Food, at the end of the day, is really about community. That’s certainly what it’s all about for MasterChef prodigy Fred Chang. And after wooing Gordon Ramsay on MasterChef and working for several Michelin-starred and James Beard Award-winning chefs, Chang took to social media to create a food-loving community of his own. Rather than starting a restaurant concept, he’s using his Instagram and blog, Freddy’s Harajuku, to build community and share new recipes.
As a member of the Asian American, Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community, Chang is also using his platform to create meaningful connections within the food space. For AAPI Heritage Month, he participated in “Love Through Food” — a Reels recipe activation in collaboration with Facebook and the various “Subtle Asian” Facebook groups.
“Being a part of the Subtle Asian Baking Facebook Group, I find myself learning so much about other members of the AAPI community through the dishes they grew up on,” he says.
It’s no surprise — considering his passion for both food and his heritage — that Chang has made his rounds to the best Asian restaurants in his home city of Los Angeles. So he’s giving us his guide to his all-time favorite Asian restaurants in LA.
“All of the restaurants listed here hold a special memory to me or were introduced to me by either a dear friend or family member,” he notes. “The fact that a vast and large city such as Los Angeles could feel like such a community through these restaurants still astounds me, and I hope at least one of these restaurants resonates with a fond food memory that you had.”
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Elite Restaurant — Monterey Park
What I love about Elite Restaurant is that it is really no-frills dim sum. Located in Monterey Park, I have very specific memories of going here every New Year after my parents would take my sister and me to watch the Rose Parade in Pasadena. There really is no better way to start the new year than with char siu bao — think like American-style barbecue baby back pork ribs, but without the bones and stuffed into a bun! — custard buns, turnip cakes, roasted duck, and black bean spareribs. The pork belly in particular is a must – they prepare it Hong Kong style, meaning that the skin is roasted in salt until it is super thin and crispy. The end result is a tender piece of pork with skin that shatters and crunches like a potato chip!
As a baker, I also have a particular soft spot for the custard buns, because the buns themselves are light and fluffy, and they’re stuffed with creamy sweet custard. If anyone is unfamiliar with dim sum, I would say that Elite is a good way to be introduced to it in terms of authenticity but also just good eats in general!
Omar’s Kitchen — Artesia
Omar’s Kitchen is a very unique restaurant in that it features Halal-style Chinese food. To give some background on this, there is a rather notable Uyghur population within the Xinjiang region of Northwest China. The result of this is Halal Chinese food, which is the best of two worlds because you have a lot of Chinese dishes like quotie — potstickers — or lanzhou style noodles, but featuring very Middle Eastern spices and ingredients, such as cumin, lamb, and yogurt.
I still remember my parents taking me here, and being blown away by the existence of this style of cuisine! The lamb potstickers are delicious, with the filling being juicy and pairing beautifully with black vinegar. The lamb ribs with cumin and onions are fragrant and the meat is both crispy at the ends from being deep-fried and succulent on the insides. My absolute favorite, however, is the laghman noodles. Thick noodles swimming in this smoky pepper broth with shredded pieces of lamb and colorful vegetables. That dish is something I dream about, crave constantly, and is worth me driving 30 miles just to eat!
SinBala — Arcadia
I would say in terms of nostalgia, SinBala hits a lot of those childhood memories for me. While I feel semi-obligated to put Din Tai Fung on this list to represent my native Taiwan, I feel like SinBala just better represents my Taiwanese childhood of foods that would be served in either a boba shop or a night market. My mom used to take me and my sister to SinBala whenever we were in the 626 area, and I cannot thank her enough for doing that.
A Taiwanese xiaochi (small bites) restaurant, SinBala focuses on the simpler things, ranging from stir-fried eggs and tomatoes to bean curd with seaweed and tea eggs, and my personal favorite, the SinBala sausage. The sausage is similar to Chinese lap cheong — being a sweet, fatty, and smoky situation — although the SinBala sausages are on the chunkier side and served with garlic for an extra bit of savory kick – a warning, you will need a breath mint after eating that, but it is worth it! I also adore their meatball soup, which is a clear broth scented with shallots and cilantro, with Taiwanese-style meatballs. That is something my grandma would make for me during my visits to Taiwan, and SinBala really just takes me back to those trips without having to break my wallet on an international flight.
