Is the San Gabriel Valley really the nation’s leading Chinese culinary community? With more than two dozen distinct regional options to choose from and millions of Chinese immigrants eager to dine out on them all, it would certainly seem so.
And there may be no better person working in Los Angeles today to talk about the SGV’s dominance than longtime food writer (and occasional Eater contributor) Clarissa Wei. Wei often tackles aspects of the SGV and its seemingly endless dining options for publications near and far, but in her latest round she’s focused on the rise of L.A.’s massive Chinese food scene.
Here are the eight biggest takeaways from her post over at First We Feast:
San Francisco lost the crown in the ’80’s: Wei talks at length with David R. Chan, a local attorney and longtime Chinese food hobbyist. He says the 1980’s saw a major cultural swing from the Bay to the San Gabriel Valley. "That’s when Chinese food in Los Angeles experienced a major upswing."
It all started with the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965: Wei points directly to the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which brought a new flood of immigrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan. And their food, of course.
Spending power matters: Easier access to money in the States led to a push of highly trained chefs, particularly in the dim sum sphere.
Speaking of which… : Dim sum is king in the SGV, especially compared to places like Flushing, New York and San Francisco. Chan points to the likes of Sea Harbour, Elite, Lunasia and King Hua.
Vancouver is losing out: The large Canadian Chinese community to the north eventually started giving way to Los Angeles, with Vancouver chefs being poached for higher-paying gigs and better weather. Now, there’s not nearly as much competition, because L.A. is crushing.
L.A. is winning the diversity war: According to Wei, there are dozens of regions represented in the SGV, from Sichuan, Wuhan, Zhejiang and Xinjiang to Shaanxi, Beijing and beyond. She concedes that Fujianese cuisine doesn’t really exist in town though.
The pressure is intense: With such a concentration of restaurants in the SGV, the pressure to improve or die is immense. Hence, the constant climb to the top of the culinary chain.
The next generation matters more than you think: Today’s Chinese-American immigrants have the money, the cultural duplicity and the know-how to elevate today’s cuisine to tomorrow’s standards.