Behind LA Chinatown’s Hip Food Scene: Baos, Coffee, and Gentrification

The interior of the restaurant J&K Hong Kong Cuisine. (Photo credit: F. Huynh)

By Guest Contributor: Frances Huynh

Read the first of this series: “The Gentrification of Los Angeles Chinatown: How Do We Talk About It?”

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A quietness lingers as we set up shop. Empty streets fill with the jostle of clothing racks. The multiple clicks of stoves turning on. The soft smack of noodle to plate. Doors open.

On the top floor of Far East Plaza stands 香港美食坊 (J&K Hong Kong Cuisine), a 茶餐廳 (cha chaan teng — a specific type of Hong-Kong style diner). Cantonese shows play on the television in the background, while seniors chat with friends and family at the tables all around. For many of Chinatown’s residents, it is one of a handful of go-to restaurants in the neighborhood for plates of Cantonese comfort food. Peter, a long-time resident, enjoys eating their 海鮮粥 (seafood congee) and 水餃 (dumplings). “很平 (It’s very inexpensive),” Lee Tai Tai, another resident, says. The restaurant is an important community space, providing Chinatown’s seniors an accessible place to hang out and to socialize with friends over dishes reminiscent of those found in the homelands they immigrated from. They also frequent other small shops, including New Dragon, Zen Mei Bistro, and Fortune Gourmet Kitchen, in addition to larger banquet-style restaurants such as CBS Seafood Restaurant, Regent Inn, Full House Seafood Restaurant, and Golden Dragon.

Every morning Monday to Friday, Julie, who has lived in Chinatown for over thirty years, joins about sixty other seniors to eat at Golden Dragon, a longstanding Cantonese restaurant commonly frequented by residents and visiting families. She enjoys eating the healthy meals provided by the “senior nutrition lunch” program held there.1St. Barnabas Senior Services is a non-profit organization that provides free nutritious meals to low-income adults 60 years and older at fourteen congregate meals sites including Golden Dragon. There is a suggested donation. Afterwards, she walks home to her apartment several blocks away and spends the rest of the day listening to the radio and watching Hong Kong dramas. When dinner time comes, she walks to one of several restaurants in the neighborhood to buy what she considers “fast food”: convenient Chinese takeout. By then, she notes, time just passes by.

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Beloved Community Mural in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo Defaced by Graffiti

The "Home is Little Tokyo" mural after it was spray-painted by an unknown graffiti artist. (Photo credit: Adina Mori-Holt)

In October of 2005, twenty hand-painted wooden panels were framed and mounted onto the east-facing wall of Los Angeles Little Tokyo’s Japanese Village Plaza to form the “Home is Little Tokyo” community mural. Nearly three years in the making, the mural is truly a community project: commissioned by a large coalition of local residents, businesses, and service organizations, “Home is Little Tokyo” was designed by local artist Tony Osumi based on numerous ideas offered by the local Japanese American community. Each panel was lovingly painted by Osumi and fellow artists Sergio Diaz and Jorge Diaz, along with nearly 500 volunteers who worked together to contribute over 5000 volunteer hours during open painting days.

“It is our community mural,” says Kristin Fukushima, Managing Director of the Little Tokyo Community Council, which represents businesses, cultural groups, religious organizations, and other Little Tokyo stakeholders and which originally helped to fund the mural’s creation. Fukushima notes that the mural is one of the rare public art projects in Little Tokyo that underwent the democratic, consensus-building process characteristic of the community and its residents. “The mural is symbolic, inclusive, and broad, and it is reflective of the history of our neighborhood,” she says. “It tells our story in the ways that we want to tell our own story and our own history.”

The deep significance of the “Home is Little Tokyo” mural for the Little Tokyo community is why many were shocked, heartbroken, and devastated this week to find that an anonymous person had defaced the entire lower half of the mural with spray-painted graffiti in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Continue reading “Beloved Community Mural in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo Defaced by Graffiti”