8.72: Paul's Kitchen

 Paul's Kitchen is an LA relic that is worth paying more than $8.72 for. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Paul's Kitchen is an LA relic that is worth paying more than $8.72 for. Photo by Dan Johnson.

by Dan Johnson

I’m not much of a zealot.

I do not subscribe to the notion that any single ethnicity, religious group, gender category or class has sole purchase on wisdom or justice. I do not harbor any delusions of a one-size-fits-all ideology that will deliver us all. I cannot fathom the notion of a single immovable creed, signifier or uniform measuring stick that can withstand the scrutiny of reality.

Our current predicament as humans/Americans/downtowners has a lot to do with finding creative ways to keep from throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. This, in turn, requires a certain pragmatic flexibility.

Yes, I have strong opinions. No, this does not automatically qualify me as a zealot. Why? Because I’m not so enamored with my own ego that I think my ideas are infallible. That’s an important distinction. There’s got to be wiggle room.

My most stringent moral requirement involves a categorical distrust of authority, especially when it’s rooted in profit seeking. Still, I’m typing this on a corporate manufactured computer with a whole slew of other manufactured goods that were likely imported and advertised with big money. See how that works? You’ve got to reconcile contradictions.

I bring this all up, because the stated guideline of 8.72 is to explore authentic dining options in Downtown while staying below a certain price point.

Given a choice between a zealously toeing the cost line or supporting authentic, long-standing food locations in Downtown Los Angeles as they withstand the forces of willy-nilly redevelopment, I’m completely fine with eschewing the dollars and cents for a minute.

Paul’s Kitchen should be celebrated. The unlikely Cantonese comfort food restaurant at San Pedro St and 11th St is a multi-generational hovel that boasts trans-Pacific Chinese food served at a vintage counter top with more panache than expected.

An online menu lists prices that, as the physical menu reminds, are subject to instantaneous and unadvertised inflation. Paul’s Kitchen is cash only, which is also problematic.

I waltzed in with expectations of a slam dunk 8.72 that were met with grim reality. Paul’s is now uniformly above the stated eight dollar and seventy-two cent threshold.

And I don’t give a flying fuck. The money aspect is really a nice way to get at a certain element of authenticity. That nebulous concept is a qualifiable one. Like porn, you know authentic when you see it. Unfortunately, our current predicament suffers from a lack of authenticity, be it in dining locations or political rhetoric, because our world is completely enamored with quantifiable metrics.

Is something good? I don’t know. Let’s see how many people like it on Facebook or how much revenue it pulls in. That’s healthy, right? It seems like we might want to split hairs on what constitutes merit, but fuck it, let’s crunch some numbers in a sterile office and pretend we have our fingers on the pulse of actuality because we can reduce something to a series of digits.

 Maybe the author will one day have a framed photo alongside Tommy Lasorda's at Paul's Kitchen. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Maybe the author will one day have a framed photo alongside Tommy Lasorda's at Paul's Kitchen. Photo by Dan Johnson.

I know Paul’s Kitchen to be authentic because it exudes a certain timeless quality that I recognize.

There are two older dudes at the counter with a sufficient margin of seats separating them so we know they’re not into funny stuff. Each is glued to a television set blaring the noon-time good tidings of NBC 4 news. Turns out a kid has been taken in a carjacking/kidnapping in Van Nuys (surprise, surprise).

“Jesus,” one of them mutters, “some people should not have children.”

Agreed! Most people, in fact.

Around us, people are glomming down on plates full of Americanized Chinese food while portraits of Dodgers from yesteryear stare down at us from abreast of a shrine to Tommy Lasorda.

Lasorda is the original Jonathan Gold. The guy loved discovering greasy spoons and then binging there to a point that he became a cherished customer. His oily paw prints are all over local establishments. Not least of which is Paul’s Kitchen. In fact, there is a shared menu item here called the Tommy Lasorda Special. It is decadent and heart-stopping. It supposedly requires two to four people, but something tells me they’d cook it up for Tommy were he all by himself.

I went conservative with the chasu on the specialty menu. It is a heap of BBQ pork served with white rice, gravy and pineapple chunks. The fellow next to me, the one who indulges anti-fertility beliefs similar to my own, recommended that I order it with fried rice next time. Duly noted.

It was a gut bomb in all the best ways. I avoided the gravy much to the chagrin of Charlie who owns the spot. Apparently, that’s an insult at Paul’s. Oh well. That’s my little compromise. I will ingest this massive plate of meat and nutritionally vacant white rice, but you can’t gravy shame me.

I paid $10.50 and I’m not even mad.

Could it be cheaper? Probably.

Would I pay two extra dollars to keep Paul’s around? No doubt.

 The house specialty chasu costs $10.50 ($8.50 base price + $2.00 cultural heritage tax). Photo by Dan Johnson.

The house specialty chasu costs $10.50 ($8.50 base price + $2.00 cultural heritage tax). Photo by Dan Johnson.

Some intrepid LA Times stringer did the leg work for me a few years back when he profiled the restaurant. You can find the article yourself, you lazy bastards.

Here’s a summary: back when the original Chinatown was evicted and demolished to build Union Station, a slew of Chinese migrated south to San Pedro St and Adams Blvd where they created a residential neighborhood. Business interests centered the sino-angeleno diaspora around Olympic Ave and San Pedro St where the City Market produce center served as an engine for economic growth. Hence, Paul’s was created to cater to this now mostly defunct enclave.

If you go to any other city center around the world, you’ll notice that civic pride is undergirded with a sense of apparent history. Part of acknowledging Los Angeles’ abundant and fascinating history is forking out a few extra bucks here and there as alms to origins.

Also, beers are a mere three dollars.

I cannot reasonably award Paul’s Kitchen a “1” on the binary due to the sticky price issue. Instead, I am honored to convey upon this fine Downtown establishment a “Gastrointestinal Heritage Site” designation.