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Sichuan and Snacks: The Times Are A-Changin’ in San Francisco Chinatown

Sichuan and Snacks: The Times Are A-Changin’ in San Francisco Chinatown

photo by SMcGarnigle

As I have previously written, for the first century of their presence, Chinese American communities were almost exclusively populated by immigrants from rural Toishan outside of Canton and their descendants. As a result, from the mid-nineteenth century until the 1960s, Cantonese food was the only style of Chinese food found in Chinese restaurants in America, albeit a bastardized version, both being Americanized and reflecting an era of the early 20th century that had been frozen in time. During this period San Francisco Chinatown was by far the predominant Chinese American community and remained >homogeneously Cantonese, even for decades after the loosening of immigration laws that had prevented Chinese from other parts of China from coming to the United States. Legion are the stories of well meaning visitors attempting to address the locals with a few words of Mandarin Chinese, completely unintelligible to the Cantonese locals. Indeed, even today San Francisco Chinatown is by far the most Cantonese, most Toishanese community in North America today with these dialects pervasive on the streets of San Francisco Chinatown.

With this backdrop, anything other than Cantonese Chinese restaurants have been a scarce to non-existent commodity in San Francisco’s Chinatown for practically its entire life of more than 160 years. Indeed, until very recently, aside from tourist-oriented restaurants offering faux Hunan-style food, or the incredibly popular tourist favorite House of Nanking, non-Cantonese Chinese food has been an extreme rarity in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Offhand my recollection of authentic non-Cantonese Chinese food in 20th Century San Francisco Chinatown is limited to two restaurants on Jackson Street: the now closed Star Lunch famous (or perhaps infamous) for its stinky tofu, along with its Shanghai-style noodles in the diviest dive setting you could imagine, and Sam Lok, serving Sichuan-style food, and now known as Z & Y Restaurant, which still operates today. Also worth a mention was the borderline authentic Taiwan Restaurant on Clement Street.

Photo by Jack

But as Bob Dylan said 50 years ago (though it’s taken a few decades to catch up to San Francisco’s Chinatown), “the times they are a-changin’,” and a shift away from Cantonese food is finally noticeable in San Francisco Chinatown. In retrospect, the change probably began a little over a dozen years ago when Master Chef Nei from Nanjing opened his small restaurant Jai Yun on Pacific Avenue in a Chinatown storefront which appears to have once been a residential building. Initially it operated on a shoestring; when I first visited the restaurant in 2001, Chef Nei served as chef, waiter, and busboy. But Jai Yun quickly made its mark as THE restaurant where Chinatown chefs congregated after hours. Soon Jai Yun was written up repeatedly by the local newspapers, jumped onto the best restaurant lists, and was the subject of a feature article in San Francisco Magazine. For the first time a non-Cantonese restaurant had become the most talked about authentic Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.

Photo by ario_

Jai Yun was and continues to be an anomaly in its current Clay Street location, a quirky restaurant without a menu or regular hours, riding the skills of Chef Nei and his unusual method of operation. However, it did pave the way for non-Cantonese restaurants to make their mark in Chinatown. And especially in the past five years, the once solid Cantonese façade of San Francisco Chinatown food has clearly cracked. The next significant opening was Bund Shanghai on Jackson Street, the first true Chinatown restaurant with a full authentic Shanghai-style menu. At last, real xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), not the Cantonese dim sum restaurant version, lion’s head meatballs, rice cakes, and zha jiang mein could be found. Perhaps the single most dramatic sign that a new day has now dawned was last year’s opening of House of Xian Dumpling on Kearny Street which offers lamb dumplings, lamb skewers, chicken and corn dumplings, and other dishes unimaginable in San Francisco Chinatown just five years ago. And now there’s even hot pot, a Taiwanese favorite, available at Man Kee Hot Pot/Washington Cafe on Washington Street.

Crispy Chicken With Explosive Chili Pepper at Z & Y Restaurant. Photo by mike fabio.

