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…)
I have documented the continuous change in Chinese food in America, particularly since the 1960s when changes to American immigration laws triggered the diversification of Chinese food in America, a trend that is accelerating now. As such, a corresponding evolution in American Chinese restaurant names reflects the changing times. A restaurant named Golden Dragon or China Inn would have been the norm decades ago, but less generic names like Sea Harbour or Sichuan Impression are better suited for today’s restaurant scene.
I have noticed a thoroughly puzzling proliferation of one restaurant name: Fuleen. To add to the mystery, all of the Fuleen restaurants that have sprung up are located east of the Mississippi River. What forces could possibly be at work here? (more…)
Los Angeles came to the Chinese food forefront in the 1990s, surpassing San Francisco and New York. As the 21st century progressed, Los Angeles continued to pull further ahead of the competition. Most recently, L.A.’s advantage has been reinforced by numerous Mainland China-based restaurant chains deliberately locating their first US branches in Los Angeles, rather than San Francisco or New York. (more…)
As regular readers know, for more than a century, Chinese food in America was exclusively Cantonese, and particularly a brand of Cantonese food brought by immigrants from rural Toishan. It wasn’t until the 1960s that non-Cantonese food made its appearance in the United States, first under the moniker “Mandarin” or “Northern” Chinese food, then subsequently in the 1970s, Sichuan and Hunan-style food. With Chinese food divided into Cantonese and non-Cantonese camps, a truism arose which withstood into the 21st Century: never order a non-Cantonese dish at a Cantonese restaurant, and never order a Cantonese dish at a Mandarin restaurant. Xiao long bao or kung pao chicken at a Cantonese restaurant? Forget it! Char shiu at a non-Cantonese restaurant? No way! Restaurants touting “Cantonese, Szechuan and Hunan cuisine?” Turn around and run away as fast as you can.
But with so many facets of Chinese dining in America changing in the last five to ten years, this truism is also starting the pass by the wayside. Perhaps the most glaring example of the changes afoot are startling developments with some newly opened dim sum restaurants. Dim sum, Cantonese in origin, is traditionally a lunchtime affair. Consequently, dim sum restaurants need a completely different bill of fare at dinnertime. Since the 1980s in the United States and Canada, these dinners have uniformly been centered around Hong Kong-style cuisine, and in particular Hong Kong-style seafood. It’s the most logical pairing, given dim sum’s Cantonese roots and the dominance of Cantonese-style food in Chinese-American communities until quite recently. (more…)
Since Chinese food first came to America in the mid-19th century, the best Chinese food in the United States has generally been found in California. With by far the largest Chinese population from the 1850s through the mid-20th century, it is no mystery why San Francisco had the best Chinese food for well over a century. However, with the late 1960s immigration act once again permitting large-scale immigration from China to the United States after more than eight decades of tight immigration restrictions, changing immigration patterns had shifted the apex of Chinese dining in the United States in the 1980s to New York, and in particular, Manhattan Chinatown. (more…)
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…)