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This Retiree Might Be Southern California’s Foremost Chinese Food Historian

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David R. Chan dined at 7,392 Chinese restaurants throughout the U.S. over 40 years

Preparations Are Made For Chinese New Year Of The Dog Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Mona Holmes is a reporter for Eater Los Angeles and a regular contributor to KCRW radio. She has covered restaurants, dining, and food culture since 2016. In 2022, the James Beard Foundation nominated her for a Jonathan Gold Local Voice Award.

Local social media celebrity David R. Chan is one of LA’s unusual gems. Chan’s Instagram and Twitter feeds are filled with closeup food shots and brief meal descriptions of mostly Chinese food. His posts are simple, frequent, and can sometimes occur up to six times per week. And while this might seem like a frivolous venture, Chan might have documented the changing face of Chinese cuisine in Southern California.

The 70-year-old’s mission was revealed in a long read for South China Morning Post Magazine, which is to try as many new meals as possible. He keeps every meal on an Excel spreadsheet, which started 40 years ago as a hand-written list of Chinese restaurants. The last time Chan checked, he ate at 7,392 restaurants throughout the United States.

This lifelong Angeleno recently retired as a certified public accountant and lawyer, which gives him plenty of time to dine out. But Chan cannot use chopsticks, eats low-cholesterol foods, avoids sugar, dislikes spicy foods, and according to the article, does not like food in general.

Chan discusses LA’s Chinatown and immigration, recalling when Cantonese dominated the West Coast for decades, including his first taste of Hong Kong-style food in San Francisco in the late 1970s. He also notes the arrival of seafood-oriented menus in 1980, and when Shanghai-style restaurants started to dominate in the late 1980s.

While innocently speaking to New York’s Asia Society in 2012, Chan was asked why his list was limited to California. His response? New York Chinese food had not developed in the same way as the West Coast’s. But when the Society published the list without Chan’s permission, he found himself in the middle of an East versus West Coast Chinese food battle.