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Chinese and doughnuts: A California tradition
March 15, 2010 5:31 AM   Subscribe

Combination Chinese restaurants-doughnut shops are common sights in California strip malls... But how did they get to be that way? The Atlantic investigates. Strangely enough, most are owned by Cambodians.
posted by huskerdont (112 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have often wondered this, but have been too lazy to google or go to askme. (And it's not just strip malls, either - we don't have any of those in San Francisco, but we sure got Chinesefoodanddonuts.
posted by rtha at 5:37 AM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've seen lots of burrito/doughnut places in New Mexico.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:45 AM on March 15, 2010


I'm at the donut shop!
I'm at the Chinese place!
I'm at the combination donut shop and Chinese place!
posted by The Deej at 5:46 AM on March 15, 2010 [24 favorites]


We have combination chinese/fried chicken carry-outs all with various ingenious ways of conveying packages of chinese food and fried chicken through two inches of lexan.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:46 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


The simple explanation -- which the article sort of mentions -- is that people mostly buy donuts in the morning, and buy Chinese food in the afternoon and evening -- so it's basically a clever way to time-share the space.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:50 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


We have Chinese/Canadian food restaurants and I have no idea what the latter means.
posted by gman at 5:56 AM on March 15, 2010


it's not just strip malls, either - we don't have any of those in San Francisco

what how
posted by DU at 5:56 AM on March 15, 2010


If all you have is a hammer fryer, everything looks like a nail something to fry.

We have Chinese/Canadian food restaurants

Same thing as Chinese/donuts, innit?
posted by kirkaracha at 6:02 AM on March 15, 2010 [13 favorites]


I know about sata andagi but that's Okinawan; are there awesome Chinese-origin doughnuts I should be keeping an eye out for? my brain just imagined a Bavarian Creme but with Ma Bo sauce and I don't know if that would be good or bad
posted by jtron at 6:12 AM on March 15, 2010


Chinese/Canadian food restaurants

Where you eat your poutine with chopsticks?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:12 AM on March 15, 2010


I don't know what you're all talking aboot and if you don't stop, I'll take it to Meta.
posted by gman at 6:16 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, finally! I can get hot sauce for my doughnuts!
posted by jtron at 6:16 AM on March 15, 2010


what how

Not enough real estate. I suppose there might be something strip-mall-like out by San Francisco State? But in the city itself, shops are in storefronts, and parking's on the street (metered, difficult).

And, actually, I just thought of one - it's on California St, in Laurel Heights. No Chinese-food-and-doughnuts place there, though. Too upscale.

The Chinese-food-and-doughnuts place that's closest to my house is at the corner of 24th and Mission, as urban an area as you're going to get, with nary a strip mall in sight.
posted by rtha at 6:18 AM on March 15, 2010


rtha, there's also Potrero Center.
posted by vacapinta at 6:40 AM on March 15, 2010


We have none of these in the northeast, at least that I've seen. I feel left out, I like doughnuts and Chinese food.
posted by reptile at 6:44 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here in the UK, lots of Chinese people run fish and chip shops. They sell Chinese food. They sell fish and chips. Together. All in the one shot.

Most are Cantonese. (At least, they where back in the 1960's when I was a kid, when two of my best friends fathers ran two of the local chippies.)

I remember that the older brother of one friend was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (actually, probably the YCL, but I remember his party membership being displayed proudly on his bedroom door, and that it was a matter of some tension between him and his non-english-speaking father. Mother used to translate.)

I'm guessing that he felt some hankering for his unknown homeland, or the widespread and overt racism of the time was rendering him susceptible to ideologies of resistance. I'm guessing he'd have been about 13 or 14 at the time.

I remember my friend trying to teach me how to masturbate by lying on his bed, reading Parade magazine and listening to Elizabethan Reggae.

This senior moment has been brought to you courtesy of Depend -- for all your special incontinence needs.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:44 AM on March 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


That's all fascinating, but how did bourbon chicken become a Chinese food?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:45 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Japan there's the Mr. Donut chain, which sells donuts and "San Francisco Chinatown" Chinese food, confusingly enough.
posted by bakerybob at 6:47 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


But in the city itself, shops are in storefronts, and parking's on the street (metered, difficult).

