In the Los Angeles area, both the San Gabriel Valley and Chinatown provide hundreds of choices for authentic Chinese food. But few are aware of a collection of authentic Chinese restaurants tucked away in the South Bay, centered in the unlikely location of Lomita. With a negligible Chinese population, Lomita boasts no Chinese grocery, dry goods, or other kinds of Chinese stores or businesses anywhere in the vicinity. But decades ago, in a roundabout manner, Lomita started to become a center of Chinese dining.
The story begins several miles to the north, in communities like El Segundo, Hawthorne, Redondo Beach, and Manhattan Beach. In the early 1960s, the region rapidly built up as home to aerospace companies like Raytheon and Boeing, busily involved in the Cold War and space race. Many Chinese-American aerospace engineers and technical workers were employed there, and as the industry and their workers thrived, those workers settled into the upscale residential neighborhoods of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
For the initial Chinese residents, gaining a toehold in Palos Verdes wasn’t easy. As the 1960s civil rights movement changed America, certain communities were particularly resistant to housing integration. Palos Verdes was a major holdout. Indeed, I remember when my uncle wanted to buy a house there. His real estate broker told him that before making an offer on the house, he should knock on neighboring doors and ask the homeowners if they would object to having a Chinese family living next to them. (He did succeed in buying the house).
As these barriers fell, the Palos Verdes Chinese community grew, creating a demand for authentic Chinese cuisine. But because Palos Verdes is exclusively a residential community with little in the way of retail activity, restaurants did not appear locally. Instead, they opened five miles down the hill in the city of Lomita.
One of the first of these restaurants to service the Chinese population was A-1 Chinese BBQ on Pacific Coast Highway. Still in operation today, A-1 BBQ is clearly the Godfather of authentic Chinese food in Lomita and the South Bay, even though its premises is dark and holds only about eight tables. Due to A-1’s success, it wasn’t long before a number of other authentic Chinese restaurants appeared on the stretch of PCH between Hawthorne Boulevard and Western Avenue. A-1 remained an institution for more than a quarter of a century, with Cantonese barbecue meats and beef chow fun headlining the menu. However, as nearby restaurants began serving more modern Hong Kong-style seafood and dim sum, A-1 lost much of its luster. Consequently, the restaurant reinvigorated itself by adding Taiwanese- and Sichuan-style dishes, such as fried pork chops, cumin lamb, and minced pork rice to its menu.
As A-1 demonstrates, regional non-Cantonese food has been supplanting the centrality of Cantonese food on Chinese restaurant menus in recent years. All of Lomita’s Hong Kong-style Cantonese restaurants that flourished during the 1990s are gone. You can, however, still eat authentic Cantonese food in neighboring Torrance at Sea Shore, Seafood Port, and Seafood Town. And for Cantonese dim sum, Lomita’s Szechwan Chinese Restaurant has shown amazing resiliency in its almost 40 years of operation. Starting as an Americanized Chinese restaurant, it added dim sum and Hong Kong-style seafood dishes to its menu during the Cantonese heyday, even rechristening itself Szechwan Seafood. The restaurant has since reverted to the name Szechwan Chinese Restaurant, and to reflect the nationwide trends, has added Taiwanese- and Sichuan-style dishes to its menu.
Ruiji Sichuan Cuisine, which opened a little more than two years ago, is Lomita’s premier Chinese restaurant. Crowd-pleasing dishes such as toothpick lamb, spicy fried pork ribs, and beef tendon dry pot mean the locals no longer have to drive 25 miles to the San Gabriel Valley to find quality Sichuan-style food.
Lomita offers much in the way of Shanghai cuisine as well. Tasty Noodle House, another recent addition to Lomita’s Chinese restaurant scene, specializes in Shanghai noodles. This popular San Gabriel Valley name has also opened two locations on L.A.’s Westside. Newcomer Muodu Shanghai Cuisine, which opened in late 2018, is already becoming known for its xiaolongbao, shen jen bao (tiny fried Shanghai pork buns), dumplings, and other specialties. And if you travel a block to the west of the Lomita border, you’ll find a branch of the Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot chain from China.
While you may not be able to do your Chinese grocery shopping or find any other Chinese goods anywhere near Lomita, a fantastic Chinese meal should be reason enough to visit.
David R. Chan is a third-generation American who has eaten at 7,000 Chinese restaurants and counting. He maintains a spreadsheet of each of his culinary conquests — a document he began in the early 90s, when he bought his first home computer. "When I entered the workforce in the 1970s, that coincided with the rise of what we think of as authentic Chinese food in North America," Chan told the LA Weekly Squid Ink blog. "As such, my goal was to try every authentic Chinese restaurant in the Los Angeles area at least once." He has extended his list to New York, San Francisco, and thousands of restaurants beyond. Still, Chan admits, he can't use chopsticks.