Bund Shanghai’s opening in 2009 has been followed by a string of Sichuan-style restaurants. Z & Y remains the leader for Sichuan food in Chinatown with dishes like its explosive chili pepper chicken, mapo tofu, and Yunnan-style add-ons, but now there are other alternatives for this brand of food. One of the older touristy non-Cantonese restaurants alluded to above was The Pot Sticker on Waverly Place, which specialized in Chinese delivery to tourists staying in downtown hotels. However, four years ago, affiliating with Z & Y, the restaurant converted into a Sichuan-style restaurant with not only authentic Sichuan-style dishes, but also bringing the first Guilin-style rice noodle soup to the Bay Area. The Pot Sticker became so successful in its new guise that it spawned a second branch outside of Chinatown in San Mateo called Spicy Empire. This empire grew even further with the acquisition of Waverly Place Cantonese institution Uncle’s Café, now christened Szechuan Cuisine Uncle Café with the same menu as Pot Sticker. Meanwhile, by the strip clubs over on Broadway, Little Szechuan has set up shop. Yes, egg foo young is on the menu, but Sichuan hot pots and potato strips with jalapeño are, too.

Even more recently a new trend has been spotted in San Francisco Chinatown, which might be described as non-Cantonese small eats. With its plethora of take-out bakery cafes, San Francisco has been a bastion of informal eating from the beginning of time, but only for Cantonese dim sum and baked goods. At last there are new choices. The breakthrough came a couple of years ago when Quickly, the Taiwanese boba chain, opened Kobe Bento on Kearny Street, offering a variety of Taiwanese and Japanese snacks such as popcorn chicken, lobster balls, and fried fish balls. While dozens, if not hundreds of similar eateries have operated in the Bay Area in the past 15 years, Kobe Bento is the first of these boba-based snack shops to set up in Chinatown proper, true testament to San Francisco Chinatown’s historic aversion to non-Cantonese food. The most recent addition to the snack parade is 3.3 Snack Bar, located on Waverly Place, which purveys an array of spicy snacks, including spicy leek, spicy tofu, and spicy fish balls starting at $1.50 a pop. The most expensive item on the menu at 3.3 Snack Bar is the $3 hot dog. Right across the street is Cocoa Café, which serves sandwiches and bagels from a bilingual menu. And a couple of existing businesses have added non-Cantonese snacks to their arsenal. Tuttimelon, on the corner of Grant Avenue and Broadway has supplemented its frozen yogurt and gelato lineup with popcorn chicken and other hot snacks. And Sweet Mart on the edge of Portsmouth Square, and well known for bins of preserved fruit and gummy candies, now serves curry fish balls and tea eggs.

Cantonese cuisine probably still accounts for nearly 90 percent of the eateries in San Francisco Chinatown, a far cry from America’s other Chinese communities where Cantonese food is now in the distinct minority. But even here in San Francisco Chinatown, it is clear that the landscape is changing.

"Sichuan and Snacks: The Times Are A-Changin’ in San Francisco Chinatown" originally published on The Menuism Dining Blog.


How L.A. Became A Powerhouse for Chinese Food

Clarissa Wei is a part of the network of food writers and bloggers formerly known as JGold Scouts, who help legendary L.A. Times critic Jonathan Gold uncover the city’s most under-the-radar restaurants. Her area of expertise is Chinese food, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley. Follow her on Twitter: @dearclarissa.

When it comes to Chinese food, the conversation in urban centers of America has long moved past chow meinਊnd into more nuanced arguments about variations of xiaolongbao. But even with cooking shows from icons Martin Yan and Ming Tsai—not to mention Julia Child’s confession that she𠆝 � perfectly happy with only Chinese food”𠅊wareness didn’t reach its smoking point until the 2000s.

In 2006, travel show hosts Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern began highlighting Chinese on No Reservations and Bizarre Foods, respectively, showing folks firsthand what cuisine in China is actually like. In the same year, Los Angeles writer Jonathan Gold became the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. Among his highlighted works:ਊ tribute to the fleshy, cold duckਊt Chinese regional specialist Nanjing Kitchen.

In New York City, a slew of trendy Chinese places began to appear: BaoHaus for Taiwanese buns Xi𠆚n Famous Foods for Shaanxi noodles Yunnan Kitchen and Lotus Blue for home-style chicken soup Mission Chinese Food for modern Sichuan and Red Farmਏor refined dim sum. They appealed to a clientele who either demanded a high level of hospitality, or were seeking out something new and �gy.”


L.A. based David Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants. (Photo courtesy Clarissa Wei) 

Now, New Yorkers think they know the real thing when it comes to Chinese food. It has been a topic of hot debate. A lot of folks like to citeਏlushing, where there are some legitimate regional specialists.਋ut when it comes to quality, it is Los Angeles that reigns supreme—yes, better than Flushing and Vancouver.