Borneo Kalimantan — Alhambra
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Now I’m not even sure how many people are familiar with Indonesian food. But if I were to describe it, sweet, sour, salty, fragrant, and spicy would probably be the best adjectives. Think of all of the beautiful herbs of southeast Asian cuisine (mint, cilantro, basil), but also chilies, garlic, peanuts, and coconuts. When I went to Borneo Kalimantan, I was delighted by everything I ate! The chicken satay was a fun appetizer to nibble on, with a generous amount of the satay sauce drizzled all over the skewers. The laksa mee curry soup was a bowl of comfort, being these thick egg noodles served in a spicy-sweet coconut curry broth that just warms you up from the inside. We also got the roti flatbreads, which were flaky and almost feather-like and came with curry sauce to dip into.
However, the absolute showstopper was the nasi goreng, which is Indonesian-style fried rice. The rice was golden brown in color from being sauteed in sweet soy sauce and shrimp paste and was folded in with pieces of chicken, vegetables, egg, and topped with crispy shallot bits for crunch. This was a dish that you continued to eat away at, because each bite was slightly different, and it invited you to keep going back for another taste to see what ingredient will next hit your tastebuds! If you have never tried Indonesian food before, I highly recommend trying Borneo, as it would be a great introduction to the cuisine, all the while being a very authentic experience!
Ruen Pair — North Hollywood
I would like to personally thank my friend Sylvie for introducing me to this place. Located in Thai Town/Hollywood, Ruen Pair serves super traditional Thai cuisine. From curries to green papaya salads and pad thai and pad see iew, there really is something for everyone here. Personal favorites of mine include the duck curry, the pad thai, the papaya salad, and the fresh coconut juice. The duck curry is warming and comforting, and surprisingly the best part of it, besides the stewed duck meat, are the pieces of pineapple, which are sweet, sour, and smokey from being cooked in the curry. The papaya salad is also a textural delight, for those who have not eaten Thai food beyond just pad thai or curries. Made with green papaya — super similar in texture to a crunchy cucumber or a radish — it is sweet, sour, crunchy, and spicy, all things that make it addictive and worth ordering time and time again.
Also if you are not super stuffed on curries, noodles, and green papaya salad, you can go across the street to Bhan Kanom Thai for all kinds of Thai desserts as well, including khanom bueng, which are Thai street crepes stuffed with meringue and sweet egg floss!
Izakaya Hachi — Torrance
Izakaya Hachi is one of those places I always take friends who are visiting from out of town. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, an izakaya is a Japanese gastropub, focusing on small bites like yakitori skewers or onigiri. What is so special about Izakaya Hachi, compared to the other plethora of Japanese restaurants in Torrance, is their fun approach to Japanese pub food! They offer more typical izakaya food such as grilled beef tongue and skewers, as well as sushi and sashimi.
However, one of my absolute favorite items that they offer is the gobo chips, which are thinly shaved and fried pieces of burdock root that they finish with matcha salt. The combination is floral, salty, a little bitter, and crunchy, and they are a delight to eat! Another specialty are their hot pots, or nabe — pronounced “nah-beh.” Their motsu nabe is a generous portion, with everything you could possibly want from a Japanese restaurant — stewed cabbage, tofu, mushrooms, pork, and pork intestine — it might sound weird, but trust me, it is basically like pork belly but fattier! Their pumpkin zenzai dessert, which is this chilled, sweet pumpkin soup with dango — sweet rice cakes — is one of my all-time favorite Japanese desserts!
