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.
As I’ve previously discussed, the presence of over 300,000 Mainland Chinese university students in the United States has altered the face of Chinese dining in the United States, bringing authentic Chinese food to cities and towns where finding the cuisine would have been unimaginable a decade ago. As a big fan of both college sports and US geography, I’ve tracked down authentic restaurants in many college towns in all 50 states.
Recently I saw a promo for ESPN’s College Game Day telecast. As it was a slow period early in the football season, ESPN decided to do its show from a small (athletically speaking) campus, James Madison University. I had heard of the school but had never heard of the town where it is located: Harrisonburg, Virginia. Looking it up, I saw that it is a rural town about a two-hour drive away from both Washington DC and Richmond. As is my wont, I had to check whether JMU was a school that had enough Chinese students to warrant authentic Chinese food. Indeed it is, with Taste of China Restaurant providing anything a homesick Mainland Chinese student might want to eat. (more…)
As I have mentioned in a number of previous articles, Mainland Chinese students studying at American universities have created a demand for authentic Chinese regional food that has resulted in many campus towns and cities across the country getting their first taste of authentic Chinese food. But these students do not get their homeland food fix solely through restaurants. Newer options are available for Mainland Chinese students longing for a taste of home. (more…)
Star ratings are ubiquitous when it comes to restaurants. While a one-star Yelp rating has a far different meaning from a one-star Michelin rating, universally the rule is that the more stars, the better. However, I created my own star rating system which has nothing to do with the quality of the restaurant. Rather, under my system, each star represents a different Chinese restaurant that has operated at a particular location; a four-star restaurant location means that I have eaten at four different Chinese restaurants at that particular address.
Of course, under my system, the sky is the limit for the number of stars that can be awarded, given the rate at which Chinese restaurants close down and are immediately replaced by successors. Right now, the leader is in a shopping center on Valley Boulevard in San Gabriel where I have eaten at 14 different Chinese restaurants over a 25-year period. There are roughly a hundred four-star restaurants on my list and hundreds more with five or more stars. (more…)
In my previous articles about Chinese dining in Los Angeles, I have only incidentally mentioned the Orange County community of Irvine. However, this omission should not be interpreted as minimizing Irvine’s importance on the Chinese food scene, as indeed Irvine ranks second in the Los Angeles metropolitan area behind only the San Gabriel Valley as the preferred source of authentic Chinese food. Rather, I haven’t said much about Irvine because of its geographic distance, some 40 miles from both Los Angeles Chinatown and the San Gabriel Valley, and 55 miles from the Westside of Los Angeles. As such, Irvine’s Chinese food options are seldom appreciated by diners from these other areas. (more…)
Once upon a time, the term celebrity conjured up visions of movie stars and superstar athletes, but somewhere along the line, the term deteriorated into something much less exclusive. Nowadays, there are celebrity chefs, celebrity doctors, celebrity hair stylists, celebrity houseguests, and celebrity pets. A guy I know has been described as a celebrity real estate developer. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were celebrity plumbers and celebrity gardeners. But the term really reached an extreme when I was labeled a “celebrity diner.” (more…)
As a whole, Los Angeles’s Chinese food scene surpassed New York’s over 20 years ago and continues to pull away. However, you’ll find some things Chinese food-wise in New York that simply don’t exist in Los Angeles, including these four restaurants.
Situated in the Chinese-owned Waldorf-Astoria, La Chine is the type of high-end authentic Chinese restaurant on offer in New York, along with Fung Tu, Cafe China, and Hakkasan. After the demise of Hakkasan Beverly Hills (and perhaps Chi Lin), there are no longer such posh Chinese dining options in LA. Perhaps Los Angeles is just not as much of an expense account town. Sure, it does boast the entertainment industry, but still pales in comparison to New York, with Wall Street, the investment banks, and all the corporate headquarters. (more…)
Five years ago I opened up a hornet’s nest when I wrote my Top 10 listing of Chinese restaurants in the United States. The list included 10 California restaurants and none from New York, because even though New York once had the best Chinese food in the US, it now lagged badly behind Los Angeles and San Francisco. Despite howls of protests from outraged New Yorkers, the ranking of New York Chinese food is no longer arguable. Even New York Times columnist Mark Bittman stated rather matter of factly that, “for Chinese food, there’s no place in the United States like Southern California,” and in particular, the San Gabriel Valley.