𠇏or probably 140 years, the best Chinese food in the U.S. was in San Francisco,” David R. Chan, a Los Angeles attorney and Chinese food hobbyist says. Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants since 1951 and has been documenting his progress on a massive spreadsheet, recording the date and address of his visits. Chan’s interest lies in systematics. A third-generation Taishanese-American and one of the first students enrolled at UCLA’s Asian-American program, Chan uses his spreadsheet as a lens to observe the progression of the Chinese diaspora in America. Food after all, is at the apex of Chinese culture.

It wasn’t until the late�s that the Bay Area lost its crown, and all the action shifted towards the San Gabriel Valley. “That’s when Chinese food in Los Angeles experienced a major upswing,” says Chan.

If New York is home to the largest population of Chinese-Americans in the States, why, then, does Los Angeles still hold the mantle for best Chinese food? Chef pedigree, regional diversity, and a strong local food community are part of the story. Here, we break down the key reasons why SoCal is miles ahead of the competition.


How L.A. Became A Powerhouse for Chinese Food

Clarissa Wei is a part of the network of food writers and bloggers formerly known as JGold Scouts, who help legendary L.A. Times critic Jonathan Gold uncover the city’s most under-the-radar restaurants. Her area of expertise is Chinese food, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley. Follow her on Twitter: @dearclarissa.

When it comes to Chinese food, the conversation in urban centers of America has long moved past chow meinਊnd into more nuanced arguments about variations of xiaolongbao. But even with cooking shows from icons Martin Yan and Ming Tsai—not to mention Julia Child’s confession that she𠆝 � perfectly happy with only Chinese food”𠅊wareness didn’t reach its smoking point until the 2000s.

In 2006, travel show hosts Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern began highlighting Chinese on No Reservations and Bizarre Foods, respectively, showing folks firsthand what cuisine in China is actually like. In the same year, Los Angeles writer Jonathan Gold became the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. Among his highlighted works:ਊ tribute to the fleshy, cold duckਊt Chinese regional specialist Nanjing Kitchen.

In New York City, a slew of trendy Chinese places began to appear: BaoHaus for Taiwanese buns Xi𠆚n Famous Foods for Shaanxi noodles Yunnan Kitchen and Lotus Blue for home-style chicken soup Mission Chinese Food for modern Sichuan and Red Farmਏor refined dim sum. They appealed to a clientele who either demanded a high level of hospitality, or were seeking out something new and �gy.”


L.A. based David Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants. (Photo courtesy Clarissa Wei) 

Now, New Yorkers think they know the real thing when it comes to Chinese food. It has been a topic of hot debate. A lot of folks like to citeਏlushing, where there are some legitimate regional specialists.਋ut when it comes to quality, it is Los Angeles that reigns supreme—yes, better than Flushing and Vancouver.

𠇏or probably 140 years, the best Chinese food in the U.S. was in San Francisco,” David R. Chan, a Los Angeles attorney and Chinese food hobbyist says. Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants since 1951 and has been documenting his progress on a massive spreadsheet, recording the date and address of his visits. Chan’s interest lies in systematics. A third-generation Taishanese-American and one of the first students enrolled at UCLA’s Asian-American program, Chan uses his spreadsheet as a lens to observe the progression of the Chinese diaspora in America. Food after all, is at the apex of Chinese culture.

It wasn’t until the late�s that the Bay Area lost its crown, and all the action shifted towards the San Gabriel Valley. “That’s when Chinese food in Los Angeles experienced a major upswing,” says Chan.

If New York is home to the largest population of Chinese-Americans in the States, why, then, does Los Angeles still hold the mantle for best Chinese food? Chef pedigree, regional diversity, and a strong local food community are part of the story. Here, we break down the key reasons why SoCal is miles ahead of the competition.


How L.A. Became A Powerhouse for Chinese Food

Clarissa Wei is a part of the network of food writers and bloggers formerly known as JGold Scouts, who help legendary L.A. Times critic Jonathan Gold uncover the city’s most under-the-radar restaurants. Her area of expertise is Chinese food, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley. Follow her on Twitter: @dearclarissa.

When it comes to Chinese food, the conversation in urban centers of America has long moved past chow meinਊnd into more nuanced arguments about variations of xiaolongbao. But even with cooking shows from icons Martin Yan and Ming Tsai—not to mention Julia Child’s confession that she𠆝 � perfectly happy with only Chinese food”𠅊wareness didn’t reach its smoking point until the 2000s.

