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.
Five years ago, I wrote a Menuism article about why I generally did not eat at Chinese restaurants in the United States that were more than 20 years old. My reason for this 20-year rule was that Chinese food in America was evolving at a surprisingly rapid rate, with diners and chefs endlessly looking for that next more delicious, more innovative Chinese food creation. Because innovation is more likely to come from new players, and because existing successful Chinese restaurants are likely to stick with what works, I decided that after 20 years, most Chinese restaurants are behind the curve.(more…)
With something in the neighborhood of 50,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States, Chinese food is one of the most popular types of ethnic food here. Indeed, Chinese restaurants outnumber the 14,000 McDonalds locations, and even the top five fast food outlets combined. Towns with as few as 1,000 residents sport a Chinese restaurant.
The popularity of Chinese food in the United States is a testament to the popularity of the food itself. But when you consider all of the obstacles that had to be overcome, from the Chinese Exclusion Act to racial discrimination, from boycotts to legislation backed by labor unions, the endurance of Chinese food is also stunning.(more…)
West Yellowstone, Montana offers authentic Chinese food options that Los Angeles Chinatown doesn’t. Let me say that again: You can eat Chinese dishes in Montana that you can’t eat in downtown L.A.
I am in no way suggesting that Montana is any kind of Chinese dining destination. However, this improbable but true statement combines two recurring topics I have addressed: the emergence of Mainland Chinese cuisine and the effect of Chinese nationals across the United States.(more…)
A few years ago, I first discussed the concept of the “Chinese stomach,” which describes the preference of Chinese diners for Chinese food over other types of food. My initial article focused on Chinese travelers who prefer to eat Chinese food — even of inferior quality — on their trips, rather than what might be considered higher quality host country food.
Doubters argued that tour operators served low-quality Chinese food to cut costs, but I found the “Chinese stomach” at work throughout the United States under other manifestations. For instance, Chinese food is used to entice Chinese Americans to casinos along the East and West Coasts. When college campuses see surging Mainland Chinese student populations, authentic Chinese restaurants and food trucks quickly follow. On these campuses, some Chinese students will even shell out $50 delivery charges for food from far-flung restaurants. And at upscale shopping malls frequented by well-heeled Chinese tourists, Chinese restaurants either open onsite or nearby restaurants adapt their menus to serve these visitors.(more…)
Three mega-Chinese communities in the United States—Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York—are each home to more than 600,000 Chinese Americans. But L.A. stands out in a peculiar way. Unlike San Francisco and New York, where authentic Chinese food has been fairly well geographically dispersed for a number of years, the Los Angeles area until quite recently concentrated its authentic Chinese food in just a handful of places, especially the San Gabriel Valley. Why?(more…)
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…)