Mere Portals: The Doorways & Dishes of Chinatown

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Chinatown USA

Mere Portals: The Doorways & Dishes of Chinatown

If you like mysteries, Chinatown’s got mysteries. I mean, I’ve been coming here since my teens, but have never been able to figure this place out. A visit to a framing store will find you an 150-year-old shrine buried in its basement; a chat with a Taiji master at the park will teach you the parallels between I Ching and binary coding; and that’s not to mention all the power brokers that’d sit tables apart at Capital on Sunday, eating the same salt-and-pepper wings. The trouble is, for every mystery answered, two new ones open up, and you feel no closer to grasping this lovely neighborhood.

If you feel perplexed and lost, congrats: You now share what binds so many people in these eight-or-so square blocks. Turns out everyone else has been puzzled, too. The lady at the stereo shop wanted to know why everything was suddenly covered in chile oil; the hairdresser cannot believe all the Insta models are doing these shoots for free; and damn near everyone wanted to know what’s to become of this place — even before the pandemic.

So the chatter continues, with friends and strangers, in front of impossibly colorful doorways, and accompanied by endless combination of flavors. This place feels like a home to a few, but a portal for everyone else.

Or is it the other way around?

Ah, at the end of the day, the only thing I’m certain of is this: There are fewer and fewer places like Chinatown left, and we’ve gotta do everything we can to fight for her and her people.

Pete Lee is a director/photographer who spent 2019 shooting a cookbook about Chinatown for Mister Jiu’s while developing a feature film about a washed-up exorcist. See more of his work at ohpetelee.com and @ohpetelee.

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Sauteed pea pods from Ma's Dim Sum (1315 Powell St.) at Wo Hei Yuen Park on Powell Street.

All photos by Pete Lee

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Egg tarts from AA Bakery (1068 Stockton St.), in front of Cameron House.

All photos by Pete Lee

Explosive chicken from Z&Y (655 Jackson St.) on Waverly Place.

All photos by Pete Lee

Hong Kong-style cheong fun by Hon's Wun Tun (648 Kearny St.) in front of the Ma-Tsu Temple on Beckett Street.

All photos by Pete Lee

Scrambled eggs from Yuet Lee (1300 Stockton St.) at Wong's TV-Radio on Waverly Place.

All photos by Pete Lee

Piggy buns by Hang Ah (1 Pagoda Pl.) on Grant Avenue.

All photos by Pete Lee

Taro cake by Little Swan Bakery (1249 Stockton St.) on Grant Avenue.

All photos by Pete Lee

Ribs by Dol Ho (808 Pacific Ave.) on Ross Alley.

All photos by Pete Lee

Dim sum combo by Dim Sum Bistro (675 Broadway) on Pacific Avenue.

All photos by Pete Lee

Garlic crab by R&G Lounge (631 Kearny St.) on Joice Street.

All photos by Pete Lee

Roast duck by Hing Lung Company (1261 Stockton St.) on Clay Street.

All photos by Pete Lee

Salt and pepper wings by New Golden Daisy (1041 Stockton St.) on Wentworth Place.

All photos by Pete Lee

Beef chow mein by New Fortune (815 Stockton St.) on Clay Street.

All photos by Pete Lee

Sausage clay pot on rice by Imperial Palace (818 Washington St.) on Waverly Place.

All photos by Pete Lee

String beans by Hunan Home (622 Jackson St.) on Grant Avenue.

All photos by Pete Lee

Roasted milk tea by E-Tea (839 Kearny St.) on Jackson Street.

All photos by Pete Lee

Tea eggs by Hon's Wun Tun (648 Kearny St.) on Wentworth Place.

All photos by Pete Lee

Crispy suckling pig by Hing Lung Company (1261 Stockton St.) on Grant Avenue.

All photos by Pete Lee

Takeout for two by Mister Jiu's (28 Waverly Pl.) on Washington Street.

All photos by Pete Lee

Black bean clams by Yuet Lee (1300 Stockton St.) above Waverly Place.

All photos by Pete Lee

Char siu pork by Mister Jiu's (28 Waverly Pl.) on Wentworth Place

All photos by Pete Lee

Silken tofu by Mister Jiu's (28 Waverly Pl.) on Washington Street.

All photos by Pete Lee

Sesame balls by Hang Ah (1 Pagoda Pl.) on Walter Lum Place.

All photos by Pete Lee

Shrimp cheong fun by Dim Sum Bistro (675 Broadway) on Washington Street.

All photos by Pete Lee

Mango mousse by Little Swan Bakery (1249 Stockton St.) on Waverly Place.

All photos by Pete Lee

Chinatown USA

Mere Portals: The Doorways & Dishes of Chinatown

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