The lines at Howlin' Rays, the Nashville hot-chicken restaurant that opened in Far East Plaza less than a year ago, are already the stuff of legend in a city that hasn't seen queues like this since Hollywood nightclubs were hot in the early 2000s.
It has been documented on this very site (and many others) how delicious Howlin' Rays is. But should you show up at the two-story courtyard where the fried chicken is housed and find that you don't want to wait two hours for lunch, consider one of the other restaurants at Far East Plaza. There are … no lines at any of the others. (When asked if it was disheartening for the other tenants that Howlin' Rays has so many customers while the others do not, an employee of another plaza establishment said, “Yeah. It's a little weird. But it's all love here. We all, like, borrow oil from each other if we run out during service — like neighbors borrowing a cup of sugar.”)
Here they are, the other restaurants at Far East Plaza, all of them interesting in their own way.
This Vietnamese restaurant is one of the OG establishments at Far East Plaza. (Or at least it's been there longer than 10 years.) It offers the full complement of restaurant dishes, from noodle bowls to rice plates to banh mi. Thien Huong has also very wisely put a selection of to-go snacks outside their door — something to tide over everyone waiting in the chicken line.
Chiuchow-style food is familiar to most Americans, many of whom just know it as Chinese food: seafood, brown sauces, stir-fried vegetables. It is a specific style from a specific region of China, but the people of Guangdong province (where the city Chiuchow, or Chaozhou, is located) tend to move around and take their cooking style with them. This is old-school Chinatown food that is harder to find now, making Kim Chuy recommended on that virtue alone.
It's pretty rare these days to have a restaurant serving mainland Chinese food actually open in Chinatown. But Qin is making a go of it in the city of Los Angeles (their other location is on the westside) with filling western Chinese dishes. Get some noodles. Don't expect rice, do expect spiciness, and try some Beijing yogurt.
Though it isn't open for lunch, Unit 120 is on this list because, frankly, the plaza wouldn't be thriving without it. It's an incubator for new ideas, which currently include Detroit-style pizza on Monday nights and Filipino food on the weekends. Check their site to stay updated.
The architectural burger offered from this to-go window isn't typical SoCal-style, and that's what makes it stand out in a sea of Thousand Island dressing. Start with the basic, meat-forward offering: It's a thick, peppery burger served pretty rare. Then move on to the options with fancy sauces and toppings.
Roy Choi is currently riding high on the glory of LocoL, but before that he was instrumental in getting Far East Plaza into fighting shape: It can be argued that Chego's opening kicked it off. The rice bowls are all expressions of L.A., from the elote to the chicken adobo to the kimchi Spam.
The walls are bare at this outpost of the local ice-cream mini-chain: All the love has been directed toward the product. The flavors change regularly, but this Scoops cheekily offers a “White Bread” flavor, an homage to the original location's famous Brown Bread. They both are studded with Grape-Nuts, but the base flavor is different.
This spot is so pared-down you might not even believe it to be an open business. Endorffeine serves coffee with Heart beans (roasted in Portland) and occasionally has a cake stand with Asian-style pastries for sale.
This old-school tea shop is a great place to pick up all manner of Chinese teas, from the medicinal to the plain enjoyable. It also offers all kinds of milk teas and bobas, for the sweet tooth on the go.
This place is packed at lunch — not with young food-adventure enthusiasts, but with city workers and groups of elderly Chinese ladies who all visit each others' tables throughout their meals. The food is secondary to the charm of this glimpse into what we can only imagine was the Chinatown of the 1970s and '80s.
The other old-school second-story restaurant, J&K bills itself as “Hong Kong cuisine.” It clearly hasn't been updated in many, many years and definitely uses a lot of canned and frozen ingredients, but the menu offers a mix of Chinese-American classics (egg foo yung, orange beef) and Hong Kong cafe-style favorites (steak with fries, baked pork chop with spaghetti) that does keep loyal fans coming back.
The newest addition to Far East Plaza, Lao Tao has a small menu of interesting Taiwanese dishes that diners can order from the counter. There are a few meat-heavy noodle dishes and a “chicken neck roll” made with pork and fish. There's a lighter dish made with excellent tofu and a “tea egg,” which has a texture rather unlike anything else (it's a challenging food for a lot of palates) and — you won't believe this — spicy fried chicken!
Though it's no longer run by restaurant wunderkind Alvin Cailan, Ramen Champ is still holding it down with noodle soup, including one vegan variety. As perhaps befits its location, the tan tan version uses ingredients usually found in Chinese dan dan noodles (Sichuan peppercorns and minced pork).