L.A.’s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond
L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Ring in the Year of the Rabbit with Dim Sum Delights
If there's one culinary tradition that epitomizes Lunar New Year celebrations, it's dim sum. These bite-sized dumplings, buns, and other delicacies make for the perfect start to a day of festivities with family and friends. While dim sum is a year-round staple at many Chinese restaurants, it really shines during this auspicious time of year when people gather to fill up on good fortune along with good food.
In Los Angeles, some of the best spots to savor dim sum while welcoming the Year of the Rabbit include Chinatown institutions like Empress Pavilion and Lunasia. Both restaurants offer expansive dim sum menus with all the classics like har gow shrimp dumplings, siu mai pork dumplings, and char siu bao. Beyond the standards, they also feature seasonal specialties and house favorites like crispy sesame balls filled with sweet red bean paste. With festive decor and bustling dining rooms filled with chatter and laughter, these Chinatown restaurants make you feel part of the festivities.
For a more upscale experience, Celeste at the TenTen Wilshire excels at creative adaptations of dim sum executed to perfection. Dishes like black truffle har gow and foie gras siu mai give familiar dumplings an elevated twist, while crab claw siu mai topped with gold leaf bring extra prosperity. The sleek, modern setting and attentive service provide a refined backdrop for your dim sum feast.
Those looking for a dim sum spot off the beaten path should check out Lunasia Dim Sum House in Pasadena. Tucked away in a sleepy suburban strip mall, this outpost of the Chinatown original consistently delights with quality dim sum prepared fresh daily. Favorites include the xiao long bao soup dumplings, pan-fried turnip cakes, and baked barbecue pork buns. With shorter waits and cozier ambiance than its downtown location, it's a hidden gem for savoring dim sum in a relaxed setting.
What else is in this post?
- L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Ring in the Year of the Rabbit with Dim Sum Delights
- L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Savor Auspicious Dishes at Chinatown's Finest Restaurants
- L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Lion Dances and Firecrackers in Historic Plazas and Temples
- L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Special Performances and Festivities Not to Miss
- L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Best Places to See Lunar New Year Parades and Celebrations
- L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Unique Culinary Traditions from Korea, Vietnam and Beyond
- L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Where to Find Symbolic Decorations and Lucky Red Envelopes
- L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Extend the Celebrations with Night Markets and Temple Fairs
L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Savor Auspicious Dishes at Chinatown's Finest Restaurants
Beyond dim sum, Chinatown is home to many fine dining establishments serving special Lunar New Year menus packed with symbolic dishes meant to bring good fortune in the year ahead. A meal at one of these restaurants allows you to fully immerse yourself in the tastes and traditions of the season.
At Celestina Ristorante, chef John Hung crafts an eight-course menu inspired by his Chinese heritage and Italian culinary training. Dishes like wok-seared diver scallops with black truffle and braised abalone showcase luxury ingredients associated with prosperity. The “Lettuce Wrap of Wealth” sees tender wagyu beef and foie gras filling crisp iceberg cups, a play on the tradition of eating lettuce for prosperity. Handmade chestnut ravioli in a lightly smoked ham broth nods to the idea of “gold ingots falling from the sky” into your lap. Dessert features mandarin orange panna cotta and a hand-pulled Chinese noodle representing longevity. From ingredients to plating, every element provides good fortune vibes.
At Celeste, executive chef Josh Gil explores progressive Chinese fare with beautifully composed tasting menus. Highlights include lobster coral xiao long bao, dungeness crab fried rice topped with osetra caviar, and wagyu short rib claypot with foraged matsutake mushrooms and truffles. Decadent ingredients connote prosperity while artful presentations prompt awe and delight. The Year of the Rabbit menu also features symbolic vegetables like lettuce, lotus root, and bok choy for extra luck. With stunning skyline views from the rooftop terrace, it's a splurge-worthy spot for a celebratory meal.