In 2006, travel show hosts Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern began highlighting Chinese on No Reservations and Bizarre Foods, respectively, showing folks firsthand what cuisine in China is actually like. In the same year, Los Angeles writer Jonathan Gold became the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. Among his highlighted works:ਊ tribute to the fleshy, cold duckਊt Chinese regional specialist Nanjing Kitchen.

In New York City, a slew of trendy Chinese places began to appear: BaoHaus for Taiwanese buns Xi𠆚n Famous Foods for Shaanxi noodles Yunnan Kitchen and Lotus Blue for home-style chicken soup Mission Chinese Food for modern Sichuan and Red Farmਏor refined dim sum. They appealed to a clientele who either demanded a high level of hospitality, or were seeking out something new and �gy.”


L.A. based David Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants. (Photo courtesy Clarissa Wei) 

Now, New Yorkers think they know the real thing when it comes to Chinese food. It has been a topic of hot debate. A lot of folks like to citeਏlushing, where there are some legitimate regional specialists.਋ut when it comes to quality, it is Los Angeles that reigns supreme—yes, better than Flushing and Vancouver.

𠇏or probably 140 years, the best Chinese food in the U.S. was in San Francisco,” David R. Chan, a Los Angeles attorney and Chinese food hobbyist says. Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants since 1951 and has been documenting his progress on a massive spreadsheet, recording the date and address of his visits. Chan’s interest lies in systematics. A third-generation Taishanese-American and one of the first students enrolled at UCLA’s Asian-American program, Chan uses his spreadsheet as a lens to observe the progression of the Chinese diaspora in America. Food after all, is at the apex of Chinese culture.

It wasn’t until the late�s that the Bay Area lost its crown, and all the action shifted towards the San Gabriel Valley. “That’s when Chinese food in Los Angeles experienced a major upswing,” says Chan.

If New York is home to the largest population of Chinese-Americans in the States, why, then, does Los Angeles still hold the mantle for best Chinese food? Chef pedigree, regional diversity, and a strong local food community are part of the story. Here, we break down the key reasons why SoCal is miles ahead of the competition.


How L.A. Became A Powerhouse for Chinese Food

Clarissa Wei is a part of the network of food writers and bloggers formerly known as JGold Scouts, who help legendary L.A. Times critic Jonathan Gold uncover the city’s most under-the-radar restaurants. Her area of expertise is Chinese food, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley. Follow her on Twitter: @dearclarissa.

When it comes to Chinese food, the conversation in urban centers of America has long moved past chow meinਊnd into more nuanced arguments about variations of xiaolongbao. But even with cooking shows from icons Martin Yan and Ming Tsai—not to mention Julia Child’s confession that she𠆝 � perfectly happy with only Chinese food”𠅊wareness didn’t reach its smoking point until the 2000s.

In 2006, travel show hosts Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern began highlighting Chinese on No Reservations and Bizarre Foods, respectively, showing folks firsthand what cuisine in China is actually like. In the same year, Los Angeles writer Jonathan Gold became the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. Among his highlighted works:ਊ tribute to the fleshy, cold duckਊt Chinese regional specialist Nanjing Kitchen.

In New York City, a slew of trendy Chinese places began to appear: BaoHaus for Taiwanese buns Xi𠆚n Famous Foods for Shaanxi noodles Yunnan Kitchen and Lotus Blue for home-style chicken soup Mission Chinese Food for modern Sichuan and Red Farmਏor refined dim sum. They appealed to a clientele who either demanded a high level of hospitality, or were seeking out something new and �gy.”


L.A. based David Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants. (Photo courtesy Clarissa Wei) 

Now, New Yorkers think they know the real thing when it comes to Chinese food. It has been a topic of hot debate. A lot of folks like to citeਏlushing, where there are some legitimate regional specialists.਋ut when it comes to quality, it is Los Angeles that reigns supreme—yes, better than Flushing and Vancouver.

𠇏or probably 140 years, the best Chinese food in the U.S. was in San Francisco,” David R. Chan, a Los Angeles attorney and Chinese food hobbyist says. Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants since 1951 and has been documenting his progress on a massive spreadsheet, recording the date and address of his visits. Chan’s interest lies in systematics. A third-generation Taishanese-American and one of the first students enrolled at UCLA’s Asian-American program, Chan uses his spreadsheet as a lens to observe the progression of the Chinese diaspora in America. Food after all, is at the apex of Chinese culture.

