Ready to know more about San Diego?


INCOMING: Lucky Liu’s

Filling the Chinese food hole in Downtown

By Troy Johnson

In Downtown San Diego, there’s a lot of Asian fusion, from Gaijin to Gang Kitchen and J.Wok. But Chinese? Uh, Panda Inn? Alex Thao—the San Diego native restaurateur behind Rama and Celadon—is aiming to fix that with Lucky Liu’s. Going into the former Artisan Design Group space (332 J Street, joining Oceanaire, Jolt N Joes and World Market at the corners of Fourth and J Streets), Thao has tapped the skilled duo over at Jaime Partners (Searsucker, Herringbone) and OCIO Design Group to handle the build-out.

The concept seems ripe, especially with the recent closing of semi-Asian restaurant, Red Pearl Kitchen.

Expect some classic Chinese dishes like walnut shrimp, sea bass with black bean sauce and housemade pork dumplings (pot stickers) that Thao promises will be among the best in the city. “It’s going to be good, classic Chinese in a cool environment,” says Thao, whose parents are both Thai and Chinese. “We’re not going to try and be the most authentic spot in San Diego. You’re not going to see pig trotters in there.”

Even bigger for Downtown—Lucky Liu’s is planning weekend dim sum (Chinese brunch). As large of an enterprise as it is in L.A., San Diego has only a handful of dim sum joints (Jasmine, Pearl, China Max), none Downtown. Adam Stemmler of Blind Tiger Cocktail Co. is going to oversee the bar program, starting with wine-based cocktails and local craft beers (moving to spirits a few months later, hopefully, with license approval). Liu’s will also stay open til the wee hours (3AM) for the last-call crowd.

“I remember when I used to go out in Downtown,” says Thao, now a family man. “You’d have a few drinks and then have to make the drive out to Timbuktu—Hillcrest—to get some late night grub.”

Thank grandma for some of that grub—like stir-fried rib eye in a salt, pepper and lime reduction sauce. It’s grandma’s story that also yielded the name of the restaurant.

“My grandfather passed away suddenly, and my grandma found herself with three kids to raise,” says Thao. “That wasn’t easy, especially for a woman in Taiwan back in the day. A man named Mr. Lui felt sorry for her and gave her a lease to be able to do a film and photography store. Upstairs she’d cook some of the recipes we’ll serve at Lucky Liu’s.”

Thao is shooting to open by Comic-Con (July 18). Check out their Facebook, Twitter and website.

INCOMING: Lucky Liu’s

Share this post

Contact Us

1230 Columbia Street, Suite 800,

San Diego, CA