Forget about the big fancy expensive Chinese food restaurants in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. Locals get their authentic grub at Hop Li, an unpretentious eatery that would necessarily stand out as a hot spot.
I was introduced to Hop Li, when in the 90s I was dating the lady who is now my wife. It was the most frequent place we went to.
I’ve learned to ignore the worn-out red carpets that lead to the bathroom. They look like they were new in the 60s. I’ve learned to ignore the dust on the exit sign. People don’t come to Hop Li for its immaculate interior. The decorating looks like it hasn’t updated since the 70s.
Nobody cares about that. They only care about taste. When it comes to authentic Cantonese food, there’s nothing better in Downtown LA (Chinatown is just northeast of DT).
Having married American-born Chinese, I learned you always start with soup. My in-laws used to honor me (many many years ago) by ordering shark’s fin soup, which cost $100 and tastes fibrous (nothing special for my American taste buds, or bitter melon soup (which they cherish but tasted to me like the name, bitter). But on my recent visit we were treated to the more American-friendly hot and sour soup.
Next, if the meal is special, you get Peking Duck. I like the dunk meat best, but the true Chinese way, apparently, is to eat mostly fried duck skin with plum sauce, onion sprigs and parsley.
Then the entrees start coming out to be served on the white rice: honey garlic spare ribs, asparagus, baby Spinach, fish in black bean sauce, pepper chicken, spicy beef and bell peppers, noodles, sweet and sour chicken. There is more than we can finish, which is the Chinese way for a banquet.
There are a lot of exotic items for the truer Chinese taste buds, deep fried squid in light crunchy batter, crab and fried tofu in creamy curry sauce, whole steamed fish (my in-laws, to honor me years ago, offered me the fish eyeball, which is a delicacy, and which I dutifully ate. It was mushy like a pea, though harder.)
Chinese like fresh, fresh, fresh food, so you can get the fish live and placed into the pot. So Hop Li has tanks of living crabs for you to enjoy.I always liked the orange pepper chicken but through the years of eating with my in-laws have learned to go along with whatever they order. Another favorite of mine was kung-pao chicken.
You can come here for a quick lunch, simple dinner or a full-on banquet.
Hop Li is part of Chinatown’s history. They even have a historic map that traces the beginnings of the section in Los Angeles. Some of the history is a stain because racial violence against Chinese is why the Chinese moved out of Downtown and quartered up near Dodger Stadium (which, of course, wasn’t there at the time).
Hot mustard sauce to add some zing to vegetables. Alternatively, oyster sauce makes the veggies delicious.
The menu is extensive.