Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Sichuan Style Chinese Food Finally Coming to Los Angeles Chinatown

Perhaps the loudest message I've been sending the last couple of years is how Los Angeles Chinatown has been seemingly defying gravity by serving almost exclusively Cantonese style Chinese food, while every other Chinese community in the United States is home to numerous authentic non-Cantonese restaurants, particularly restaurants serving Sichuan style food. Not only that, but you can find authentic Sichuan style food in virtually every college town in the US.   So it was certainly strange to find no Sichuan style food in Los Angeles Chinatown, while you could find three or more places serving such fare in Iowa City, Iowa within short walking distance of the University of Iowa campus.

Indeed, my most recent Menuism article from last month discussed the Cantonese wall of Los Angeles Chinatown and how perhaps Hispanic diners were helping to prop the wall up.  All along I've assumed that the Cantonese wall of Los Angeles Chinatown could crack at any time, and indeed in my Los Angeles Weekly article from early last year I may have prematurely declared that the time had arrived.  Yet into the spring of 2018, no Sichuan food was to be found in Los Angeles Chinatown.

While it took longer than I thought, Sichuan food is about to arrive in Los Angeles Chinatown with the opening of another branch of Sichuan Impression, joining Howlin' Ray's Nashville Hot Chicken, Chego, Lao Tao, Baohaus, and LASA, among other non-traditional tenants in Far East Plaza (originally called the Food Center when it opened in the late 1970s as Los Angeles' answer to Hong Kong's "Food Street.")    Seemingly, Los Angeles Chinatown is poised to join the 21st century as far as Chinese food choices are concerned.

But while I have been predicting this day for quite a while now, I'm not totally ready to concede that the  Cantonese wall of Los Angeles Chinatown is going the way of the Berlin Wall.  Yes, Sichuan Impression is one of the two big Los Angeles area dogs of the modern Sichuan cuisine movement in the US, along with Chengdu Taste.  But Sichuan Impression is opening up in Far East Plaza, which is ground zero for the culinary hipsterization of Los Angeles Chinatown.  Los Angeles Chinatown has become a magnet for trendy non-Chinese restaurants, as I previously wrote for Menuism, with other non-Chinese newcomers outside of those in the Far East Plaza complex, such as Little Jewel of New Orleans, David Chang's Majordomo, Burger Lords, and the already departed Pok Pok.

With its mainstream renown, I'm wondering whether Sichuan Impression's upcoming opening in LA Chinatown is more a reflection of hipsterdom rather than an organic demand for Sichuan style food.  Perhaps the recent downtown  high rise opening of Li Orient that I previously chronicled  is an indication of organic demand for Sichuan cooking in central Los Angeles, but we will have to wait and see.

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