of the current residents are mostly old people just holding on to their way of life from the last 2-3 decades. I’d argue it LA Chinatown has very little importance to the Chinese community now as its been mostly forgotten by all of us whose families relocated to the SGV. If anything the current LA Chinatown is nothing more than a empty symbol of what was once a thriving Chinese cultural center and people like to prop it up for a nostalgic sake, not saying we shouldn’t invest in Chinatown in fact I do want to see it thrive again but for in terms of your article I do think you are forcing the narrative of “Something that can’t be found in Los Angeles Chinatown” unnecessarily. I think the fact that you even found these dishes in Montana is a great find in itself and I do appreciate you bringing this to our attention, I just felt like you ignore the caveat that although its interesting you can’t find these dishes in LA’s Chinatown you can probably find them in the SGV which is where you should be comparing the Chinese food scene on a national level.

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Yes, but as I self-describe my own writing, “It’s not just about the food.”

Would you mind elaborating more? I’m curious as to what you think about the development of Chinese restaurants in rural America compared to our own native Chinatown, I may be missing the point in your writing.

Essentially for almost 150 years, all authentic Chinese food in the US was Cantonese and only found in Chinese American communities. Today authentic Chinese food in the US is predominantly mainland, found not only in Chinese American communities but also where Mainland Chinese students attend college and where Mainland Chinese tourists hang out. (As such, Yellowstone is just one of many examples, though an extreme one, and not meant to raise rural versus urban issues.) Today there is only one locus for authentic Chinese food in the US where Mainland food is essentially nonexistent–LA Chinatown. And looking at LA Chinatown’s proximity to thousands of mainland students attending USC this is all the more puzzling (look at all of the Mainland food available to UCLA students). So I’m just looking to (1) publicize and (2) explain this great anomaly.

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I think you are slightly overthinking this…

Re:USC students, they can easily use food delivery apps or jump on their car go for a small drive down the 10. Some of those students also have housing in the SGV area.

Westwood, didn’t have this luxury (until recently) of proximity so there was a need to fill right there.

Chinatown was/is a community. There is that large senior housing building at the gate and apartments/housing beyond Hill St around the stadium. Going further down into Lincoln Heights you got a small Vietnamese and ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese population. Most HK’ers have all moved away to SGV and beyond, or that senior housing building may still have some Po Po and Yeh Yehs still hanging around.

So what’s left? A minority of ethnic Chinese from Vietnam/Cambodia mostly. Mainlanders are not moving in, so the need for various Mainland food is not necessary from a taste (disgusting to most) and also price perspective (limited income)

Although walking by Castelar tells me there is still families here in this hood, and I got a big feeling that Mama and Po Po are not making food with mala or cumin for sai lo

Also got a feeling that younger mainland tourists would rather eat at Sun Nong Dan than some authentic Sichuan place.

I think the answers from my point of view are pretty obvious as someone who spends a lot of time in Chinatown and lives in the SGV.

UCLA is geographically isolated from the SGV, at best it takes 40 minutes to drive there if there are no cars on the freeways which only happen on holidays so there’s alot of captive audience there for that type of food.

USC is easily accessible by the 110, 10, and very easily in reach of the SGV even in traffic it’d take no more than an hour to get to the main eating roads. Which is at least one reason why I think Chinatown hasn’t seen any influx of new wave Chinese money.

Another I believe is because there is no prestige in being in a run down area of town like the ares around USC (which let’s not beat around the bush, are largely perceived to be African American neighborhoods and Chinese people don’t want to invest in black neighborhoods) and Chinatown has no economic activity. New wave Chinese immigrants dont frequent it and don’t live there so there’s little incentive to be there as USC students can and probably rather drive to the SGV. Would they be willing to go to Chinatown if there were more modern Chinese restaurants there? Possibly but it could be a case of nobody wanted to take the risk. Qin West also doesn’t bode well as a good example to open up in Chinatown.

This unique situation could also be a factor of the fact that the LA Chinatown and SGV dynamic is a highly evolved, late stage scenario. How many Chinatowns in America have seen an over saturation of the market and needed to spill into a new area? I think Chicago could be getting there as more Mainland money has been cramming into what was once a predominantly Cantonese Chinatown which occupies a very small are and has no room to grow so at the same time we’re seeing the proliferation of Mainland cuisines spread out as well, just not on the scale of the SGV.

When I first moved to Ktown the original location was not that busy and I was probably the only Chinese customer. When I moved out it was packed full of mainlanders with their nice cars. I also noticed there were tons of Chinese people shopping at the Korean markets around where I was living so I have a feeling alot of them live in Ktown and go to USC for school because they’d rather live there around other Asians even if they aren’t Chinese.

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Wrote a few articles for Menuism and LA Weekly on Chinese food for UCLA and USC mainlanders. First article premise was that every college campus in US with major Mainland Chinese enrollment had nearby Mainland Chinese food EXCEPT UCLA and USC. My explanation was driving to the SGV or using food delivery. Then about 3 to 4 years ago things started popping with Westside Mainland restaurants opening up. Meanwhile at USC the reaction was five Chinese food trucks parked at Jefferson & McClintock in addition to food delivery. Also anecdotal information is that USC mainland Chinese students who live on campus (and there are a lot of them) drive to Lao Sze Chuan in Glendale plus places like Feng Mao in Koreatown. In this regard Sichuan or other regional food in LA Chinatown would be perfectly logical.

Maybe it seems to make sense but the business environment is a whole other thing Koreatown has density so that restauranteurs don’t have to soley rely on potential Chinese students. Also as I guessed based off my own time living in Ktown a lot of the USC students are potentially living there so if a student goes to USC but lives in Ktown are they gonna go out of their way to go to Chinatown? From USC I can easily drive up Western but to get to Chinatown while distance wise is not far, logistically its a real pain in the ass, if you try taking the freeways you have to pass by downtown which is very annoying, and local roads won’t save you much if any time.

As for students that live on campus, there may be a captive audience but find me a Chinese restaurateur that wants to open up in the USC area, its not exactly safe at night. Also there’s other factors preventing new restaurants in Chinatown too in that there are powerful people behind the scenes that have snatched up tons of properties or families that are still holding onto properties who aren’t letting them on the market, so while Chinatown does look dead, there isn’t really much available on the market thats desirable.

There have been a couple of failed attempts at Sichuan food in downtown LA so somebody thought there was a market, one in the moribund World Trade Center and Li Orient in the US Bank building. I would think lack of parking by itself killed those attempts.

…and there’s your answer with Chinatown, too. Chinatown would be much more hopping if ONE vacant lot were turned into a large multilevel parking garage with a ground-level 7-Eleven. Seriously, someone do this to the old Velvet Turtle site or the surface lot across the street from it on Hill.


What are you talking about there’s tons of parking in Chinatown!

Velvet Turtle lot has been in the works to become a tall building for some years now, not sure where they are at.

…tons of private surface parking lots, and that’s really not a great way to activate an urban area, especially when many of those lots are restricted to those who are patronizing an adjacent business.

Far more effective would be to have a few consolidated public multistory parking structures with some sidewalk-fronting ground-level retail shops throughout the neighborhood and turn those surface lots into infill development opportunities.