May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), an annual tribute to the Asians and Pacific Islanders who’ve helped to shape and enrich our country. Asians have a long, rich history in California, dating back to the Gold Rush days, and today, the state’s Asian population is the largest in the United States. With roots in China, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and many other regions, California’s Asian residents have helped make California one of the most culturally diverse and vibrant states in the nation.
In celebration of APAHM, the Herbst Theater in San Francisco is kicked things off on May 4 by hosting the Asian Pacific American Heritage Awards. Later in the month, the Asian Art Museum is presenting talks, performances, cooking demonstrations, and art activities highlighting the pathways, struggles, and successes of Asian Americans in California. Likewise, many cities will host their own APAHM events throughout the month; check their site for the latest.
Now is also the perfect time to show support for California’s Asian-owned businesses, notes Pat Fong Kushida, president and CEO at the CalAsian Chamber of Commerce in Sacramento. “AAPI-owned businesses have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” she says, due to closures, lack of access to government aid, and language barriers, not to mention the massive spike in the number anti-Asian hate incidents nationwide. “We are asking people to stand in solidarity with communities and support our AAPI-owned businesses.”
With so many incredible Asian-owned businesses across the state, we couldn’t possibly list them all. To get you started, here are 15 restaurants, wineries, shops, and hotels that are well worth a visit this May, and beyond.
SHOP & STAY
Ellie & Eva Company, San Francisco
This family-owned Chinatown institution has been around for more than 50 years in various forms. It started as a grocery store, then became a travel agency, a CD store, a novelty shop, and finally, a music store. Today Ellie & Eva carries an extensive collection of Chinese classical instruments, plus vintage and one-of-a-kind American and Japanese electric guitars.
Wabi Sabi Japan Living, Palm Springs
If David Rose from Schitt’s Creek owned a Japanese home goods shop, it would look a lot like Wabi Sabi Japan Living. The Palm Springs store is filled with wonderful things owners Osamu Sagara and Darrell Baum discover during family visits to Japan, from Japanese knives and ceramic tableware to Mizu Life Water skin care products. Wabi Sabi also has a great selection of sake and shochu.
Virgil Normal, Los Angeles
Head to Virgil Normal in Silver Lake for skater-chic menswear and Japanese street gear curated by Shirley Kurata, an L.A.-born costume designer and wardrobe stylist. From Perks & Mini to Yuki Matsuda’s Monitaly, hip, hard-to-find brands abound at this creative fashion hub.
Bel Canto Books, Long Beach
Filipina-American poet Jhoanna Belfer is the force behind Bel Canto, an independent bookstore in Long Beach offering a thoughtfully curated selection of fiction, nonfiction, and children's works. Each month, Belfer organizes books around a theme, with special emphasis on female and POC authors.
Alamo Motel, Los Alamos
Kenny Osehan of Shelter Social Club has a gift for transforming old hotel and motel properties into cool hangouts—just as she’s done with the Alamo Motel in Los Alamos. With its minimalist-yet-stylish Southwest feel, the property includes lounge-worthy fire pits and a mini wine-tasting room.
RD Winery, Napa
Napa Valley’s only Vietnamese-owned winery created its Fifth Moon wines—including a pale Rosé, Grüner Veltliner, and a red blend—to harmonize with Asian cuisine. This philosophy carries over to RD’s new all-Asian food and wine pairing experience, which includes delightful bites like green curry popcorn and hoisin pulled pork sliders.
Noria Wines, Sonoma
Before launching Noria, which showcases a variety of Sonoma County grapes, winemaker Nori Nakamura worked his magic at Pine Ridge Vineyards, Artesa, and Jamieson Ranch Vineyards. He crafts his vineyard-designated white wines with the delicate flavors of sake in mind, and designs refined Pinot Noirs to pair with Japanese cuisine. Nakamura hosts private tastings by appointment.
King Cong Brewing Company, Sacramento
Sacramento-area native Cong Nguyen originally planned to study dentistry before deciding to open a brewery instead—and Sactown beer lovers couldn’t be happier with his career choice. With its friendly vibe and laid-back Uptown patio, King Cong is a chill place to monkey around with a Gorilla Pale Ale or Queen of the Jungle IPA.
Genever, Los Angeles
This golden-plush cocktail lounge in L.A.’s Historic Filipinotown is owned by a trio of Filipino women. Hailed as one of the city’s most exciting new bars when it opened in 2018, Genever offers two dozen gins, plus a host of creative cocktails made with female-distilled spirits and Asian ingredients like bitter melon and pandan. After a pandemic-induced hiatus, the bar is set to reopen soon.
Ikeda’s California Country Market & Pie Shop, Auburn and Davis
Ikeda’s started out in the 1950s as a tiny fruit stand opened by Placer County orchard farmer Sam Ikeda. Run today by Ikeda’s sons, the business has expanded into a produce stand/burger joint/pie shop—and an essential stop for road-trippers along I-80. Ikeda's bakes luscious pies in 19 varieties (get ‘em by the pie or slice), including the popular peach cobbler and marionberry.
Saigon Alley Kitchen + Bar, Sacramento
Opened in early 2020, Saigon Alley dishes out upscale Vietnamese food and Asian-inspired cocktails in a stylish setting. Don’t miss the beef bone pho, simmered for 72 hours, or the Pho-rench Dip, a Vietnamese take on the classic beefy sandwich. The daily happy hour menu features tasty bites like banh mi tacos and chargrilled spicy mussels.
Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant, San Francisco
Old Mandarin has been wowing customers in San Francisco for more than two decades with authentic, Beijing-style hot pot goodness. The broth comes in regular and set-your-hair-on-fire spicy (half-and-half is the way to go). Choose from sliced halal meats, seafood, vegetables, tofu, and even chrysanthemum leaves, and then add them to the fragrant, simmering broth and prepare for bliss.
Kogi Barbecue, L.A. County
Roy Choi kicked off California’s food-truck revolution in 2008, and his Kogi Barbecue trucks are worth seeking out wherever they may roam. Featuring flavor-packed mashups of Mexican and Korean fare, Kogi is known for its legendary short rib tacos and kimchi quesadillas.
Jang Teo Bossam, Los Angeles
You’ll find some of Koreatown’s best eats hidden in a nondescript strip mall at Jang Teo Bossam. The mom-and-pop restaurant is beloved for its bossam (boiled pork belly), and gamja tang, a comforting brothy soup made with pork bones, vegetables, and cellophane noodles. Also recommended: the grilled mackerel.
The Original Farmers’ Market, Los Angeles
Asian American and Pacific Islander vendors have been integral to the success and vitality of The Original Farmers' Market for decades, allowing Angelenos a take in a bit of their rich heritage through food, drink, and other items. Try the delicious Chinese dishes offered by the husband-and-wife team of Annie and Tony Zou at Peking Kitchen, or shop the 1,000 varieties of hot sauce at Light My Fire or 250 varieties of tea at T (Tea Shoppe), both owned by South Korean native Young Min.
Dumpling Inn and Shanghai Saloon, San Diego
While San Diego does have a Chinatown, the true heart of the city’s Asian community is the Convoy District, home to more than 100 restaurants. At the Dumpling Inn, munch your way through nine varieties of meat- and veggie-filled dumplings, including fabulous handmade xiao long bao (soup dumplings).
For more AAPI-owned businesses and neighborhoods, check out Little Saigon and Japantown in San Jose; Chinatown in Los Angeles; Japantown in San Francisco; and Oakland’s Chinatown.