Whether you’re coming from a late-night show downtown or perhaps out for an afternoon food jaunt, nothing could be better than finding yourself in LA’s Far East Plaza, the coolest mall food court on the planet. The outside looks like an abandoned 1980s shopping center, but inside lives some of our town’s most exciting food.
Did it start with Roy Choi’s Chego? Some say so. Originally, this mall space in Chinatown was designed as a food bazaar, hosting some original businesses as Ten Ren’s Tea Time and a Chinese products store, but what really has the food punks going crazy is the collection of hot young chefs bringing the food truck movement home. Chego, what Jonathan Gold called “a fount of culinary postmodernism,” started my obsession with potted meat with its spam kimchi rice bowl. Choi perfected his pan-Asian/American fusion style here, with hearty rice bowls featuring flavors from Korean, Chinese, and California culinary traditions that may be the best drunk (or sober) food you’ve ever had.
If Chego is the OG, Howlin’ Ray’s Hot Chicken is the cool new kid. Chef Johnny Ray Zone brought his blistering take on Memphis-style fried chicken indoors here, and the lines speak for themselves. Get a Scoops ice cream or an Endorffeine palm sugar latte while you’re waiting, and don’t overestimate your heat tolerance unless you are prepared for a hallucinatory experience. Howlin’ is not an exaggeration.
It is sad to see Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok Phat Thai shutter, next door to Howlin’ Rays. The drinking vinegars will be sorely missed. It is no insignificant consolation, though, that Eddie Hwang’s West Coast installment of BaoHaus will soon be taking over the space.
Ramen Champ is a wily mistress. It’s open, it’s closed, it has a new chef, it’s not about ramen anymore. Still, the constant changes afoot on the mall’s second floor are bound to bring something new and delicious.
Then, of course, there is Unit 120, the storefront reserved for brand new concepts. On weekends, definitely check out the acclaimed Filipino prix-fixe at LASA, brought to you by a pair of brothers, throwing all their love of Pinoy cuisine at you like a torrent.
It’s strange when you sample each of these food adventures and realize there is no alcohol in the plaza. But we are so intoxicated with salt, spice, sweetness, caffeine, acid, and umami that we almost don’t miss it.
Photo courtesy of Kae Ng