Meet David R. Chan: The Man Who Has Eaten at Over 6,000 Chinese Restaurants
Another watershed event, which preceded ABC, was the opening of the Chinese shopping center on Atlantic in late 1980, where NBC Seafood is currently located. "The shopping center's importance was the solidification of the Chinese community in Monterey Park, and not just a matter of the development of Chinese restaurants and cuisine," Chan says. "It is significant in restaurant terms, since I guess it was probably the first multi-Chinese restaurant center in the SGV, so it probably comes next in time and importance to the opening of Chinatown's Food Center in 1979."
Next came Focus Plaza in 1991, which was anchored by the opening of the 99 Ranch Market. "The opening of Focus Plaza turned the area into a mecca," Chan says. The most recent watershed moment: Sea Harbour in 2001, which brought the Los Angeles Chinese dining scene into the ranks of Vancouver -- a city Chan had always considered superior to the rest of North America in terms of Chinese food.
"Between visits I used to dream of going to Vancover for their food," Chan says. "But last summer we went to Vancouver, and the food is only incrementally better than Los Angeles."
Chan's broad spectrum of Chinese restaurants allows him to pinpoint and theorize trends in the American-Chinese dining scene. Most notable is his observation of the movement of Chinese restaurants further east of Los Angeles.
"If you sort the Excel schedule by year, you can see the the progression of Chinese food in Los Angeles, first centered in Chinatown, then openings in Monterey Park, Alhambra and Montebello, then further spreading to other communities like San Gabriel, Rosemead and later Rowland Heights and Hacienda Heights," he says.
Chan can pull out dates, restaurant and plaza openings off the top of his head. He'll reference newspaper articles, and if he doesn't feel his words are sufficient, he'll forward you the evidence.
As for restaurants in Los Angeles, Chan admits it's difficult to pick a favorite. "I don't have a favorite because I'm always looking for a new restaurant," he says. But he does have a top-three list: Seafood Village, Qingdao Bread Food and Xi Guan Noodle. "Qingdao and Xi Guan because they're good and cheap," he says.
Chan is impressively thorough. If he doesn't remember something off the bat, he'll go through his archives and provide you with the information afterwards. After our lunch meeting, Chan sent over an email on Xi Guan, which he officially dubbed the most underrated restaurant in the San Gabriel Valley.
"Additional comment on Xi Guan Noodle House would be 'dirt cheap.' Full-size orders start at a little under $4. Their specialty is noodles, and they have a real assembly line where a cook's helper puts the raw material in the styrofoam container (e.g., chow mein, chow fun) and then the cook takes it and cooks it up. But my favorite there is the fish in corn sauce -- as good as it comes in the SGV and only $7, tax included. Of course, like every Chinese restaurant in the SGV, if you mention it you should probably check to see if it's still there. I haven't been there in about a month," he wrote.
Like most of his Chowhound entries, he concluded the post with an address: "8150 E. Garvey Ave., #117H, in Rosemead." For the record, it's still open.
Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Clarissa Wei blogs about Chinese food and tweets @dearclarissa.
140 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, CA