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Frank Guan, owner of Chinatown in Leucadia, will be forced to leave due to a developer's planned upgrades to the shopping plaza anchored by 7-Eleven. Photo by David Boylan
Frank Guan, owner of Chinatown in Leucadia, will be forced to leave due to a developer's planned upgrades to the shopping plaza anchored by 7-Eleven. Photo by David Boylan
ColumnsFood & WineLick the Plate

Fond farewell to Encinitas favorites Chinatown, A Little Moore Café

There has been much lamenting in this column over the past 10 years regarding the drastic changes that have taken place along Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas.

Downtown Encinitas has become almost unrecognizable compared to the quiet beach town I landed in 23 years ago. And I’m sure the change is even more glaring for longtime locals.

When I saw “Gucci” on the awning of a sunglass store recently, I gave up on that stretch, ever regaining the sleepy charm it once had.

Do those retailers think Gucci represents this area? Who knows, maybe it’s just me stuck in the past. Thank goodness for the remaining old-school joints in downtown Encinitas like Raul’s Shack, La Paloma Theater, The Saloon, Queen Eileen, Kim’s Alterations and a handful of others.

For a spell, I took solace in the fact that the funk was alive and well up the road in Leucadia, except for the quickly maturing culinary scene, but I welcomed that. The new dining options were a welcome addition as they were interspersed with old standbys like A Little Moore Café and Chinatown, two of my favorite family-owned joints that kept it real and old-school without an ounce of pretension.

Well, folks, as you may have heard by now, both of these establishments will be closing soon. Chinatown at the end of February and A Little Moore in March. I should add that O’Hurley’s Beach Bar, Leucadia Barbershop and Paw Purrfection will be closing along with A Little Moore as they are taking out the entire corner of Coast Highway 101 and Diana Street.

All to make way for a slick new marijuana dispensary. It was the decision of the property owner/landlord to take away the livelihood of the small business owners that make up the essence and charm of Leucadia for a dispensary that would probably be more appropriately located in a light industrial, less residential area.

Pictured from left, Chang Han, Mison Han and Sumey Lue of A Little Moore Cafe in Encinitas. Photo by David Boylan
Pictured from left, Chang Han, Mison Han and Sumey Lue of A Little Moore Cafe in Encinitas. Photo by David Boylan

Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for the legalization and taxation of marijuana, but not at the expense of small business owners.

A Little Moore is beloved by locals and tourists alike, and if you doubt that, I invite you to stop in while you can on a busy Saturday morning and try to deny that good vibe. It began as Mary’s Café in the late 1960s and has been owned by the Han family for the past 30 years.

The big bummer is that owner Mr. Han, a U.S. Army veteran, will never have the opportunity to sell the business he has worked so hard to build up during that time. Instead, a Rancho Santa Fe landlord, who has no emotional connection to these small businesses, pulled the plug on that dream and decided it was time to cash out at the Hans’ expense.

For my complete take on this beautiful slice of Leucadia, check out my 2015 Coast News column here. Ironically, I expressed concern about the changes happening, hoping they would not impact my favorite diner.

A similar scenario is playing out across the railroad tracks where a developer intent on “upgrading” the center anchored by 7-Eleven has displaced Chinatown.

Frank Guan, owner of Chinatown for over 20 years, also owns Chinatown Express in Oceanside, so fortunately, he has a fallback. It was formerly called Chinese Dragon and has been around since 1990.

As I wrote in my 2016 column: “I’ve always enjoyed the fact that it’s a great mix of regular folks populating the booths and bar at Chinatown. Nothing against all the beautiful people that seem to dominate at coastal North County restaurants, but it’s just a nice change of pace.

About the restaurant’s unique Chinese and Italian food combination: “I’ve always chuckled to myself when I pass Chinatown — Chinese and Italian Cuisine — wondering who is ordering Italian food from a Chinese restaurant and how did this combination happen?

Then I remember that I’m in funky Leucadia, and well, it’s just part of the funk still left. I also think that before I question the randomness of this scenario and pass judgment, I should try it myself.” The rest of the story can be found here.

This goes deeper than just me being sentimental about these changes in our community. I’ve spoken to many people who share my feelings, and there is not much we can do besides becoming heavily involved in local politics. Still, even then, I feel those who favor change for the sake of “progress” or upscaling the community and with deeper pockets will prevail.

In the meantime, please support these local businesses and the families that run them while you can; they will be missed.

Note: This column has been updated to clarify that it was the landlord that did not renew the leases of A Little Moore Cafe and neighboring businesses.

1 comment

steve333 January 24, 2023 at 2:03 pm

This is all part of the gentrification pushed by wealthy Limousine Liberals that have taken over politics in Encinitas, led by The Verdu’s and longtime residents Catherine Blakespear and Tony Kranz.
Blakespear herself comes from a wealthy family and abandoned this City as soon as Toni Atkins offered her the State Senate seat. What resulted in her treachery? She won the election.
As for Kranz? he’s now Mayor. People can’t complain about all this and still vote for the people responsible.
Voters will wake up when it’s too late. A shame that Encinitas has gone downhill so fast, with no relief on the way.

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