It wasn’t until the late�s that the Bay Area lost its crown, and all the action shifted towards the San Gabriel Valley. “That’s when Chinese food in Los Angeles experienced a major upswing,” says Chan.

If New York is home to the largest population of Chinese-Americans in the States, why, then, does Los Angeles still hold the mantle for best Chinese food? Chef pedigree, regional diversity, and a strong local food community are part of the story. Here, we break down the key reasons why SoCal is miles ahead of the competition.


How L.A. Became A Powerhouse for Chinese Food

Clarissa Wei is a part of the network of food writers and bloggers formerly known as JGold Scouts, who help legendary L.A. Times critic Jonathan Gold uncover the city’s most under-the-radar restaurants. Her area of expertise is Chinese food, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley. Follow her on Twitter: @dearclarissa.

When it comes to Chinese food, the conversation in urban centers of America has long moved past chow meinਊnd into more nuanced arguments about variations of xiaolongbao. But even with cooking shows from icons Martin Yan and Ming Tsai—not to mention Julia Child’s confession that she𠆝 � perfectly happy with only Chinese food”𠅊wareness didn’t reach its smoking point until the 2000s.

In 2006, travel show hosts Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern began highlighting Chinese on No Reservations and Bizarre Foods, respectively, showing folks firsthand what cuisine in China is actually like. In the same year, Los Angeles writer Jonathan Gold became the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. Among his highlighted works:ਊ tribute to the fleshy, cold duckਊt Chinese regional specialist Nanjing Kitchen.

In New York City, a slew of trendy Chinese places began to appear: BaoHaus for Taiwanese buns Xi𠆚n Famous Foods for Shaanxi noodles Yunnan Kitchen and Lotus Blue for home-style chicken soup Mission Chinese Food for modern Sichuan and Red Farmਏor refined dim sum. They appealed to a clientele who either demanded a high level of hospitality, or were seeking out something new and �gy.”


L.A. based David Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants. (Photo courtesy Clarissa Wei) 

Now, New Yorkers think they know the real thing when it comes to Chinese food. It has been a topic of hot debate. A lot of folks like to citeਏlushing, where there are some legitimate regional specialists.਋ut when it comes to quality, it is Los Angeles that reigns supreme—yes, better than Flushing and Vancouver.

𠇏or probably 140 years, the best Chinese food in the U.S. was in San Francisco,” David R. Chan, a Los Angeles attorney and Chinese food hobbyist says. Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants since 1951 and has been documenting his progress on a massive spreadsheet, recording the date and address of his visits. Chan’s interest lies in systematics. A third-generation Taishanese-American and one of the first students enrolled at UCLA’s Asian-American program, Chan uses his spreadsheet as a lens to observe the progression of the Chinese diaspora in America. Food after all, is at the apex of Chinese culture.

It wasn’t until the late�s that the Bay Area lost its crown, and all the action shifted towards the San Gabriel Valley. “That’s when Chinese food in Los Angeles experienced a major upswing,” says Chan.

If New York is home to the largest population of Chinese-Americans in the States, why, then, does Los Angeles still hold the mantle for best Chinese food? Chef pedigree, regional diversity, and a strong local food community are part of the story. Here, we break down the key reasons why SoCal is miles ahead of the competition.


How L.A. Became A Powerhouse for Chinese Food

Clarissa Wei is a part of the network of food writers and bloggers formerly known as JGold Scouts, who help legendary L.A. Times critic Jonathan Gold uncover the city’s most under-the-radar restaurants. Her area of expertise is Chinese food, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley. Follow her on Twitter: @dearclarissa.

When it comes to Chinese food, the conversation in urban centers of America has long moved past chow meinਊnd into more nuanced arguments about variations of xiaolongbao. But even with cooking shows from icons Martin Yan and Ming Tsai—not to mention Julia Child’s confession that she𠆝 � perfectly happy with only Chinese food”𠅊wareness didn’t reach its smoking point until the 2000s.

In 2006, travel show hosts Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern began highlighting Chinese on No Reservations and Bizarre Foods, respectively, showing folks firsthand what cuisine in China is actually like. In the same year, Los Angeles writer Jonathan Gold became the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. Among his highlighted works:ਊ tribute to the fleshy, cold duckਊt Chinese regional specialist Nanjing Kitchen.

