Chinatown in Los Angeles sits just outside of Downtown. Although its influence has been eclipsed by the tastier, newer San Gabriel Valley Chinatown, it retains gritty charm and hosts several worthwhile eateries, the most famous being Yang Chow: home of Los Angeles’ most notable contribution to the Chinese-American cookbook: Slippery Shrimp.
Yang Chow started here in 1977 and has since become, arguably, Los Angeles’ most famous Chinese restaurant, with three suburban branches and legions of fans from all over Southern California. It’s a family-owned business whose standing in the community is made evident by photos on the walls with prominent citizens, from weather girls to fire chiefs, and, of course, soap opera stars.
Slippery Shrimp follows the conventions of most Chinese-American classics. Like orange chicken and sweet & sour pork, it’s deep-fried and covered in sweet, tangy sauce. The sauce on Slippery Shrimp stands out for its heavy use of raw minced garlic. It adds a pungent twist to a sauce that otherwise tastes like General Zhao’s. The balance of spicy, sweet, and sour is mouthwatering, but it tastes more like ketchup (the secret ingredient) than soy.
Slippery Shrimp at Yang Chow is particularly good because of the thin, crunchy corn-starchy layer of breading around the popcorn shrimp. The crunch of the shrimp and hedonistic, junk-food sauce make the experience somewhere between dining on banquet seafood and indulging in a bag of BBQ potato chips. One order of slippery shrimp is designed to feed a large group, but it can be finished by two hungry people who are willing to surrender themselves to inhumane amounts of salt and fat. Add a bit of hot mustard, and it becomes something like a deep-fried shrimp cocktail. The ironic name of the dish is also part of the appeal. These shrimp aren’t nearly as slippery as a pot sticker, or even noodles. In fact, they are more sticky than slick. Maybe the moniker comes from the fact that your order seems to just slip right off of your dish and onto your fellow diners’ plates.
We also enjoy Yang Chow’s Mu Shu Chicken, which comes rolled up in larger pancakes, like burritos rather than with the wraps on the side. It is another appreciated Angeleno twist on take-out traditions. Most of the menu will be familiar, so get your favorite. Just don’t miss the slippery shrimp.