Most people have a starting line-up of clothes in their closet. These are the pieces that, as soon as they’re washed, come off the hanger and get worn again. They aren’t your best clothes, or the most expensive ones (those are for special nights), but you reach for them first because they make you feel good, always drum up a few unsolicited compliments, and most importantly, are perfect for almost any scenario.
Which brings us to Woon Kitchen, a very good, family-run Chinese restaurant in Historic Filipinotown that we’ve quickly added to our starting line-up of useful LA restaurants.
The first thing you notice about Woon isn’t the casual, all-white space or colorful front patio - it’s the efficiency. You order at the front counter, they hand you a number, and within 10 minutes you’re eating homestyle Shanghainese food. If you’re in a rush, or have an anxious boss checking the clock at the office, you can be in and out in as little as 20 minutes. That said, Woon is also a rare fast-casual spot where - if you have the time - you’ll actually want to sit down and relax, simply because you like hanging out here. Besides, when the food tastes this good, it’s appropriate to pause and appreciate it for a bit.
Woon’s menu is condensed down to just a handful of mains, sides, salads, and a single dessert (there’s about 10 items total), which means if you’re with another person - or looking to get cozy with leftovers later tonight in bed - you can basically order everything. When the most expensive dish is $15, your options are wide open.
During the pandemic, they’ve added an incredible home goods section to their menu, filled with pre-cooked noodles, Mama’s Ways sauce, house-made chili crisps, Chinese sausage, and most importantly, bags of frozen dumplings. Will it all taste as good in your own home? No, probably not. But that’s just because you forgot to take the pot off the stove.
We’ve come here alone on our lunch hour, ordered the fantastically chewy beef noodles and a side of savory tofu fishcakes, then floated back to the office. We’ve met friends who needed a convenient dinner spot between Downtown and Hollywood, ate too much Chinese-sausage fried rice, and drank a few bottles of natural wine on their front patio. We’ve even stopped by on dates for post-dinner ice cream bao and a stroll down Temple. Whatever you’re in need of at the moment, this neighborhood spot consistently delivers. And unlike the clothes hanging in your closet, you don’t have to wait until the next laundry cycle to use it again.
On name alone, this might not be a dish that immediately jumps out at you, but it’s one of our favorite things on the menu. Plump tofu cakes stuffed with savory fish sauce then deep-fried to give them just a little crunch. One order comes with five cakes, but don’t plan for them to stay on the table very long.
Wood Ear Mushroom And Bean Curd Stick
This is definitely the most interesting of Woon’s salads, but if it’s your first time here, you can probably skip it to make room for something else. It’s not a bad dish, but the flavor of the marinade overpowers all the umami from the mushrooms.
This is the most substantial dish on Woon’s menu and one that absolutely needs to be ordered. The homestyle noodles are dense and chewy, the flank steak melts in your mouth, and the bok choy provides a much-needed crunch. It’s a perfectly balanced dish and one we’re going to eat immediately after finishing this caption. There’s also a vegetarian version.
Pork Belly Bao
Bao aren’t normally the most shareable things in the world, but Woon’s are big enough to make it possible. On second thought, the braised pork belly inside is so good you’ll probably just keep the whole thing for yourself and order another one.
This is a good plate of fried rice made great with the addition of sweet, crunchy Chinese sausage mixed throughout. Also, with two good-sized helpings, it’s a perfect portion to share with someone else.