Oh, well. In the city itself there never are strip malls for exactly those reasons. I thought maybe SF had outlawed them or something.
posted by DU at 6:47 AM on March 15, 2010


rtha, you must mean this jewel. I wouldn't eat there too often if you value your colon. I'd rather wait in line at El Farolito.

And there are may like it around. On thing to note, both the Sino-American "food" and the donuts are available all day, so if you're hankering for some chow mein at 9am, washed down with a cup of Joe and a cruller, these places are your man. And yes, Potrero Center is a strip mall.
posted by jsavimbi at 6:49 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


You guys can buy Chinese food and donuts in the same place? And you have the nerve to question that providence?!
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:55 AM on March 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


Well, I must've driven past Potrero Center countless times without noticing it, ever. When did that strip mall go up? I don't remember it. (I moved away almost a decade ago.)

Apparently in late 2008 there was talk of adding housing to the top of the mall, which would be an odd development. I wonder if that meant moving the storefronts to the street, and putting in a giant parking garage underneath.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 7:06 AM on March 15, 2010


One thing not mentioned in the article is that apparently some vast proportion of donut/chi-am combo places have the word "Star" in their name (at least the ones that aren't Happy Donut, which has a decent curry by the way). You get your "Donut Star," your "Star Donut," your "Star Donut Chinese," your "Lucky Donut Star," your "Chinese Star Donut," your "Donut Star Chinese Star Donut Donut Star Star Donut Chinese Star Flavors Star" and so on. At least in the Bay Area. Maybe it's different out in the sticks.
posted by majick at 7:07 AM on March 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Huh! Seals Stadium used to be where Potrero Center is now. That would explain the vast space needed for a strip mall to take root in S.F.

A month ago there was a search for home plate used to be at the site. A 1964 picture of the site sans mall and stadium shows the acreage. Neat! (Home plate is somewhere in Aisle 6 at Office Depot there.)

</derail>
posted by Jubal Kessler at 7:16 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


"When did that strip mall go up?"

Like... 15 years ago? 18? It used to be the automall, of course, and then it was empty for a couple of years, but it's been a couple of different generations of strip mall since then. I didn't know it was called "Potrero Center," though, because to my recall the previous mall that occupied the space was still called "Automall."

"I suppose there might be something strip-mall-like out by San Francisco State?"

I think there's a tiny one somewhere along Ocean. Isn't there one out on the bottom of Noriega or something? I haven't been out that way in ages. That block along 48th and Cabrillo by the safeway almost counted before they put in that block of condos in front of it.

" it's on California St, in Laurel Heights"

That's a pretty big stretch of the definition. You can't legitimately call Laurel Village a strip mall. It's just a commercial block with a parking lot in the back. If you start counting those, you'll be turning up tons of tiny neighborhood backyard parking lots with commercial storefronts along the frontage (like that one in inner Sunset, or some arbitrary block along Clement, or the old Thrifty Jr. parking lot at 24th & Castro across from Bud's, or...).
posted by majick at 7:17 AM on March 15, 2010


At least in the East Bay (at least in the Berkeley/Oakland sliver of it that I assume is the whole thing, sorry Richmond) I've noticed a preponderance of "Lee's Donuts." I've never actually tried to order anything, donut- or chinese-food.
posted by goodglovin77 at 7:22 AM on March 15, 2010


You get your "Donut Star," your "Star Donut," your "Star Donut Chinese," your "Lucky Donut Star," your "Chinese Star Donut," your "Donut Star Chinese Star Donut Donut Star Star Donut Chinese Star Flavors Star"

"Star" is the new "Spam"
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 7:25 AM on March 15, 2010


rtha, there's also Potrero Center.

Funny - I go there all the time (bank, Peet's), and I never think of it as a strip mall. I guess because it's...square? And it's two stories.

