History of Chinese food (or lack thereof) on the Westside

Because as everybody else on this board, and the predecessor board knows, the Westside was a wasteland for authentic Chinese food until three or four years ago.


That is as unfair as it would be for me to take potshots at the San Gabriel Valley for being a wasteland for pretty much every cuisine except Chinese.

1 Like

You have an interesting definition of “potshots”

1 Like

I don’t see a problem with this


My original comment was only as to seeing this dish appear on the Westside. I only made the wasteland comment when prodded by your response. And looking into the reason why the Westside was historically a wasteland for Chinese food, we find a very interesting reason for the causation. Essentially housing discrimination kept Chinese out of the Westside (I’m old enough to remember my dad being told not to make an offer on a house because he was Chinese) and kept Westside Chinese food highly Americanized, something that the Westside can’t be proud of.


Housing discrimination is horrible and I’m sorry that you and your families were victims of it. However, it certainly wasn’t limited to Chinese people. When I bought my house in Palms it came with a restrictive covenant stating that anybody who wasn’t Caucasian couldn’t live here unless they were employed to take care of the house/residents. I pitched a fit and demanded that my realtor/attorney remove the covenant. He said that although those covenants were unenforceable at the time we purchased the house there was no way to remove them. By the way, if the covenant had been enforceable my husband wouldn’t be able to live here.

Yes, the US Supreme Court ruled in 1948 that these racial restrictive covenants were unenforceable, but there’s no way to reform a document from umpteen years before. I studied that case in law school, so when I subsequently bought my first house in Baldwin Hills I was aware of the history and found its inclusion in the deed somewhat amusing, in addition to being revolting.

1 Like

Your statement is pretty close to accurate

1 Like

I’m speaking as a Westsider who has lived here almost my entire life. I remember Mayor Yorty passing the torch to Tom Bradley. My dad had to escape the Bel Air fires while gardening up there. JFK became the Democratic presidential candidate at LA’s national convention. I sat crying along with others on our neighbor’s porch when the world found out that JFK was shot. Chinatown was the center of the world for most Chinese Angelenos.

As for the Westside, aside from an occasional barely legit Chinese restaurant (usually Cantonese, sometimes dim sum, sometimes seafood specialist), it wasn’t common to find solid Chinese offerings until recently. Those that were “legit” had varying strategies and existences in their survival. Some have endured decades, most have come and gone.

Forty minutes away is the SGV, rising as a Chinese mega enclave starting in earnest in the 80s. Like most emigrants moving to the US, they seek out areas that they can afford. Since the mid-70s, the Westside really didn’t have a reputation as broadly affordable. Until recently, the SGV was a comparative bargain.

Those new to a country also strongly prefer and gravitate to areas where they can find the familiar. The SGV has had a longstanding presence of Asians, particularly starting post-WWII. Many Japanese-Americans moved there, as well as to parts of the SFV and OC, the South Bay and of course, the Westside.

The Chinese were in the Westside, but not in numbers and concentrations to form any sort of critical mass. Unlike the Japanese, I don’t recall any large community centers, halls, obvious language schools, or concentrations of Chinese eateries that would speak to the Chinese appetite.

Considering these mentioned areas, once one group settles in and established itself as “Asian Friendly,” you can see a natural progression of other Asian cultures following. As different as each Asian culture can be, the similarities in core values can be strikingly similar. And really the only hurdle that seems to exist is the cost of living, mainly tied to real estate prices.

A core population of Chinese Asians actually began in Mar Vista/West LA back in the 90s, as UCLA created large amounts of new student housing. But most of these students didn’t have the buying power to eat out all the time - they were students of course. Many students (often married) also brought over their parents as well - no reason to eat out with a loving mother to do care for, coddle and cook for you. The number of “Parachute” children from Asia who landed in parts of the Westside, while obviously wealthy, weren’t in numbers to spawn a supply of eateries.

Now that Silicon Beach runs from Santa Monica to Playa Vista, and continues to grow into El Segundo, the need for employees with technology skills learned in college started and continues at wholesale levels. This is where the population of Chinese Asians has suddenly mushroomed over the past five to seven years. And now these are not the Asians who are “your tired, your poor.” They are young, prospering from the get go, and and can’t cook worth a crap or don’t have the time or desire to do so.

It is this moment that has brought the growing number of eateries of varying regions and levels of legit Chinese cusine. So as the Chinese Asian population continues grow and prosper in areas outside of the SGV, one can expect to have more legit Chinese food offerings.

I get your sense of “taking pot shots.” I’m a Westsider who has often read remarks over the decades about the Westside that, while often true at varying levels, probably could have been phrased better. I think the disdain by some stems from personal issues not suited for debate on this board. But this board has never really been known for a culture of saccharin sweet tidings. As such, one kinda learns when the artillery is incoming and when to counterattack, or when to just duck and wait it out.

The Westside has been known for its great weather, relative tolerance, and economic prosperity (celebs? Eh). Now, it is also known for its teeth-grinding traffic (up from just almost intolerable), skyrocketing real estate prices and density of poké and cleanse counters being a good indicator of how many man-buns one will encounter. But one thing we can’t be knocked about (for now) is, “wasteland for legit Chinese food.”


Also factoring in is the history of the Westside itself. Nowadays, LA metro is pretty much one seamless megalopolis, but when the Japanese arrived on Sawtelle over a hundred years ago, Sawtelle was its own incorporated town and not particularly urban by those day’s standards. So the reason the Japanese are there is that they arrived before most everybody else. At about the same time my grandfather arrived in Los Angeles and found work as a cook at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which was a rural resort for east coast visitors manned by dozens, if not hundreds of Chinese workers. (Notice few, if any “craftsman” style residences on the Westside? ) Heck, even UCLA was just “beanfields” when they opened in 1929. However as the Westside developed from the 1930s onward, racial restrictive covenants kept the area white for decades. (The one amusing factor of those covenants is that there was one category of exception–nonwhite domestic help was permitted to live on premises.) Which led until just recently the characterization of the Westside as being a wasteland for Chinese food.