Sun Nong Dan — Koreatown
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It would be criminal of me to make a list of Asian restaurants in LA and not include at least one Korean restaurant, especially given the abundance of Korean food here in the city. One of my absolute favorite restaurants in K-Town in Sun Nong Dan — honorable mentions to Ook Kook for really quality all-you-can-eat KBBQ and Cafe Bora for aesthetically pleasing Asian fusion desserts! I still have very distinct memories of my friends Justina and Carolyn taking me here almost a decade ago and we ordered the galbijjim. Not being super immersed in Korean food in general, I didn’t know what to expect, nor did I think what would arrive would be this gigantic clay pot filled with this bubbling spicy red broth, stuffed with stewed vegetables, rice cakes, and giant pieces of short rib. And to top off the theatrics, the waiter smothered the entire thing in mozzarella cheese and brûléed it tableside with a blowtorch until it was bubbly and caramelized. So we basically got dinner and a show! While the short ribs were delicious, surprisingly my favorite bite was the potatoes. Super soft and almost fluffy in the middle, while soaking up that super spicy broth and the flavor of the short ribs,
I found myself rummaging through the clay pot for any potatoes I could find!
Spoon and Pork — Historic FilipinoTown
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Spoon and Pork holds a special memory for me because my friend from season nine of MasterChef, Ralph, took me along with our friend Ann here. Tucked in a cozy little corner of Historic FilipinoTown, Spoon and Pork is a modern Filipino bistro, doing more fusion takes on classic Filipino cuisine. The pork belly adobo and the lechon kawali were two things that immediately stood out to me: the adobo was salty, sour, and the pork was so tender, while the lechon had crunchy pork crackling, and was served with shaved purple cabbage, which added a gorgeous color and a nice, fresh crunch to contrast the really rich pork. Both dishes are iconically Filipino, while I also really enjoyed their buko tart, which was a miniature version of classic Filipino buko pie — buko is Tagalog for coconut, but more specifically, fresh green coconut that is soft and tender.
I still have fond memories of that dinner, and am forever thankful to Ralph for introducing me to the cuisine that he grew up on!
Fugetsu-Do — Little Tokyo
Now I could not have a list of Asian food places in LA without including at least one dessert spot! Fugetsu-Do holds a special place in my heart, being a mochi store in the heart of Little Tokyo that is over 100 years old. The shop is family-owned and managed, and makes probably close to thousands of individual mochi — glutinous rice cakes, think like a marshmallow but less sweet — every day. They have a variety of flavors, some more traditional like red bean ohagi, or more modern, like their blueberry mochi filled with blueberry-flavored white bean paste. One of their signatures is the rainbow dango, also called suama. They essentially roll several different colors of mochi together to form a rainbow-colored ultra-soft cloud so good that you’ll find yourself waking up in the middle of the night at 2 AM craving a boxful of them.
All of the mochi made and served at Fugestsu-Do are delicious and have this super-soft, melt-in-the-mouth texture to them that is different from your Trader Joe’s mochi ice creams. I am super fortunate to be raised in an area where Fugetsu-Do mochi is easily accessible — they also sell their mochi to several local Japanese grocery stores near where I live, but I will admit that the mochi from the store just tastes even better and are worth the trip to Little Tokyo!
Brodard Restaurant — Fountain Valley
I know that this is technically a list for L.A. and we are venturing out to the O.C., but truthfully, the best Vietnamese food in Southern California is always in or at least near the Garden Grove area! That is not even up for debate! And for me, Brodard Restaurant is like the crown jewel of Vietnamese food here in SoCal. Serving a variety of summer rolls, pho, banh mi, Vietnamese curries, and French desserts, there really is an option for everyone. My sister and I would also make a mini road trip out of driving down to Brodard and picking up their nem nuong cuon — grilled pork spring rolls — to go for dinner. The rolls contain pork sausage, these crispy fried egg roll wrapper bits, and crunchy fresh vegetables, and is served with a delicious nuoc mam sauce to finish! They are honestly the perfect road trip food!
Beyond the nem nuong cuon, I personally love their banh xeo and goat curries. Banh xeo is a thin pancake that is stuffed with pork belly, shrimp, bean sprouts, and bung means, and served with a plethora of fresh herbs, making it a really fresh and crunchy experience. There is a ton to Vietnamese food beyond pho, and Brodard really helps with introducing you to those dishes! In terms of their desserts, Brodard offers a variety of French pastries, tying in those French influences in Vietnamese cuisine further, including macarons, apple tarts, creme brulees, and my personal favorite, gateau opera!