Los Angeles County is home to over 400,000 Chinese-Americans. Undoubtedly, it has one of the largest ethnic Chinese populations outside of China. Many are first generation immigrants from China or are children of immigrant Chinese parents. In areas with a high population density of ethnic Chinese, one can find many skilled chefs and restaurateurs working in and running restaurants that serve good, authentic Chinese food, just like how they are being served in China. The prices are usually very affordable too.
Most of these restaurants are located in five main areas: the official Chinatown in downtown Los Angeles, Monterey Park, San Gabriel, Alhambra and Rowland Heights. Except for Chinatown, all areas are in the San Gabriel Valley. All 5 areas are within the confines of Los Angeles County, California.
To give you an idea about good cheap Chinese restaurants that you will find in the above areas, consider these three popular restaurants where you can enjoy good food at bargain prices:
Kang Kang Food Court (2 branches: Monterey Park, Alhambra)* – Despite the name, this is not a food court with multiple food vendors, but a self-service restaurant. Once you walk into the restaurant, you will find over 15 varieties of delicious entrees and hot and cold side dishes displayed behind the counter. Pick out any 3 items, steamed rice and soup and your check is less than $5. The dining area features two big plasma TV screens that will show popular sporting events like NBA basketball games, World Cup soccer or the Olympics when in season.
Yum Cha Cafe (3 branches: Alhambra, San Gabriel, Chinatown)* – The place specializes in Dim Sum, a part of Cantonese cuisine that includes many small dishes like little dumplings, buns and pastries. Yum Cha Cafe serves arguably the cheapest Dim Sum you can find anywhere in the entire Los Angeles. The quality may not be quite what you will get in higher end restaurants, but it is extraordinary value for the money. A small plate of four pieces of Siu Mai, a small meat and shrimp dumpling, costs just 99 cents.
Shanghai Restaurant (San Gabriel)* – As the name of the restaurant indicates, this place serves Shanghainese cuisine, a type of Chinese cuisine that is fast gaining international recognition. The food is flavorful and rich. During lunch time, the restaurant offers an special value lunch menu with over 20 entree dishes from $5 – $8 each. If you like fish, the fried yellow croaker with seaweed is highly recommended. Visit with a group of friends and enjoy a scrumptious family style meal consisting of a variety of dishes.
These are just three examples of restaurants serving good, inexpensive Chinese food. If you visit the five main areas listed at the beginning of this article, you will be able to find similar gems as well. There are several upscale restaurants offering lunch specials or late night specials, making it very affordable to get a good meal in a pleasing atmosphere.
One last tip – bring some cash with you. Most of these places will accept cash only, no credit or debit cards. A number will accept credit cards but with minimum charge requirements of $10 to $20. The good news is that you will be able to enjoy a satisfying meal on the cheap.
*The prices and locations are accurate at the time of this article’s writing in September 2009. For updated information, please contact the restaurants directly before you visit.