[Photo: Shalini Gujavarty]
Mari and Walter Lee are the husband and wife co-owners of Chino's, a Taiwanese/Mexican joint that will occupy the corner of East Pike and 11th, the former home of the departed but sadly unlamented Oasis Cafe. Ex-Angelenos, they hope to infuse Chino's with the spirit of the inexpensive ethnic Chinese and Mexican eateries they frequented in Los Angeles. The Lees are cocktail enthusiasts and will pair a "laid-back, So-Cal vibe" with scratch tiki-style cocktails (and one well-regarded local bartender). According to Walter Lee, they aim for "Canlis service at Kelly's prices".
The Lees say they honed their hospitality skills entertaining at home. Mari Lee will manage the front of house, and Walter will helm the kitchen. According to Mari, Chino's will be a casual spot with a "'bistro-ish' atmosphere." The space seats 50 (including a 10-seat bar and the decidedly on-trend open kitchen with an eight-seat counter). Guests will order at the bar and have items delivered to the table.
Initially, the couple envisioned the concept as a food truck. These origins are still visible in Chino's truck-based logo and its slogan, "food from the street." However the availability of a choice location in the heart of Pike/Pine persuaded the Lees to buy a fixed location for their venture instead.
Transforming the Oasis space into Chino's has come with its share of challenges. The Lees had hoped to open by Halloween. However, a scarcity of contractors has pushed things back, most likely to a November opening. Though as the restaurant posted on Facebook, the next few weeks will tell whether the opening "will be 'somewhat' delayed or VERY FUCKING DELAYED."
Last week, the Lees announced that they had recruited Veronika Groth of Poppy to run Chino's bar, and are hiring for numerous other positions. While the menu is still in flux, Walter has been assiduously developing his own version of David Chang's pork belly buns.