While it’s no secret that Chinatown’s Far East Plaza has been slowly growing into a straight-up food destination with new-school tenants like Chego! and Pok Pok Phat Thai, something that hasn’t gotten enough attention (and certainly deserves it!) is the mall’s monthly pop-up food fest.
Chinatown After Dark, which is held on the first Thursday of every month, is the chill little brother to the massive food festivals that have been taking L.A. by storm. Occupying just the two floors of the plaza, you’ll find vendors and the brick-and-mortar restaurants whipping up everything from Southeast Asian-inspired tamales filled with spicy coconut shrimp to the Filipino halo-halo dessert. The plaza’s tried-and-true restaurants like LASA, Ramen Champ, and Howlin’ Rays stay open and partake in the festivities, too.
George Yu, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Chinatown Business Improvement District, which helps organize the pop-up, says that at the next event on June 2, you can expect vendors like Takoyaki TANOTA—a pro at making takoyaki, the Japanese battered octopus balls—as well as street food like elote seasoned with Chinese flavors. And some of these vendors are tied to big names, like the gingery and succulent Hainan chicken (topped with a runny sunny-side-up egg) comes from the folks behind Grand Central Market’s Sticky Rice. Yu says there are always a couple of surprises, too. Basically, you could be sampling the next big thing here.
Think of this pop-up as a very casual experience, where you wait in lines for food and then dine outdoors under glowing red Chinese lanterns at picnic tables covered in flowery oilcloth tablecloths. You may be there for the food, but you might be entertained at the same time. The last time I went, I saw Jason Arimoto performing a Coldplay cover on the ukulele and another man impressively rocking out to a Prince track on open-mic karaoke.
“Everything is low-tech—it’s not supposed to be a fancy, highly produced event,” Yu says. “It’s just a community coming together and having a good time.”
The Chinatown BID first launched Chinatown After Dark in 2014 in the Central Plaza, but it didn’t take off there because there “wasn’t the critical mass of food there [like at the Far East Plaza],” Yu says. They relaunched it in mid-2015 at the Far East Plaza, in which its popularity has ebbed and flowed, but he says they’re “really hitting a stride now.”
Chinatown After Dark, takes place every first Thursday of the month, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., at Far East Plaza, 727 N. Broadway, Chinatown.