In New York City, a slew of trendy Chinese places began to appear: BaoHaus for Taiwanese buns Xi𠆚n Famous Foods for Shaanxi noodles Yunnan Kitchen and Lotus Blue for home-style chicken soup Mission Chinese Food for modern Sichuan and Red Farmਏor refined dim sum. They appealed to a clientele who either demanded a high level of hospitality, or were seeking out something new and �gy.”


L.A. based David Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants. (Photo courtesy Clarissa Wei) 

Now, New Yorkers think they know the real thing when it comes to Chinese food. It has been a topic of hot debate. A lot of folks like to citeਏlushing, where there are some legitimate regional specialists.਋ut when it comes to quality, it is Los Angeles that reigns supreme—yes, better than Flushing and Vancouver.

𠇏or probably 140 years, the best Chinese food in the U.S. was in San Francisco,” David R. Chan, a Los Angeles attorney and Chinese food hobbyist says. Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants since 1951 and has been documenting his progress on a massive spreadsheet, recording the date and address of his visits. Chan’s interest lies in systematics. A third-generation Taishanese-American and one of the first students enrolled at UCLA’s Asian-American program, Chan uses his spreadsheet as a lens to observe the progression of the Chinese diaspora in America. Food after all, is at the apex of Chinese culture.

It wasn’t until the late�s that the Bay Area lost its crown, and all the action shifted towards the San Gabriel Valley. “That’s when Chinese food in Los Angeles experienced a major upswing,” says Chan.

If New York is home to the largest population of Chinese-Americans in the States, why, then, does Los Angeles still hold the mantle for best Chinese food? Chef pedigree, regional diversity, and a strong local food community are part of the story. Here, we break down the key reasons why SoCal is miles ahead of the competition.


How L.A. Became A Powerhouse for Chinese Food

Clarissa Wei is a part of the network of food writers and bloggers formerly known as JGold Scouts, who help legendary L.A. Times critic Jonathan Gold uncover the city’s most under-the-radar restaurants. Her area of expertise is Chinese food, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley. Follow her on Twitter: @dearclarissa.

When it comes to Chinese food, the conversation in urban centers of America has long moved past chow meinਊnd into more nuanced arguments about variations of xiaolongbao. But even with cooking shows from icons Martin Yan and Ming Tsai—not to mention Julia Child’s confession that she𠆝 � perfectly happy with only Chinese food”𠅊wareness didn’t reach its smoking point until the 2000s.

In 2006, travel show hosts Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern began highlighting Chinese on No Reservations and Bizarre Foods, respectively, showing folks firsthand what cuisine in China is actually like. In the same year, Los Angeles writer Jonathan Gold became the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. Among his highlighted works:ਊ tribute to the fleshy, cold duckਊt Chinese regional specialist Nanjing Kitchen.

In New York City, a slew of trendy Chinese places began to appear: BaoHaus for Taiwanese buns Xi𠆚n Famous Foods for Shaanxi noodles Yunnan Kitchen and Lotus Blue for home-style chicken soup Mission Chinese Food for modern Sichuan and Red Farmਏor refined dim sum. They appealed to a clientele who either demanded a high level of hospitality, or were seeking out something new and �gy.”


L.A. based David Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants. (Photo courtesy Clarissa Wei) 

Now, New Yorkers think they know the real thing when it comes to Chinese food. It has been a topic of hot debate. A lot of folks like to citeਏlushing, where there are some legitimate regional specialists.਋ut when it comes to quality, it is Los Angeles that reigns supreme—yes, better than Flushing and Vancouver.

𠇏or probably 140 years, the best Chinese food in the U.S. was in San Francisco,” David R. Chan, a Los Angeles attorney and Chinese food hobbyist says. Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants since 1951 and has been documenting his progress on a massive spreadsheet, recording the date and address of his visits. Chan’s interest lies in systematics. A third-generation Taishanese-American and one of the first students enrolled at UCLA’s Asian-American program, Chan uses his spreadsheet as a lens to observe the progression of the Chinese diaspora in America. Food after all, is at the apex of Chinese culture.

It wasn’t until the late�s that the Bay Area lost its crown, and all the action shifted towards the San Gabriel Valley. “That’s when Chinese food in Los Angeles experienced a major upswing,” says Chan.

