It happens in the blink of an eye. As the last golden hues linger in the dusk sky and the soft glow of strung lanterns fill the Far East Plaza, the magic hits you. The long, snaking line for your favorite local vendor becomes a gateway to conversation, and the plaza transforms into a confluence of hearts and minds, beating together to the Far East rhythm.
When Chinatown’s BID created First Thursdays last year, their intent was communal: bring chefs, families, friends, and the city together, if only for one night a month. Their vision was the catalyst to align the Far East Plaza’s culinary stars — some permanently, and others just on First Thursdays — bringing the burgeoning evening to life and shaping what has become one of the most exciting foodie nights in the city.
“It started with one table, a ukulele guy, and a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue,” recalls Alvin Cailan, who owns Unit 120. “It’s been a really long journey...up and down, but now I feel like it’s become somewhat of a go-to thing.”
Upstairs, Ramen Champ and Lao Tao utilize shopfronts, while smaller operations set up their grills and tables to prepare one-of-a-kind street food to long lines of eager stomachs. At least, until they run out of food, which can happen pretty quickly if you’re not careful how you navigate the maze of gastronomy.
“There’s a lot of people coming out, filling up the window, and asking for more food,” says Chase Valencia, co-owner of LASA. “We ran out of food in about an hour and a half,” adds Chad, his brother and co-owner.
Downstairs, the mall feels busier, but only because there are so many directions to take your taste-buds. LASA and Amboy operate from Unit 120’s small take-out window, with a rotating cast of friends in support. Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok Phat Thai, Roy Choi’s Chego, and the new Howlin’ Rays from Johnny Ray Zone sling their usual evening fare too. Even East/West Shop is open to browse. It very much feels like an intimate who’s who of DTLA cooking.
Across the plaza, Scoops provide the perfect pairing for your evening entree and often collaborate with neighboring Endorffeine for an unforgettable “pieffogato”. Created with a strawberry-rhubarb pie foundation, Jack Benchakul pairs a special Scoops earl grey, thai-basil gelato with his espresso, chocolate coconut sauce for a trio of temperatures, textures, and tastes. It often sells out so quickly you might consider starting your night a little sweeter before moving back to your main. This month, First Thursday happens to fall on Cinco de Mayo. Don’t for a second think that the chefs haven’t noticed this little wrinkle and won’t respond accordingly.
So maybe this month, while you’re enjoying something special from one of the chefs, you’ll look up as the sun sinks lower toward the horizon and catch the glittering transfer of energy from those golden twilight hues to the glowing lanterns of the night, and you’ll remember what the city feels like when there is still a little bit of magic.
Written by Steve Day
Photographed by Frank Maldonado
Videography by Frank Maldonado