For nostalgic Cantonese classics, Ocean Star Restaurant excels with dishes like braised whole abalone, pan-fried flounder, and soy sauce chicken. Fragrant white cut chicken accompanied by dipping sauces, pickled ginger and melon makes for a festive centerpiece. Dishes emphasize premium seafood and poultry, both lucky foods. Staff attentively carve tableside and explain the significance behind each course. With cozy, old-school ambiance and congenial service, it feels like dining in Hong Kong.
At Lunasia, seasonal specials join greatest hits like Peking duck, lobster noodle soup and Chinatown-style chow mein. Signature yu sheng, a colorfully plated raw fish salad, makes for a customary dish to toss while offering Lunar New Year wishes. For dessert, Chinese New Year puddings promise a sweet finish to your meal. While known for dim sum, Lunasia's full menu captures Chinatown's culinary essence from casual to celebratory.
L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Lion Dances and Firecrackers in Historic Plazas and Temples
No Lunar New Year celebration would be complete without the heart-pounding beats of drums and cymbals heralding the arrival of lion and dragon dances. These colorful performances full of acrobatic stunts and kung fu choreography have been part of Lunar New Year festivities for centuries. In Los Angeles, historic Chinatown plazas and temples set the stage for these captivating shows that draw crowds eager to soak up the sights and sounds of tradition.
The lion dance dates back to the Han Dynasty, with early records showing it was performed to chase away evil spirits and bring good fortune. Today, it remains a mainstay of Lunar New Year as troupes of dancers bring to life the lion costume. The energetic performance features impressive stunts as lion dancers jump, kick, and pose atop raised platforms. Each move represents warding off bad luck and inviting prosperity and happiness in the coming year.
According to Damon Leong, member of respected lion dance troupe Jung How Kung Fu Club, the long drums and clashing cymbals "replicate the lion's heartbeat" while the gong "punctuates the power in each movement." The combination of athleticism and artistry makes for an electrifying show.
In Los Angeles, the plaza in front of the Chinatown Central Plaza mall draws crowds for pop-up lion dance performances throughout the Lunar New Year period. The historic Thien Hau Temple on Broadway also hosts dancers parading down the street before heading inside to continue their routine. Temple-goers seeking blessings for the new year enjoy the front-row view.
No Lunar New Year would be complete without firecrackers. The loud pops are believed to scare away evil spirits and misfortune. While firecrackers are now banned in L.A., Chinatown's International Lunar New Year Firecracker Ceremony keeps the tradition alive with a video and audio simulcast of firecrackers. As the recorded pops boom through speakers, red confetti flies through the air above the cheering crowd. Though modified for safety concerns, the ceremony elicits nostalgia for elders and gives younger generations a small taste of this ritual.
L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Special Performances and Festivities Not to Miss
Beyond lion dances and firecrackers, Lunar New Year in Los Angeles offers a full calendar of festivities celebrating Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese cultures. From parades and concerts to craft fairs and culinary tours, these events let you immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and tastes of the season.
One highlight is the Golden Dragon Parade hosted by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce. This lively procession snakes through Chinatown with floats, banners, lion dancers, and marching bands. Crowds line the parade route, cheering the passing floats decorated with swaying dragons, warriors, and allegorical figures. Participants don eye-catching costumes while performers showcase traditional arts like ribbon dancing. According to Kelvin Wu, a frequent parade spectator, "It's a joyful way to kick off the new year surrounded by community."
Those eager to travel can head to Garden Grove in Orange County for the Tet Festival. This huge gathering celebrates Vietnamese Lunar New Year with live music, cultural exhibits, carnival rides, and street food. Musical acts range from pop stars to folk performers decked out in traditional áo dài tunics. Plenty of booths offer traditional New Year staples like bánh chưng rice cakes and candied lotus seeds. Lantern-making activities teach kids about symbolic decorations. "We love taking the kids to the Tet Festival to connect them with their heritage," shares Linda Ton, an Anaheim resident.