If New York is home to the largest population of Chinese-Americans in the States, why, then, does Los Angeles still hold the mantle for best Chinese food? Chef pedigree, regional diversity, and a strong local food community are part of the story. Here, we break down the key reasons why SoCal is miles ahead of the competition.


How L.A. Became A Powerhouse for Chinese Food

Clarissa Wei is a part of the network of food writers and bloggers formerly known as JGold Scouts, who help legendary L.A. Times critic Jonathan Gold uncover the city’s most under-the-radar restaurants. Her area of expertise is Chinese food, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley. Follow her on Twitter: @dearclarissa.

When it comes to Chinese food, the conversation in urban centers of America has long moved past chow meinਊnd into more nuanced arguments about variations of xiaolongbao. But even with cooking shows from icons Martin Yan and Ming Tsai—not to mention Julia Child’s confession that she𠆝 � perfectly happy with only Chinese food”𠅊wareness didn’t reach its smoking point until the 2000s.

In 2006, travel show hosts Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern began highlighting Chinese on No Reservations and Bizarre Foods, respectively, showing folks firsthand what cuisine in China is actually like. In the same year, Los Angeles writer Jonathan Gold became the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. Among his highlighted works:ਊ tribute to the fleshy, cold duckਊt Chinese regional specialist Nanjing Kitchen.

In New York City, a slew of trendy Chinese places began to appear: BaoHaus for Taiwanese buns Xi𠆚n Famous Foods for Shaanxi noodles Yunnan Kitchen and Lotus Blue for home-style chicken soup Mission Chinese Food for modern Sichuan and Red Farmਏor refined dim sum. They appealed to a clientele who either demanded a high level of hospitality, or were seeking out something new and �gy.”


L.A. based David Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants. (Photo courtesy Clarissa Wei) 

Now, New Yorkers think they know the real thing when it comes to Chinese food. It has been a topic of hot debate. A lot of folks like to citeਏlushing, where there are some legitimate regional specialists.਋ut when it comes to quality, it is Los Angeles that reigns supreme—yes, better than Flushing and Vancouver.

𠇏or probably 140 years, the best Chinese food in the U.S. was in San Francisco,” David R. Chan, a Los Angeles attorney and Chinese food hobbyist says. Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants since 1951 and has been documenting his progress on a massive spreadsheet, recording the date and address of his visits. Chan’s interest lies in systematics. A third-generation Taishanese-American and one of the first students enrolled at UCLA’s Asian-American program, Chan uses his spreadsheet as a lens to observe the progression of the Chinese diaspora in America. Food after all, is at the apex of Chinese culture.

It wasn’t until the late�s that the Bay Area lost its crown, and all the action shifted towards the San Gabriel Valley. “That’s when Chinese food in Los Angeles experienced a major upswing,” says Chan.

If New York is home to the largest population of Chinese-Americans in the States, why, then, does Los Angeles still hold the mantle for best Chinese food? Chef pedigree, regional diversity, and a strong local food community are part of the story. Here, we break down the key reasons why SoCal is miles ahead of the competition.


How L.A. Became A Powerhouse for Chinese Food

Clarissa Wei is a part of the network of food writers and bloggers formerly known as JGold Scouts, who help legendary L.A. Times critic Jonathan Gold uncover the city’s most under-the-radar restaurants. Her area of expertise is Chinese food, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley. Follow her on Twitter: @dearclarissa.

When it comes to Chinese food, the conversation in urban centers of America has long moved past chow meinਊnd into more nuanced arguments about variations of xiaolongbao. But even with cooking shows from icons Martin Yan and Ming Tsai—not to mention Julia Child’s confession that she𠆝 � perfectly happy with only Chinese food”𠅊wareness didn’t reach its smoking point until the 2000s.

In 2006, travel show hosts Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern began highlighting Chinese on No Reservations and Bizarre Foods, respectively, showing folks firsthand what cuisine in China is actually like. In the same year, Los Angeles writer Jonathan Gold became the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. Among his highlighted works:ਊ tribute to the fleshy, cold duckਊt Chinese regional specialist Nanjing Kitchen.

In New York City, a slew of trendy Chinese places began to appear: BaoHaus for Taiwanese buns Xi𠆚n Famous Foods for Shaanxi noodles Yunnan Kitchen and Lotus Blue for home-style chicken soup Mission Chinese Food for modern Sichuan and Red Farmਏor refined dim sum. They appealed to a clientele who either demanded a high level of hospitality, or were seeking out something new and �gy.”


