L.A. Now

Object of Desire: leek cakes at Chinatown's Kim Chuy

Kim Chuy's leek cakes are an old standard in a changing mall

Perhaps you are in the Far East Plaza, and the line outside Pok Pok Phat Thai is too long, and you are in the mood neither for vegan maple-Oreo ice cream at Scoops nor Ooey Gooey Fries at Chego. You could walk across the street for a plate of duck rice at Lucky Deli.

Or a dim memory of pleasure might compel you to Kim Chuy, a Chiu Chow noodle house that has been holding down the Broadway end of the plaza for at least 30 years, a sticky-table relic of Chinatown’s early-’80s efflorescence that you can’t quite believe is still in business.

A review I wrote for The Times in 1993 already waxed nostalgic, and I mourned the little bowls of crushed peanuts that were apparently no longer being served alongside the vividly colored beef noodles in satay sauce. The peanuts are still absent from the table, in case you were wondering, you can still get fish balls to go by the hundred, and the satay sauce is still bright orange.

Any of the noodle dishes can be made with any of a half-dozen different types of noodles, and the waiter will wait patiently while you try to sort them out. Kim Chuy claims to be the first Chiu Chow-style restaurant in the United States, and it may be correct.

But beyond the beef-ball noodles, the Chiu Chow shrimp porridge with Chinese crullers and the intestines with preserved vegetables are the Chiu Chow leek cakes — heavy rice-flour capsules stuffed with garlicky sauteed Chinese leeks and griddle-fried to a chewy, oily crispness.

They look a little like Chinese pupusas, and they taste like the best thing on an old-fashioned dim sum cart.

In keeping with the multiethnic nature of the Chiu Chow diaspora, you can dip them in Vietnamese nuoc cham, Chinese hoisin or Thai chile vinegar — there’s probably a Khmer seasoning on the table I never quite got around to tasting. (Similar leek cakes are staples at Thai-Chinese and Viet-Chinese places in town.)

They are scorchingly hot and incredibly delicious. They are even vegan. So go to the other end of the plaza and wait in the Pok Pok line for your precious hoi thawt. Kim Chuy will be there for you when you return.

727 N. Broadway, Los Angeles, (213) 687-7215,

Copyright © 2018, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World