Regarding whether or not Laurel Village is a strip mall - well, since Potrero Center doesn't seem to be a strip mall to me, maybe my definition of "strip mall" is really different from everyone else's. And come to think of it, I think I was remembering that the parking in front of Laurel Village (I do know there's a lot out back) was offset from the street, but it isn't.

To me, a strip mall is: A single-story row of stores, with parking out front, which is all visible from the street. In that definition, neither Laurel Village nor Potrero Center is a strip mall. Are there any in SF?
posted by rtha at 7:27 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Strangely enough, "Chinese" food isn't really Chinese, either! *gasp* I KNOW!
posted by symbioid at 7:29 AM on March 15, 2010


So... except for the Camodian ownership (which probably relates to a recent immigration wave), is there anything in the article that isn't really obvious?
posted by Doohickie at 7:31 AM on March 15, 2010


There were lots of these around the San Fernando Valley when I lived there - I found the "$1 Chinese Food" neon signs in the windows of many of them off-putting.
posted by usonian at 7:33 AM on March 15, 2010


"Chinese and Canadian" from my experience always means gwai lo "Chinese"- in Alberta (and other parts of Western Canada), it's "Chinese and Western Food." If you're lucky they'll have ginger beef; if you're really lucky they'll have GOOD ginger beef, like at the utterly fantastic King's Restaurant down the street from me in Calgary.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 7:33 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I want to know is how the Asian mafia took over the bagel shops in San Francisco. Being from the East Coast, that registered as an anomaly right away. It's not pigeon-holing a people into only doing what they're known to do collectively as an ethnic group, but it was cause for alarm to see such an obvious ethnic crossover.

Like all the Italian restaurants in Boston's North End owned and operated by Irish immigrants.
posted by jsavimbi at 7:55 AM on March 15, 2010


"What I want to know is how the Asian mafia took over the bagel shops in San Francisco."

What the FUCK? "Took over?" From who?
posted by majick at 8:02 AM on March 15, 2010


Cambodians, huh? Lowell, MA has the highest percentage of Cambodians of any place in the United States, with 10.37% of its population being Cambodian , but it has no Asian donut shops at all.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:03 AM on March 15, 2010


What the FUCK? "Took over?" From who?

Exactly. That's what I want to know. Or did they start them?
posted by jsavimbi at 8:04 AM on March 15, 2010


Where I used to live in FL we had a couple combo Korean Laundry / Dougnut joints.
posted by TomMelee at 8:09 AM on March 15, 2010


What, did you think only honest white folk are allowed to run small food service businesses in San Francisco? You think Asians came in and "took over?" Seriously?

Well, let's see. The House of Bagels out on Geary has been operated by an Asian family since I was a little kid, so that's going back to at least the 70s. The old Holy Bagel chain imploded in the 80s and some of the bits left over from that got picked up by various entrepreneurs, some of whom might have been Asian. I don't know if anyone of Asian descent owned it before it blew up, though. Almost all of the little independent bagel joints around town are either Holy Bagel chain remnants or are new businesses since then, started by whoever started them.
posted by majick at 8:10 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


What, did you think only honest white folk are allowed to run small food service businesses in San Francisco?

Wow, you've got some serious outrage going on for this early in the morning.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:17 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


And it's not just strip malls, either - we don't have any of those in San Francisco, but we sure got Chinesefoodanddonuts.

SF has tons of strip malls. Your definition is just wonky. Re-adjust it using the parameters "any grotty block of three or more low end retail - and often chain - stores" and you have 10 of them within a short walking distance.

Think about it. A huge chunk of Van Ness or Mission St in the Mission is basically one giant strip mall. Same goes for long segments of Market Street. Liquor store, check cashing place, cell phone store, cell phone store, Payless Shoes, Subway Sandwiches, check cashing and liquor store, cell phone store, cheap imported discount clothing store, Chinese Food and Donuts, cell phone and calling card store, thrift store, smoke shop, etc.

SF just has to have on-street parking, if any. But that Rite Aid near you with the weird mix of crappy retail stores around it is rather strip-mall, IMO. It even has stucco-on-structural foam going on, complete with off street parking. If there was a Subway and Payless in the same parking area instead of just down the street it would totally be a strip mall.