More recently, I made a comment which on the surface might be viewed as an even greater insult to New York Chinese food. I said, “pound for pound, authentic Chinese food in Phoenix is better than that in New York.” I did not intend it to be a derogatory comment about New York Chinese food, and I didn’t mean to say that there wasn’t a lot of good Chinese food in New York. Rather, it was a reflection of the current state of Chinese food, where excellent Chinese food can be found in a lot more places than just a few years ago. (more…)
In this ongoing series covering American cities with a historic center city Chinatown, there have been two distinct models. In most cities, the best and most authentic Chinese food migrated out of the historic Chinatown into either suburban Chinese communities or to secondary areas away from the downtown core. However, exceptions such as Philadelphia and Chicago illustrate the second model, where the historic Chinatown still reigns supreme, with a few secondary locales to find authentic Chinese food.
In the case of present-day Boston, however, neither model seems to fit. Ten or fifteen years ago, Boston’s historic Chinatown was still dominant, and indeed at that time, I commented that Chicago and Boston were the main exceptions to the suburbanization of Chinese food in America. Today, Boston Chinatown still dominates as a cultural and commercial center (though its borders are threatened by development and gentrification). While Chinatown has not been entirely eclipsed for dining, there is now significantly good Chinese food to be found outside its boundaries. (more…)
For any city with a historic 19th century Chinatown, the original locus of Chinese dining was obviously Chinatown. However, as my series has chronicled, the best Chinese dining in most of these cities has shifted to various suburban communities. In the case of Los Angeles, the shift has been especially complex. Like an army marching onward to the next hill, there has been a continuous eastward migration of Chinese residents, followed by a like movement of Chinese restaurants. The key to this push eastward is a strong preference of Los Angeles-area Chinese Americans for new housing developments, as capsulized by longtime resident Gordon Chow, who said, “You have to go east to find newer and cheaper homes.”
One of the more contentious Chinese food topics is the question of whether dim sum lunch is better served on carts, as opposed to ordered off a menu or check-off sheet. Traditionalists claim that dim sum carts are the heart of the dim sum experience, with the anticipation of seeing what lies under the lids of the metal containers in the cart a primary attraction. Meanwhile, cook-to-order partisans point out your dim sum is absolutely fresh if you order off a menu, while dim sum on a cart may have been sitting out. New varieties can be concocted without worrying if they’ll last on a cart. Plus, with menu-driven dim sum, you don’t have to worry about strategically choosing your table to get the freshest possible food as the carts emerge from the kitchen, or your item no longer being available by the time the cart rolls to you, or having to chase after a cart if it bypasses you.
Even though carts are widely believed to be the traditional method of dim sum delivery, they are of fairly recent origin. I remember when dim sum wasn’t something you ate while seated in a restaurant. My first recollection dates back to the 1950s at the legendary Man Fook Low restaurant in the hidden City Market Chinatown on San Pedro Street in Los Angeles. According to legend, Man Fook Low introduced dim sum to LA in the 1930s and didn’t even list dim sum on its restaurant menu. Like the neighboring New Moon Café, Man Fook Low sold its dim sum via take-out window. The restaurant made only a handful of dim sum varieties; there was steamed barbecue pork bun, much larger than those we see today, and then referred to as hom bao. There was ha gow, pork siu mai (which my mom called “stacks” because of its haystack shape), and the sweet and glutinous bak tong go. Our dim sum orders were placed in large pink boxes that we would take home to enjoy. Any leftovers were re-steamed the next day. (more…)