Friday, August 22, 2014

And, The Best Chinese Restaurant in Los Angeles Is...

Well when I say "Best Chinese Restaurant in Los Angeles" don't be misled, because I'm talking about Los Angeles itself (zip 900**) and not any suburban areas.  As I said last year in a couple of Menuism articles, 300 of the top 300 Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles county were located in the San Gabriel Valley, which is outside of the city limits of Los Angeles.  Consequently we're not necessarily talking about elite eateries.

So in looking for the best Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles where better to look than Yelp's reviews?  (The sarcasm in that statement will be quickly apparent.)  According to Yelp, the highest rated Chinese restaurants in Los Angeles are Wah's Golden Hen on Virgil Ave. in East Hollywood and Sea Dragon on Vermont Ave. in what essentially is Pilipinotown, each with an average rating of 4½ stars.  (Wah's would get the nod based on a larger number of reviews.)   Now let me start off by saying that I have a soft spot for both of these restaurants, Wah's for the oldtime Cantonese food with a nice lady running the place and Sea Dragon being a big step over the mostly Korean style Chinese restaurants or steam tray places that dominate the area west of downtown.

But highest rating in Los Angeles?  Puhleeze.   There are at least 25 Chinese restaurants in L.A. Chinatown better than these two, and those of you who know me know that I have a fairly low opinion of food in Chinatown, though an occasional meal at Master Chef, Pho Broadway or J. R. Bistro is acceptable.   The recently opened Meizhou Dongpo in the Century City Mall, the first US branch of the mainland Chinese restaurant chain cracks the Los Angeles county top 300 list.  Huang's BBQ House on Melrose (which actually exceeds Wah's and Sea Dragon with five Yelp stars, but only has six reviews and isn't considered by Yelp in their ratings) at least serves Chinatown quality food.  And there are other scattered decent Chinese restaurants having Los Angeles zip codes, including Hong Kong Cafe and ROC Kitchen on Sawtelle in West Los Angeles, Pingtung on Melrose, Bao on Beverly Blvd., the restaurant formerly known as California Wok (it's not quite clear what the current name of the restaurant is) on Wilshire in West Los Angeles, Pine & Crane in Silver Lake, Mandarin Kitchen on Westwood Blvd.  and The Palace on Wilshire and Barrington.  And in downtown one can't overlook Peking Tavern, another newly opened top 300 entrant and perhaps the best of the bunch.

So why do Wah's and Sea Dragon rise to the top of Yelp's list?  The answer is the basic flaw in Yelp's star rating system, which I refer to as the lack of comparability.  For example, Sea Harbour in Rosemead was my choice as second best Chinese restaurant in the United States in my controversial Asia Society article that generated 300 Tweets and 3,200 Facebook likes.  Some observers even say Sea Harbour has the best dim sum in the US.   But while Wah's and Sea Dragon rate 4½ Yelp stars each, Sea Harbour only garners 3½ stars.   Now there are many defects in the Yelp star system, most of which are to be left for another day's discussion.  But the issue I want to focus on here is that the diners who give Wah's 4½ stars are a completely different demographic from those who give Sea Harbour 3½ stars.  For the same reason you see high ratings for generally disdained Chinese restaurants such as P.F. Chang, not really a Chinese restaurant in my book, and Mr. Chow.  So while Yelp appears to be objective to the extent that people refer to numerical stars and only eat at 3 or 4 star Yelp restaurants, it's truly an apples to oranges comparison.

So for those of you who believe in Yelp, Wah's Golden Hen is the place to go.  The rest of us should really wonder about Yelp.


  1. I've been to China and some food made by lowly street vendors blows any food I've had here our of the water. I love China town because they can get as close as it gets to their mainland superior. I can't wait to go back there. There are a lot of things I miss from China, and food would be at the top of the list.

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