8 Symbolic Chinese New Year Dishes in LA

By Lesley Balla  |  January 28, 2014

The Lunar New Year, which starts on Friday, January 31, is one of the most important holidays for many Asian cultures. For the Chinese, it’s the Year of the Horse, or year 4712, which is celebrated with parades and feasts throughout the Southland. Here in LA, Chinatown’s annual weekend-long New Year’s celebration kicks off on January 31 with a temple ceremony and 500,000 firecrackers. It continues with the 114th Golden Dragon Parade and Chinese New Year Festival on February 1 and 2.

Not surprisingly, the Chinese New Year is also a time to come together with food. Here are eight dishes that symbolize and promote wealth, happiness and good fortune for the Year of the Horse, and where to eat them. Gung Hay Fat Choy!

  • Spring Rolls

    Because the color and shape resemble gold bars, spring rolls filled with vegetables, shrimp and pork are popular on the New Year table. You can find them at just about any Chinese restaurant around LA, especially popular dim sum spots like Sea Harbour.

  • Credit: Chi Lin


    Hand-pulled, uncut noodles are a staple for the holiday because they represent long life. The noodle soups at any of the 101 Noodle Express locations definitely fit the bill. For something a bit more haute, Chi Lin has hand-pulled noodles topped with black truffles. To honor the holiday, from February 2-6, get that dish and the rest of the menu for 50% off during dinner.

  • Credit: WP24


    Serving whole birds at the holiday table represents togetherness and rebirth. If the head and feet are kept on, it represents unity. WP24 serves an elaborate Chinese New Year tasting menu with its Peking duck as a centerpiece ($180 per person; January 31-February 13). And Chinatown’s Hop Woo and Sam Woo BBQ both serve Peking duck and whole-steamed or deep-fried chickens at the restaurant or to-go.

  • Nian Gao

    Eating nian gao, a sweet sticky rice cake, is said to signify the rise of abundance for the new year. Look for the pre-packaged cakes at Asian markets and bakeries around LA. Nian gao can also mean sticky rice cakes fried plain, with sugar, or cut into ovals and stir-fried with vegetables and meats. Find a very good version of the Shanghai dish at Mei Long Village in San Gabriel.

  • Green Vegetables

    Eating leafy greens like bok choy and Chinese broccoli is said to bring you wealth, and long beans, like long noodles, foster long life. You’ll find the dishes on dim sum carts and on regular menus throughout Chinatown and the San Gabriel Valley, including Tasty Garden and Yang Chow.

  • Credit: Circa

    Whole Fish

    Usually eaten on Lunar New Year’s Eve, a whole fish symbolizes abundance and luck for the coming year. There are plenty of non-Chinese restaurants serving delicious whole-fried fish around town, but for a special treat, try the off-menu ‘lion fish’ at the newish Chengdu Taste in Monterey Park. The dramatic presentation - it’s said to look like a lion’s mask often seen in Chinese parades - comes from slicing the flesh before it’s coated in flour and fried. Call the restaurant in advance to make sure you can get it.

  • Dumplings

    Jiaozi, or potstickers, signify wealth in the New Year because of their resemblance to ancient Chinese currency. Although Din Tai Fung is known for its soup dumplings, the potstickers are equally delicious at all three locations. The pan-fried dumplings at Luscious Dumplings in San Gabriel are also tops.

  • Credit: Hakkasan


    Oranges and tangerines, especially mandarins, are popular symbols of luck. Of course you can give and eat whole fresh fruit - the farmers' markets are overflowing with them right now - or you can go a bit nontraditional and head to Lucques for the DineLA menu. The orange blossom panna cotta with candied tangerines is full of delicious good fortune. As part of Hakkasan's Chinese New Year menu, unique red macarons filled with mandarin ganache will be available from January 29-February 8.