Over at the Original Farmers Market, the Chinese New Year Celebration invites visitors to experience calligraphy lessons, paper lantern crafts, and martial arts demonstrations. Kids can get faces painted like lions or rabbits while adults browse merchandise from local Asian vendors. When hunger strikes, the bustling food hall offers steamed dumplings, crispy egg rolls, and other Lunar New Year nibbles. According to market manager Tara Thomas, "Our free cultural activities paired with amazing food make for an immersive, family-friendly Chinese New Year experience."
L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Best Places to See Lunar New Year Parades and Celebrations
Lunar New Year parades and celebrations offer a vibrant display of Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and other Asian cultures. Beyond the symbolic foods and customary rituals, these public festivities give communities a chance to proudly share traditions with the masses. Parades especially provide an exciting experience, with lion dancers, floats, music and fanfare coming together. Spectators young and old will delight at the sights and sounds.
In Los Angeles, the Golden Dragon Parade in Chinatown is arguably the can't-miss event. This parade got its start in the 1930s as a way to draw visitors to the area's shops and restaurants during the Great Depression. Today, it attracts over 100,000 attendees each year with its elaborate floats, booming drums, and skilled performers. Popular floats include the 288-foot Golden Dragon, a crowd favorite since its debut in the 1940s. This majestic beast requires over 50 people to operate, its head rising and falling, smoke billowing from its nostrils. Other floats feature swaying dragons, warriors enacting choreographed fight scenes, and children representing the 12 animals of the zodiac.
Beyond the floats, the parade showcases regional Chinese folk arts through dance and acrobatics. Ribbon dancers in traditional garb perform with lengthy, colorful ribbons. Chinese yo-yo masters show off tricks with the classic toy. Martial artists demonstrate their agility via weaponry like swords and staffs. Combined with the rhythmic beats of drums and gongs, the parade assaults the senses in the best way for an immersive cultural experience.
In Orange County, head to the Tet Festival in Garden Grove's Viet Village for a lively celebration of Vietnamese traditions. The streets fill with food vendors serving treats like bánh chưng sticky rice cakes and sugarcane skewers. Folk singers and pop stars take the stage for concerts while folk dancers perform with woven baskets or bamboo poles. Kids can make crafts like origami or flower hair clips while adults try their hand at calligraphy. With the atmosphere of a Vietnamese street fair, it captures the festive spirit.
The Koreatown neighborhood also joins the celebration with performances at outdoor plazas. Catch traditional percussionists pounding away on barrel drums called buk. Lion dance troupes leap and spin through the streets. Youth dancers energetically perform fan dances in colorful hanbok attire. The Koreatown events give locals a chance to gather as an outdoor festival captures the sounds of their motherland.
L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Unique Culinary Traditions from Korea, Vietnam and Beyond
Beyond Chinese fare, Lunar New Year feasting across L.A. incorporates Korean, Vietnamese and other Asian food traditions. From soup dumplings to glutinous rice confections, each culture has its own symbolic dishes for bringing luck in the new year. Exploring these specialty eats offers a delicious adventure for the mind and palate.
In Koreatown, many revelers line up for dduk guk, a bowl of slippery rice cake slices in a clear beef broth. This nourishing soup provides a blank slate for the year ahead. Popular Korean New Year snacks include yakgwa, floral-shaped fried honey cookies, and yeot, sticky malt taffy candies. Jeonju Restaurant crafts couture versions of these street foods along with festive entrees like braised short ribs, perfect for gathering with family or friends.
Head to any Vietnamese enclave around Lunar New Year and you’ll find banh chung, sticky rice cakes stuffed with pork and beans wrapped in banana leaves. The square shape represents the earth while the green leaves symbolize spring growth. Xoi gac, a reddish sticky rice, also makes frequent appearances, its vibrant hue signifying prosperity. Restaurants like Brodard in Garden Grove fashion the rice into koi fish for extra luck. Their nem nuong spring rolls packed with pork and crab deliver fortune in every bite.
