2021 Design Awards: Restaurant Design, Chifa by Humberto Leon


FOR HOSPITALITY DESIGN LOVERS, the lavishly imagined space at Chifa restaurant is a top spot on the list of coveted places to book when indoor dining reopens.

Photos courtesy of Chifa

Fashion designer and creative director Humberto Leon’s latest venture is an exercise in embracing your roots while pushing your own professional boundaries. Over Thanksgiving weekend, after two years of planning, the Opening Ceremony cofounder and team debuted the Peruvian-Chinese restaurant in the Eagle Rock community of Los Angeles. The knockout room features a wallpaper mural handpainted by Calico that resembles a wood called Heartwood, lush green velvet chairs and banquettes, locally fabricated bespoke furniture and other risk-taking elements.

“It’s in my nature to do these collaborations,” Leon observes of the partnerships he formed along the way to shape Chifa’s multisensory experience. The restaurant honors the Leon clan’s history in Lima, Peru, where a hybrid culinary genre known as “chifa” has long flourished. Matriarch Wendy “Popo” Leon owned and ran a restaurant called Chifa that reflected her Chinese heritage in the Peruvian capital until the Leons came to L.A. in the late 1970s. Now Humberto, along with Popo, sister Ricardina Leon and brother-in-law (and chef) John Liu have revived the concept and spirit, albeit in a very different expression.

To transform the standalone 1950s building, Leon worked with his friend, architect Michael Loverich, and applied his creative expertise to a new context. Leon notes that the result is meant to evoke the comfort of old-school diners and traditional Chinese restaurants combined with his personal “journey of bringing a bit of sexiness to my culture.” Despite his mother and sister’s friendly skepticism about some aspects of Humberto’s scheme, “in my mind it always worked,” he explains with a laugh.

Photos courtesy of Chifa

The heart-shaped window is an irresistible beacon, while the saturated, layered green tones carry cultural significance and continue a certain warm playfulness, as the pink hearts embedded in the green terrazzo floor further reveal. Peill and Putzler vintage glass pendants and brass Italian fixtures sourced from Pacific Compagnie in Paris illuminate the green-hued scalloped-edge tables set on dramatic shiny brass bases.

Leon can now add restaurateur and restaurant designer to his eclectic résumé, and yet he remains ever the resourceful connector and merchandiser. A series of sculptures he commissioned from artist Charlie Mai and tableware finished with a particular glazing process he specified from a Japanese maker are for sale upon inquiry. Leon’s colorful twist on the Calico Heartwood collection will be added to the wallpaper brand’s offerings too. “It’s a great showcase,” Leon proudly says. – Jessica Ritz