If you look at it the right way more than 50% of the retail frontage in SF is being employed as one giant strip mall. Seriously, it's almost entirely comprised of bottle shops and smoke shops mixed with take away food joints of various ethnicities or pseudoethnicities, liberally seasoned with weird clothing joints and cell phone stores.

In contrast you actually need to know where you're going if you want to find something useful like a proper grocery store, a book store, a music store or a decent shoe store, as opposed to somewhere that sells "hip hop gear" in the form of dangerously shoddy counterfeit Nike Airs covered in rhinestone-studded marijuana leaves alongside glass pipes or artificially fruit-flavored blunt wraps.
posted by loquacious at 8:18 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


You say outrageous shit -- using language like "took over" -- don't be surprised if someone's outraged. But yeah, the San Francisco bagel business isn't like it's some ancient bastion of New York Jews who got muscled out of their shops by the Triads. There are a lot of Asian people on the west coast. Some of us own businesses. Get over your shock.
posted by majick at 8:23 AM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow, you've got some serious outrage going on for this early in the morning.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:29 AM on March 15, 2010


jsavimbi, in CA it's totally normal and expected for independent retail food places large and small to be owned by Asian families of nearly all kinds from Korean to Cambodian, especially if you're talking about donuts, bagels or anything you can throw in a grill, wok or deep fryer.

But "asian mafia" is really kind of, excuse me, fucking offensive. As far as I can tell there's no "asian mafia" behind all the donut stores. (And liquor stores, and generic "Chinese" food stores.) The ties to Asian culture run very deep in California, going well back to the early 1800s, even before the gold-mining and railroad-building. Some of this history involves slavery and other problematic issues.

There's no "taking over". These are some of the hardest working, most honest and trustworthy people in the state. It's not easy to start with zilch and end up owning and operating a retail store.
posted by loquacious at 8:29 AM on March 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Your definition is just wonky.

That is entirely possible. Although the definition here pretty much mirrors my own, and does not include anything like commercial corridors like Mission St. or 24th St. or Van Ness. If the definition of "strip mall" is stretched that far, then much of Manhattan is also a strip mall.

Strip malls also don't include - in my experience - much or any residential space. They're for shops, not for living in, and everything on Mission St. has apartments above the stores.
posted by rtha at 8:32 AM on March 15, 2010


Cambodian food is really great. Think of Thai food, now think of Vietnamese and now somewhere between the two is Cambodian. Wonderful curry stews, fish steamed in coconut milk with lemongrass in banana leaf, big thick stir fried noodles... Good stuff. Yes, there are spiders but it's mostly a tourist thing.
posted by misterpatrick at 8:32 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, you've got some serious outrage going on for this early in the morning.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
posted by loquacious at 8:32 AM on March 15, 2010


Strip malls also don't include - in my experience - much or any residential space. They're for shops, not for living in, and everything on Mission St. has apartments above the stores.

Yeah, my definition is a bit broad, and the residential and mixed-use makes it trickier, but I'm kind of focusing on the type of stores. Give me a Payless Shoes, a Subway Sandwiches, a McDonalds, a bottle shop and a dodgy looking cell phone store all in a row and it pretty much looks and acts like a strip mall to me and quacks like a duck.
posted by loquacious at 8:35 AM on March 15, 2010


are there awesome Chinese-origin doughnuts I should be keeping an eye out for? my brain just imagined a Bavarian Creme but with Ma Bo sauce and I don't know if that would be good or bad

jtron: There is a Chinese-origin fried dough dish called You Tiao (literal translation: oil stick) which is commonly eaten for breakfast. It's a savoury item as opposed to a sweet one, and honestly I find it rather bland and greasy by itself. When paired with its traditional Chinese breakfast counterpart, hot soy milk soup, it is sublime.