In Filipino communities, noodle dish pancit represents the long life wished for in the new year. Jollibee satisfies cravings for this stir-fried noodle specialty along with other traditional fare like lumpiang shanghai egg rolls and lechon kawali crispy pork belly. Halo halo, an icy dessert with evaporated milk, jellies and fruits, cools off any feast.
L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Where to Find Symbolic Decorations and Lucky Red Envelopes
Beyond feasting, Lunar New Year customs incorporate symbolic decorations and rituals meant to summon luck and prosperity. Two of the most ubiquitous symbols are red envelopes filled with money gifts and a kaleidoscope of lucky objects adorning homes and businesses.
In Chinese culture, red envelopes stuffed with crisp new bills are handed out by married couples and elders during the new year. Known as "lai see" in Cantonese or "hongbao" in Mandarin, these gifts bear wishes of wealth and blessings. The vivid red color signifies joy and vitality. The money amount often includes lucky numbers like eight associated with prosperity. Children eagerly await these "red pockets" from grandparents while newlyweds gift them to coworkers or employees. The act spreads good fortune during a time of renewed hope and positivity.
Chinatown gift shops overflow with decorative red envelopes this time of year. Monterey Park's Atlantic Times Square mall even hosts a holiday market where calligraphers personalize envelopes on the spot. Dominique Chang who frequents the market shares, "It feels more meaningful when your name is beautifully hand-painted on each envelope before gifting it."
Beyond envelopes, stores and public venues display an array of lucky symbols and talismans. Red and gold dominate as colors signifying prosperity. Myriad paper lanterns, banners and confetti shimmer in these festive hues. Rabbit imagery abounds in 2023 as people born in that zodiac year are said to be kind and lucky - attributes everyone seeks.
Other popular motifs include fish for abundance, butterflies for transformation, peonies for prosperity, and oranges for wealth. Greenery like bamboo stalks and plum blossoms connote resilience and perseverance through harsh winters. Fortune plants like money trees or lucky bamboo get festooned in red baubles and ribbons. Couplets bearing auspicious phrases adorn entryways of homes and businesses beckoning luck from all who pass under them.
L.A.'s Best Lunar New Year Feasts: Celebrating Prosperity in Chinatown and Beyond - Extend the Celebrations with Night Markets and Temple Fairs
Lunar New Year festivities extend into the evening hours with lively night markets and temple fairs across Los Angeles. As the sun sets, these outdoor events become illuminated with lantern light as the smells of sizzling street eats fill the air. Vendors hawk everything from handcrafted wares to carnival games and snacks, while cultural performances entertain merrymaking crowds. For many families and friend groups, these lively markets and fairs are the perfect capstone to a day of parades and celebrations as they ring in the new year under the stars.
In Chinatown, the Mandarin Nights market transforms Bamboo Lane into a pedestrian nightlife hub each Saturday during Lunar New Year. Musicians jam on traditional Chinese instruments while dancers perform fan and ribbon routines. Vendors sell crafts, souvenirs and snacks, with plenty of rabbit-themed items for 2023. Youngsters can try their hand at window flower crafts or get airbrush tattoos. For sweet treats, mochi ice cream in flavors like black sesame or matcha satisfy cravings. As Melanie Chu who frequents the market shares, "Mandarin Nights has a great energy in the evenings, with families and friends all coming together."
Over at the Original Farmers Market, the annual Lunar New Year Festival draws hungry night owls with an extensive lineup of food and merchandise vendors. Asian comfort foods like dumplings, noodle bowls and skewered meats make for quick, satisfying bites. Sweet crepes and custards also appease those seeking a dessert fix. While fueling up on food, attendees can browse gifts, trinkets and decor from local makers. Kids craft clay rabbits and dragons to take home. Complimentary tea tastings and cultural demonstrations add to the immersive ambiance. According to market manager Tara Thomas, the evening festival "offers the perfect mix of shopping, eating and entertainment for a memorable celebration under the stars."