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.
My series has traced the general pattern of historic center city core Chinatowns in the United States. In most of these cities, much of the population, and correspondingly the authentic Chinese food, has fled to the suburbs, such as the San Gabriel Valley outside of Los Angeles, or Flushing and Brooklyn in New York. The only real exception to this rule that I’ve discussed so far is Philadelphia, whose Chinatown has gone through an unexpected revival in the past five years, though it has not expanded geographically.
Happily, another exception to this pattern is Chicago Chinatown, which not only is thriving, but also experiencing significant population growth and geographic expansion. Chicago Chinatown’s population increased by 25 percent between 2000 and 2010 and its boundaries are spilling into adjacent neighborhoods. But why is Chicago the great exception as a Chinese culinary center with a growing Chinatown? Especially when contrasted to Los Angeles Chinatown, which has become a hotbed of non-Chinese restaurants, or Manhattan Chinatown, which is gentrifying and losing turf particularly on the Lower East Side, or San Francisco Chinatown, abuzz in rumors of technology industry incursion, or Washington, DC Chinatown, which may be on its last legs? (more…)
For over two decades, Vancouver, British Columbia, and particularly its suburban community of Richmond, has been Mecca for Chinese food lovers in Northern America. During the late 1980s, Hong Kongers recognized that control of Hong Kong would revert to Mainland China in 1997. Meanwhile, its 1986 World’s Fair put the spotlight on Vancouver as a prime destination. The result was a mass exodus out of Hong Kong to Vancouver, turning the city into Hong Kong East, and creating an early 1990s Chinese dining nirvana. The word about the superior brand of Chinese food served in the Vancouver area spread quickly. It wasn’t long before Chinese food lovers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other American locales started trekking to Vancouver in droves to partake of the heavenly fare. (more…)
As readers of my series on Chinese restaurants across the country know, the general rule is that if a city has an existing 19th or early 20th century Chinatown, that Chinatown is almost certainly not the best place for a great Chinese meal. However, like most general rules there are exceptions, and one prominent exception is Philadelphia. (more…)
Having set foot in nearly 7,000 Chinese restaurants, there is a certain sameness to the premises. Yes, there are fancy restaurants, dumpy restaurants, big restaurants, little restaurants, restaurants with large fish tanks, restaurants with steam tables, Americanized Chinese restaurants, authentic Chinese restaurants, big city restaurants and small town restaurants, and so on. But after all these years, I’ve seen them all many times over. However, nothing prepared me for the shock I received when, on a cold, damp February evening in 2008, I walked into East Market Seafood Restaurant on East Broadway in the Little Fuzhou section of Manhattan Chinatown. (more…)
With the arrival of restaurants like Roy Choi’s Chego, Little Jewel of New Orleans, Scoops, Pok Pok and Pok Pok Phat Thai, Burgerlords, Unit 120, Amboy, Endorffeine, Howlin’ Ray’s Hot Chicken, Lobsta Shack, Oleego, and Ramen Champ, Los Angeles Chinatown is once again a dining destination, albeit not particularly for Chinese food. Unbeknownst to many Angelinos, however, this is not Chinatown’s first dining renaissance. Decades ago, it emerged from a dining slumber to become a culinary hot spot. (more…)
The weakest link in Chinese American dining has always been dessert, or the lack thereof. The Cantonese scene, which defined Chinese dining in the United States for nearly a century and a quarter, was nearly devoid of sweets. The only dessert I remember as a kid was the agar-based dish which we referred to as “almond jello,” topped with canned fruit cocktail and hardly the highlight of the meal.
Indeed, it wasn’t until the late 1970s that I encountered a different dessert in a Chinese restaurant. Green Jade was one of the first non-Cantonese restaurants to open up in Los Angeles Chinatown, back when anything not Cantonese was referred to as “Mandarin” or “Northern.” Not encumbered by the Cantonese disdain for desserts, Green Jade actually had a short dessert section on its menu. I remembered how fascinated I was with its candied banana and candied apple dishes, dunked in ice water. (more…)
I previously wrote about a conspicuous lack of sit-down Chinese restaurant chains in the United States. However, potential winds of change are blowing as overseas Chinese restaurant chains based in Asia have begun to open branches in the United States. In each case, the initial foray is in California, in recognition that the best Chinese food and the most sophisticated Chinese food audiences are found there, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley outside of Los Angeles. As successful operations are established in California, the beginnings of further expansion are appearing. (more…)
In this multi-part survey of Chinese food in different cities across the United States, a number of distinct models arise. Cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York have a 19th century core Chinatown that still exists today, but where the best Chinese food has migrated to the suburbs. In cities like San Diego, Phoenix, and St. Louis, the historic core Chinatown became extinct, but the Chinese community was later revived in the suburbs, as the repeal of Chinese exclusion laws brought in a new wave of Chinese immigrants. Cities like Las Vegas, Dallas, and Atlanta never had a historic core Chinatown, but developed Chinese communities in the 20th century post-immigration reform years. In Houston, a small downtown Chinatown developed during the period of immigration exclusion, followed by a larger suburban Chinese community later in the 20th century. And in Chicago, the historic core Chinatown still dominates. (more…)
You see them in all media outlets, in newspapers and magazines, on the television, and especially on the internet: Top 10 restaurant features or other best restaurant listings. The listicles are crowd-pleasers and contain interesting and useful information, though they have their limitations, reflecting the author’s subjective opinion and the breadth of his or her dining experience. Nevertheless, such listings are eagerly anticipated and are widely shared. However, when it comes to ten-bests for Chinese restaurants, a number of factors make such lists dubious, if not downright dangerous. (more…)
As the second largest city in the United States, Los Angeles is unsurprisingly one of the country’s great food scenes. Though top-notch restaurants are spread throughout the region, the epicenter of dining is generally considered to be the Westside, including the separate cities of Beverly Hills, Culver City, and Santa Monica. Meanwhile, as I have previously noted, the growing Chinese food mania in Los Angeles, especially to the east in the San Gabriel Valley, has dominated Chinese food culture nationwide. So why is the Chinese food on the Westside so poor, with restaurateurs wondering whether it’s even possible for destination Chinese restaurants to succeed there? (more…)