It's also very good when they wrap it in rice noodle and served with Hoisin sauce during dim sum, as Zhaliang.
posted by C^3 at 8:39 AM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


pretty much looks and acts like a strip mall to me and quacks like a duck

See, that's why after I eat mushrooms I stay in the woods. Quacking strip malls would fuck me up six ways from Sunday.
posted by everichon at 8:40 AM on March 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also now I want a donut. Mother. Fuck.
posted by everichon at 8:41 AM on March 15, 2010


For any Vancouverites interested, Duffin Donuts at the corner of Knight and 49th follows this formula exactly, with the added bonus of tortas. Cambodians? Check. Donuts? Yup. Chinese food? Uhuh. Plus Vietnamese pho and some Cambodian. And as the family arrived in Vancouver via Mexicali Mexico they also do tortas for the win.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:47 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


But "asian mafia" is really kind of, excuse me, fucking offensive.

Wow, you too have some serious outrage going on for this early in the morning.

Please reread the first half of the comments and grip yourself to the lack of seriousness, because you're channeling some serious Donny here. If you're extremely sensitive to the American experience, I'd suggest you stop lurking threads that explore how multi-ethnic population shifts bind us together.

And get over your phony outrage.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:47 AM on March 15, 2010


No srs I am authentically outraged that I am without a donut at this time. You don't know me.
posted by everichon at 8:50 AM on March 15, 2010


My local Asian-run donut shop in Noe Valley is donuts-and-bad-sandwiches, not Chinese food. It's busy 24 hours and is the most diverse place I've been in to on Noe Valley. Well not so many power mommies with baby SUVs, it's sort of a welcome respite from that. But all day and night all sorts of people.

What I don't understand about San Francisco is for a city with some many recent Chinese immigrants, why is most of the Chinese food awful? Particularly delivery places. Everything's sweet, and greasy, and been sitting on a steam table for hours. Of course I'm hoping this comment prompts a deluge of this place is great comments (my take: Mayflower, Ton Kiang), but we have to acknowledge that we have a lot of terribly shitty Chinese food in SF.

PS: It's not a strip mall if it doesn't have parking. And it's not a strip mall if most people walk to it.
posted by Nelson at 8:50 AM on March 15, 2010


Congratulations to Lowell for coming in 2nd place to my home town (Lowell had the highest percentage of Cambodians of any place in the United States, with 10.37% of its population being Cambodian,[7] and is only second in population to Long Beach, California.)

We have more than our fair share of combination donut/chinese food shops and if you're in town I would recommend Allison's on the corner of Orange and Carson next to the 99 cent store.

Having a large Khmer population has been a bonus to the city and a source of civic pride - and if one of those things is running our donut shops I'm proud of that also. I appreciate anyone being willing to get up in the middle of the night to have a delicious devil's food donut ready for me on my drive to work.
posted by Edward L at 8:50 AM on March 15, 2010


Mellow, we can all get behind Cambodian donuts and fake Chinese food. It's all good. Let's not go Meta on this one.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:56 AM on March 15, 2010


and chinese food is too limiting - my kids, who know more than me, call it pan-Asian cuisine.
posted by Edward L at 9:00 AM on March 15, 2010


Ethnomethodologist:

The thing that makes me miss Edmonton, is that I cannot get Ginger Beef or Green Onion Cakes living in Toronto. (Though I cannot get General Tso's out west.) That is the great mystery of Chinese food.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:04 AM on March 15, 2010


And get over your phony outrage.

I'm pretty far from outraged. I'm kicking it with corndogs for breakfast.

Thanks anyway, Holden.
posted by loquacious at 9:04 AM on March 15, 2010


mccarty.tim: "You guys can buy Chinese food and donuts in the same place? And you have the nerve to question that providence?!"

Many of these places also serve ice cream.
posted by joedan at 9:28 AM on March 15, 2010


There's a donut place on the OSU campus that has been there for a long time; it's a family run business. It just so happens that family is Greek, and a couple years ago they started serving gyros. I got a gyro-donut combo for lunch a couple of times. Not bad.
posted by demiurge at 9:29 AM on March 15, 2010


One of my former favorite eats in NYC was a Chinese/doughnut/Spanish fare place. Until one day I saw all the employees outside protesting. Why are you protesting, I asked. Because our pay is $1.75 and hour. I never ate their again.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:36 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


As Keith Talent noted above - these places exist in Vancouver, though much less so than before. They are an example of pure Asian pragmatism. Many immigrants scrape and save to purchase a business to call their own, they don't want to fuck the current business base, so they continue to sell what the locals come for, be it donuts, fish chips, etc... It tends to be donut shops around these parts as its an easy item to master and good profit margin to boot. The Asian food is added as they get more comfortable with their customers, and its a natural given their culinary background and the desire to expand the menu and revenue streams.