L.A. based David Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants. (Photo courtesy Clarissa Wei) 

Now, New Yorkers think they know the real thing when it comes to Chinese food. It has been a topic of hot debate. A lot of folks like to citeਏlushing, where there are some legitimate regional specialists.਋ut when it comes to quality, it is Los Angeles that reigns supreme—yes, better than Flushing and Vancouver.

𠇏or probably 140 years, the best Chinese food in the U.S. was in San Francisco,” David R. Chan, a Los Angeles attorney and Chinese food hobbyist says. Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants since 1951 and has been documenting his progress on a massive spreadsheet, recording the date and address of his visits. Chan’s interest lies in systematics. A third-generation Taishanese-American and one of the first students enrolled at UCLA’s Asian-American program, Chan uses his spreadsheet as a lens to observe the progression of the Chinese diaspora in America. Food after all, is at the apex of Chinese culture.

It wasn’t until the late�s that the Bay Area lost its crown, and all the action shifted towards the San Gabriel Valley. “That’s when Chinese food in Los Angeles experienced a major upswing,” says Chan.

If New York is home to the largest population of Chinese-Americans in the States, why, then, does Los Angeles still hold the mantle for best Chinese food? Chef pedigree, regional diversity, and a strong local food community are part of the story. Here, we break down the key reasons why SoCal is miles ahead of the competition.


How L.A. Became A Powerhouse for Chinese Food

Clarissa Wei is a part of the network of food writers and bloggers formerly known as JGold Scouts, who help legendary L.A. Times critic Jonathan Gold uncover the city’s most under-the-radar restaurants. Her area of expertise is Chinese food, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley. Follow her on Twitter: @dearclarissa.

When it comes to Chinese food, the conversation in urban centers of America has long moved past chow meinਊnd into more nuanced arguments about variations of xiaolongbao. But even with cooking shows from icons Martin Yan and Ming Tsai—not to mention Julia Child’s confession that she𠆝 � perfectly happy with only Chinese food”𠅊wareness didn’t reach its smoking point until the 2000s.

In 2006, travel show hosts Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern began highlighting Chinese on No Reservations and Bizarre Foods, respectively, showing folks firsthand what cuisine in China is actually like. In the same year, Los Angeles writer Jonathan Gold became the first food critic to win a Pulitzer Prize. Among his highlighted works:ਊ tribute to the fleshy, cold duckਊt Chinese regional specialist Nanjing Kitchen.

In New York City, a slew of trendy Chinese places began to appear: BaoHaus for Taiwanese buns Xi𠆚n Famous Foods for Shaanxi noodles Yunnan Kitchen and Lotus Blue for home-style chicken soup Mission Chinese Food for modern Sichuan and Red Farmਏor refined dim sum. They appealed to a clientele who either demanded a high level of hospitality, or were seeking out something new and �gy.”


L.A. based David Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants. (Photo courtesy Clarissa Wei) 

Now, New Yorkers think they know the real thing when it comes to Chinese food. It has been a topic of hot debate. A lot of folks like to citeਏlushing, where there are some legitimate regional specialists.਋ut when it comes to quality, it is Los Angeles that reigns supreme—yes, better than Flushing and Vancouver.

𠇏or probably 140 years, the best Chinese food in the U.S. was in San Francisco,” David R. Chan, a Los Angeles attorney and Chinese food hobbyist says. Chan has eaten at more than 6,500 Chinese restaurants since 1951 and has been documenting his progress on a massive spreadsheet, recording the date and address of his visits. Chan’s interest lies in systematics. A third-generation Taishanese-American and one of the first students enrolled at UCLA’s Asian-American program, Chan uses his spreadsheet as a lens to observe the progression of the Chinese diaspora in America. Food after all, is at the apex of Chinese culture.

It wasn’t until the late�s that the Bay Area lost its crown, and all the action shifted towards the San Gabriel Valley. “That’s when Chinese food in Los Angeles experienced a major upswing,” says Chan.

If New York is home to the largest population of Chinese-Americans in the States, why, then, does Los Angeles still hold the mantle for best Chinese food? Chef pedigree, regional diversity, and a strong local food community are part of the story. Here, we break down the key reasons why SoCal is miles ahead of the competition.


Watch the video: Scene in Chinatown (December 2021).