The meeting of food and fashion at Monarch, Humberto Leon’s new restaurant in Los Angeles

Humberto Leon, the fashion designer/entrepreneur who co-founded Opening Ceremony and was co-creative director of Kenzo, is opening his second restaurant in Los Angeles on Saturday.

Like his first restaurant, Chifa in Highland Park, the new Monarch in Arcadia is a family establishment that is all about going back to its roots while updating old recipes and redefining Chinese food in America. Monarch is also where Leon is launching a new collection of apparel, chef bags, lunch boxes, pens and more. You can shop the new Monarch x VistaPrint collaboration online or buy items in the restaurant.

Leon spent his teenage years in the San Gabriel Valley (Arcadia, Rosemead and San Gabriel to be exact), so Monarch feels like a homecoming.

“There’s so much amazing Asian food here,” he says. “It’s super exciting for us to open a restaurant in the community that I love and grew up in and continue to support. We’re just adding scenery and trying to bring in something that I think is complementary and a little bit different. We are excited to see how we can offer something that is both traditional and modernized in some way. At the end of the day, we’ve always said we cook for us. And the way we cook at home is the way we cook for our guests.”

Like Chifa, Leon runs Monarch alongside his sister (Ricardina Leon), his brother-in-law (Chef John Liu) and his mom (Wendy Leon, also known as Popo). The Cantonese/Taiwanese restaurant’s initial menu includes crab and sweet corn soup, steamed silken egg (which can be topped with uni), sweet and sour pork, lobster tails with black pepper, trinity fried rice (garlic, ginger, scallions with egg , shrimp and fish roe) and fried pork cutlet rice topped with Gruyère. There is also, through a partnership with Australia’s Westholme, a range of premium wagyu. Liu prepares her favorite family recipe beef noodle soup with Westholme brisket. Its menu also includes filet mignon tartare (which can be topped with roe caviar), braised short ribs with tendon and large steaks, including a 32-ounce tomahawk, all from Westholme.

And it all happens in the transport space that Leon designed with architect Michael Loverich.

“I’ve always wanted to create an experiential dining experience,” says Leon. “My inspiration for the space was to make people feel like deities walking in the clouds.”

Leon, whose extended family owns Ho Kee noodle/Cantonese barbecue restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, worked at his uncle’s dim sum parlor as a teenager. He has long admired it and is proud of the “duality” of this part of Los Angeles County. It’s a spacious, diverse, celebratory place where you can eat some of the best cheap food in the world, but also enjoy an extra-large crab.

“As Chinese people who will eat Chinese food in SGV, you will always find and pay extra for that double-boiled soup and those amazing king crabs,” he says. “I think Monarch will also represent the duality of a good meal that’s not too crazy expensive … but if you wanted to elevate it in some way, you could. I think that’s what Chifa does. You can eat for $25, which is great, or you can splurge. I think the elevation definitely comes in the atmosphere as well. It just comes from my background and I really want to make sure that the aesthetic equals the food.”

Also, there aren’t many restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley with a strong cocktail list so Monarch works with Asian-owned brands like Sông Cái (gin) and Vervet (cocktails in a can) to create a proper drinking situation that pairs well with the food. The restaurant likes to play with various liqueurs in small batches.

Cooperation is key for Leon. At Chifa, friends like Spike Jonez, Ali Wong and Solange Knowles helped develop special, limited-time dishes. At Monarch, the starter menu includes an exclusive black sesame cake from Flouring LA (helmed by chef Heather Wong, who is opening a brick-and-mortar bakery in Chinatown soon) and exclusive herbal ice cream flavors like white pepper and azuki red-bean-paste swirl from Lavender & Truffles (founded by Alice Liu, who, like Leon, moved from New York fashion to Los Angeles food).

And the merchandise that Leon presents with VistaPrint is another way to enhance the experience of visiting Monarch.

“I’ve always been a fan of going to experience things, whether it’s theater or food, and being able to walk away with something,” he says. “I am a consumer at heart and I always tell people that I am the biggest customer. I think what’s interesting about Monarch is that I wanted to go beyond the T-shirt and sweatshirt. I feel like many restaurants are their own brands. And if they offered the real stuff, I would want to buy it.”

So, with artwork by Naomi Otsu, Vanna Youngstein and Li Kuanzhen, he created a collection with everything from bottle openers and pencils to clothing for children and adults. Monarch’s logo is a butterfly designed by Otsu. Leon says he believes butterflies have the ability to fly between worlds and dimensions. He is eager to see where his new restaurant will take him, his family and his guests.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *