David R. Chan is a third-generation American who has eaten at 7,000 Chinese restaurants and counting. He maintains a spreadsheet of each of his culinary conquests — a document he began in the early 90s, when he bought his first home computer. "When I entered the workforce in the 1970s, that coincided with the rise of what we think of as authentic Chinese food in North America," Chan told the LA Weekly Squid Ink blog. "As such, my goal was to try every authentic Chinese restaurant in the Los Angeles area at least once." He has extended his list to New York, San Francisco, and thousands of restaurants beyond. Still, Chan admits, he can't use chopsticks.
This article may be my favorite of anything I have ever written. As someone who has observed the Chinese restaurant industry for decades, I often wondered how so many mom-and-pop Chinese restaurants could serve seemingly identical dishes or offer uncannily similar menus.
My first clue into the answer came from an unexpected place: a story in the financial press, which I only stumbled upon while Googling something else. With my experience as an attorney and CPA, I then followed the trail to find source documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). And it took a combination of all these things for this article to come about!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.(more…)
In the Los Angeles area, both the San Gabriel Valley and Chinatown provide hundreds of choices for authentic Chinese food. But few are aware of a collection of authentic Chinese restaurants tucked away in the South Bay, centered in the unlikely location of Lomita. With a negligible Chinese population, Lomita boasts no Chinese grocery, dry goods, or other kinds of Chinese stores or businesses anywhere in the vicinity. But decades ago, in a roundabout manner, Lomita started to become a center of Chinese dining. (more…)
Chinese food in Los Angeles is the best you’ll find in this country. And yes, that means that Chinese food is better here than in San Francisco.
But what qualifies me to make such a statement about Chinese food, given my professional background as an attorney and in accounting? Add on the fact that I hated Chinese food as a kid, and that even now I am unable to use chopsticks. Who am I to make this argument?
Let’s take a short journey through the history of Chinese food in America, and see how that history has been reflected in my own personal experiences. The two intertwined stories will illuminate how my home city of Los Angeles has become the center of Chinese food in America, and why it’s not so outlandish for me to proclaim it so. (more…)
Hotel dining isn’t generally an interesting topic of discussion. With a few notable exceptions, people dining in hotels usually don’t want to bother to look for someplace to eat after a tiring day of travel. Meanwhile, hotels are sometimes not particularly keen to operate on-premises restaurants, particularly if they don’t have conference facilities, but do so grudgingly to offer an option for weary guests.
In the context of Chinese-American communities, hotel dining has been historically non-existent because in Chinatowns new and old, hotels themselves have been largely non-existent. While Chinatowns have been a tourist attraction for well over a century, few tourists desired to secure rooms there. Those few lodging facilities that did open in Chinatowns during the 20th century were largely independent motels without many amenities, such as the Royal Pacific Motor Inn in San Francisco Chinatown and Moytel in Los Angeles Chinatown. With the plethora of local Chinese dining opportunities only steps away, the motels did not need to offer on-premises dining. (more…)
With a few high-end exceptions, no self-respecting foodie would be caught dead at an all-you-can-eat buffet, particularly not a Chinese buffet. Buffets are associated with quantity over quality, and with Chinese buffets in the United States largely associated with cheap Chinese food, culinary interest in these establishments is even lower. (more…)
Less than three years ago, I reported on the lack of great Chinese food on the Westside of Los Angeles. Though I acknowledged the Westside was no longer a total wasteland for Chinese food, I also lamented that New Port Seafood, the first signature San Gabriel Valley Chinese restaurant to open on the Westside, was struggling. In fact, the restaurant shuttered its doors with barely a whimper last year. (more…)
In many communities across America, “Restaurant Row” is a block or two with an unusually heavy concentration of restaurants and other eateries. In some cases, it’s more extensive, such as the famous Restaurant Row on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills, or the five-mile stretch of Belt Line Road in Addison, Texas. But neither of these compares to the string of Chinese restaurants along a nine-mile stretch of Valley Boulevard in southern California’s San Gabriel Valley. (more…)
I first heard the term “fake Canto” used by Los Angeles area food blogger Tony Chen, to refer to Cantonese restaurants run by Mandarin-speaking non-Cantonese immigrants from mainland China. Well before the advent of fake news, fake Canto restaurants launched, occasioned primarily by a lack of Cantonese restaurateurs in the locality. (more…)
While change occurs gradually over time, sometimes identifiable watershed moments herald the beginning of a new era. In music, for instance, you can point to songs like “Rock Around the Clock,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Good Vibrations,” “The Hustle,” and “Sugarhill Rap” as examples. Likewise, certain restaurant openings exemplify major developments of Chinese food in America, marking a dramatic change in dining trends. (more…)
Cantonese restaurants have declined in the United States amid a corresponding rise of what is often referred to as Mainland Chinese food. In the San Gabriel Valley outside of Los Angeles, Cantonese restaurants represent only about 10 percent of total new Chinese restaurant openings over the past five years. The story is the same throughout the country, where coast to coast, non-Cantonese restaurant openings are surging compared to Cantonese restaurants. Historically Cantonese Chinatowns such as New York, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia now have numerous non-Cantonese restaurants in their midst. In San Francisco’s Chinatown, perhaps demographically the most Cantonese/Toishanese remaining Chinese community in the United States today, Sichuan and other Mainland-style restaurants, including two branches of Z & Y Sichuan, Pot & Noodle, Chong Qing Xiao Mian, House of Xian Dumpling, Spicy King, and Bund Shanghai have diversified the Chinese dining scene with regional Chinese cooking styles. Even in Phoenix, whose old Cantonese Chinatown disappeared decades ago, food writer Lauren Saria recently lamented the seeming disappearance of Cantonese food. (more…)