1 Like

I don’t object to the Westside being characterized as a wasteland for authentic Chinese food until recently. That is objectively correct.

What I object to is the relentless comments that we have tame palates and won’t support a restaurant with “challenging” ingredients and preparations. The Westside has countless restaurants that serve food for people with adventurous palates. Until recently that food was from other cultures than China.

I am delighted that we are getting so much good Chinese food.

1 Like

That’s a fair statement. However, I think the comments about the previous lack of Chinese food has to be taken in the context that Chinese food options on the Westside have been a recurring message board topic dating back to the founding of Chowhound almost 20 years ago and in private conversations prior to that. Having worked in Century City for 45 years, I can tell you it wasn’t fun driving from there to Monterey Park and back just to get a decent Chinese meal, until a few places opened up in the late 90s.


Actually, the older established areas of the Westside did have craftmans (and still do in far diminished numbers). Venice and Santa Monica (by Westside standards) are old neighborhoods/cities. Rot and neglect took their toll. But outdated features, style and materials were the main reasons many were scraped in favor of more contemporary digs - sad.

Most of the western portion of LA was bean fields - agriculture in general. The land was “originally” owned by the Machado and Lopez families. Also the coastal strip was known for SaMo and Venice beaches. But outside of those immediate areas, oil extraction was king along the coast and further inland.

As you mentioned, the Westside was pretty much the sticks for a long time. Some development occurred between the wars, but the actual boom hit after the second war. Any CCRs regarding “undesirables” seemed to be null and void in a practical sense in most areas, evidenced by so many “ethnic” enclaves forming during the 50s and 60s.

In reality, CCRs or no CCRs, areas that may have been primarily white were experiencing large numbers of non-whites integrating into these neighborhoods. With WWII still very raw in the American psyche, Japanese were big time persona non grata, but the desire for the Japanese to get back to some sort of normal life again overcame any racial hurdles and attacks.

White flight might be too strong a term for what happened, but most of the whites who sold their homes in much of the middle class portions of the Westside were backfilled mostly by Asians, Latinos, African Americans and other non-whites. Our neighborhood experienced this, as we were the first Asian family on the street, one of the first in the neighborhood, and many Asians (mostly Japanese) moved in after us. Sorry we brought the neighborhood down.

The US Supreme Court invalidated racial restrictive covenants in 1948 in Shelley v. Kraemer. A few years later we were able to move to the Crenshaw area by Dorsey High School, an area that my mom described as the “sticks” back then. We were joined by a lot of other Chinese and Japanese families in that move.

The entire coastal area down to the South Bay developed way ahead of the Westside. And apparently 110 years ago Chinatown moms would occasionally take their kids from old Chinatown to Santa Monica, presumably by some kind of rail.


I think this may be true and untrue. The Westside used to be far more diverse, but I think food being part of one’s cultural awareness at that earlier time was not nearly as strong as it is today. Fitting in was far more important (and largely futile) for many non-whites. And the white bread uninitiated palate was dominant (and still is strong today).

As the Westside has increasingly become more heavily weighted toward class and less on diversity, it is ironic that more legit food options representing more cultures are available. Despite huge overhead issues, places like Sichuan Impression are thriving, which speaks to not only popularity among Asian customers (who tend to be major driving forces in food fanaticism) but to the influence of the etherworld’s influence and education on society as a whole - this is a very recent phenomenon.

Prejudice > law
Fortitude > prejudice


As I’ve said, I completely agree that the Westside until recently has been devoid of palatable Chinese food and I’m ecstatic that we’re getting good Chinese restaurants. Although racism has its icy fingers deep in pretty much everything; I don’t think racism is the entire explanation for the Westside’s lack of good Chinese restaurants.

Most Chinese restaurants I’ve been to have been huge. The high price of real estate on the Westside makes it more difficult to open a large restaurant. Several of the recently opened Westside Chinese restaurants that I’ve eaten at: Tasty Noodle House, iFood, Northern Cafe are small. Din Tai Fung and, I assume, Capital Seafood are large, but Century City and La Cienega’s Restaurant Row are outliers regarding Westside restaurant size norms.

Racism weighs in regarding price. Clearly, any restaurant on the Westside will have to attract customers from a variety of ethnicity. Sadly, Caucasians expect food from anywhere except Europe and Japan to be ridiculously inexpensive. This attitude can only be explained by racism. Sadly, it deprives us of a lot of wonderful cuisine.

Aside from having delicious food close by, I have another reason to be glad that we’re getting good Chinese food on the Westside. The Chinese restaurants here have a variety of vegetarian menu items and the menus usually indicate which items are vegetarian. It can be difficult to figure out which items don’t contain meat in restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley.

I live at Overland and Palms. Within a few miles of me are: a Himalayan restaurant, many Indian and Pakistani restaurants, a few Vietnamese restaurants, Sawtelle Boulevard, an Indonesian restaurant, Brazilian restaurants, Korean restaurants, Salvadorean restaurants, a Cuban restaurant, countless Persian restaurants to name but a few. Not to mention that Little Ethiopia is on the Westside.

Sorry, but in my view the Westside is plenty diverse.

Point of fact:
UCLA was inaugurated in 1919, not 1929. UCLA will be celebrating its Centennial next year!

1 Like

UCLA was founded 1919 at the current site of Los Angeles City College on Vermont Ave. It moved to Westwood in 1929.