Beloved Chinatown restaurant Pearl River Deli ready to take a breather

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Johnny Lee moved from the Pearl River Delta when he was a year old. His Chinatown restaurant, Pearl River Deli, leans into the Cantonese comfort food he ate growing up. Photo by Johnny Lee.

In 2021, Tejal Rao of the New York Times wrote that Chinatown was the most exciting place to eat in Los Angeles. Her piece starts by describing the zong, the sticky rice and pork wrapped in bamboo leaves, made by chef Johnny Lee of Pearl River Deli. Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Bill Addison called the restaurant creatively vital. Yet despite the glowing reviews and accolades, Lee recently announced that he will be shutting down at the end of February to take some time to reset and reopen with a model that is financially sustainable. He says that the restaurant struggles with meeting the expectations of customers who wanted to return to the same dishes while his team leaned into experimentation, while also combating rising food costs and attempting to pay his staff a living wage. Lee shares his story on this week’s “In the Weeds.”

Lee remembers walking through Far East Plaza as his mom shopped for “weird herbs,” and says the vibrancy he recalls from his youth propelled him to open a spot in this part of the city, romanticizing about bringing that liveliness back to the neighborhood. Photo by Johnny Lee.

Chef de cuisine Laura Hoang brought her pastry experience to the move two blocks away on Hill Street. Photo by Johnny Lee.