The Most Unlikely Restaurant in Chinatown — but for How Long?

Depending on whether you’re looking at the menu, the signage over the door or the sandwich board in front of the building, a restaurant called Noodle Time, Noodles Time or Noodle Times opened in Alpine Plaza about a year ago. The complex is a compact shopping center (sometimes described as an indoor bazaar) located on Alpine Street between Broadway and Spring. For more than 30 years, Alpine Plaza was home to the venerable Chiu Heng Restaurant, until its closing last year, and it's still home to Salathai Restaurant. Over the years there has been a parade of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants occupying the plaza’s three restaurant spaces.

Clearly, Alpine Plaza is in a part of Chinatown that has not yet benefited from the restaurant boom triggered further south in Chinatown by eateries such as Howlin Ray’s, Chego, Baohaus, Little Jewel of New Orleans, LASA and all the other new restaurants opening up in Far East Plaza and the Jia Apartments. With the completion of Blossom Plaza around the corner from Alpine Plaza on Broadway, there have been proposals for a number of new developments at this end of Chinatown, but nothing has been finalized, and this stretch still looks as it did 40 years ago. At the moment, Alpine Plaza is really suffering. Bustling for 40 years, the grocery store space is vacant and subdivided but unrented, and only two operating business, Salathai and Noodle(s) Time(s), are apparently open.

But the mere presence of Noodle(s) Time(s) and the fact that it has already lasted a year may be an indication that things are changing on Alpine Street, because it doesn't resemble anything seen before, either in this shopping center nor anywhere else in Los Angeles Chinatown. First of all, the menu. At first glance, Noodle(s) Time(s) would seem to be best described as a Thai-Chinese noodle restaurant, with a menu of standard favorites such as Thai boat noodle soup, beef stew with tendon noodle soup, pad Thai and chicken chow mein. But the menu also goes off on a Japanese tangent, with varieties of sushi, pork chop ramen soup, bento boxes and teriyaki bowls. And for Malaysian influence there are satay skewers, pork jerky and roti. Nothing unusual so far, as pan-Asian restaurants are gaining a respectability they never had before, but certainly something new for Chinatown — though Chinatown is clearly ready for something like this, given its recent culinary evolution.

But then there's the "Vegetarian (or Vegan)" section of the menu. It includes Thai and Chinese dishes such as Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, green beans with garlic, and pumpkin with yellow curry. At the bottom of the section there are truly odd dishes that are neither Thai, Chinese, or of any Asian ilk, such as the lentil burger (quite tasty) with French fries, the vegan fried soy chicken burger, or the "cowboy" burger wrap. With these items on top of its Asian offerings, Noodle(s) Town(s) clearly has the most eclectic menu ever seen in Chinatown, which by itself distinguishes it from the competition.

It's also decorated differently from other restaurants on this end of the neighborhood: American pop culture icons smile from the walls; the seating is wood benches. Of course, given the recent changes that have come to Chinatown dining, Noodle(s) Town's menu and decor wouldn't appear terribly out of place if it were located in the booming southern part of Chinatown, and if it were operated by a millennial chef or hipster owner. But Noodle(s) Town(s) is run by an older immigrant couple on a block in Chinatown that has escaped recent gentrification, which makes the entire operation totally unexpected and noteworthy.

So far, based on Yelp reviews, Noodle(s) Town(s) seems to be best known for the fact that it delivers almost anywhere. But those who get their food delivered are missing out on something unique that can only be appreciated in person. You might want go on down there sooner rather than later, because Alpine Plaza is the proposed site of a massive, seven-story mixed-use residential and retail real estate complex. Of course, not every proposed real estate project makes it to fruition — downtown Las Vegas would have a hundred condominium towers if all the projects planned a decade ago were built. But still, as Howlin’ Ray’s, Little Jewel, Chego and all the others have proven in just a few years, anything is possible in Chinatown.

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