I went to high school with a couple of kids who's parents ran this sort of business. Eventually, though, the competition gets too tough and they have to sell up. Not from other donut shops - but from the awesome selection of good and cheap Chinese restaurants that Vancouver is famous for.

Even now, whenever I pop into the Duffins for a donut or torta or Chinese... it feels a little nostalgic, kinda like a Wayne Wang movie.
posted by helmutdog at 9:40 AM on March 15, 2010


At work, we call our closest Donut/Chinese food place "Tranbodia." Most of the customers hanging out there during the day are TS streetwalkers.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:42 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


All this makes me wonder whether the Chinese Sub Shop is a peculiarly DC phenomenon.
posted by drlith at 9:57 AM on March 15, 2010


Huh. The only one of these I've ever seen is in Barstow, and neither the donuts or the chinese food is that great. The chow mein is made from orange colored noodles that don't look all that edible, like something out of my daughter's play kitchen set.

Either way I've mentioned it to a few people and they are almost always astounded at the idea that you can time it just right (from about 10:45 to 11:25 am) and get both donuts and kung pao.
posted by Big_B at 9:57 AM on March 15, 2010


That's all fascinating, but how did bourbon chicken become a Chinese food?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders


I faintly recall the delicious flavor of "Bourbon Street Chicken". I've been vegan a long time, and it's been at least ten years since I've eaten that. I forgot it existed. I'm going to promptly "vegetarianize" it. Thanks for the reminder about this food!
posted by Malice at 10:07 AM on March 15, 2010


I call shenanigans on any definition of "strip mall" that focuses on the type of store rather than the actual form of the property. To me a strip mall is defined by the parking lot out front, and to a lesser extent by being only one story. If it's designed for pedestrians rather than cars, it's not a strip mall, no matter how shitty the stores are, and if the building is at all distinctive or accommodating of density, it's probably not a strip mall. What makes the "strip mall" designation useful is that it indicates that the site would be a stone bitch to repurpose into anything but low-density commercial.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:09 AM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Related: Why most doughnut (and cake, etc.) boxes in L.A. are Peptol-Bismol pink.
posted by turducken at 10:21 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Years ago in Oakland there was a Chinese/Donut/Liquor store near the community college. I was very impressed.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:28 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can I add to this?

Strip mall: a collection of outward-facing retail outlets with dedicated parking, housed on a single parcel of land. One has to exit one store to access another; there are no inter-connected stores or dedicated indoor spaces for shoppers.

Not a shopping center (inward-facing) or a mall (interconnected stores with dedicated common areas).
posted by jsavimbi at 10:30 AM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Any chance of this moving eastward? In New York, most donut shops, even the chain ones, seem to be run by Indian/Pakistani or other South Asian immigrants. And FWIW, the bagel shop on my street is run by Greeks and the pizzeria is run by Mexicans*. The food is good at both. It's Queens, dude.

*Queens moment: about a week ago I was in the aforementioned pizza place waiting for my food. There was a TV on the wall playing an old Tom & Jerry cartoon. It begins with them living way out in the country, then Jerry leaves Tom a note that he's going off to New York to be a star. Cut to a train pulling into a station labeled "Grand Central." One of the guys behind the counter nudged his buddy and said in a thick Mexican accent, "Hey! he's riding the 7 train!" which got a big laugh.

Queens thing. You wouldn't understand.

posted by jonmc at 10:30 AM on March 15, 2010 [6 favorites]


Oh, and come to think of it, Berkeley has a Cambodian BBQ/Donut place - I've yet to check it out.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:32 AM on March 15, 2010


jonmc: "Any chance of this moving eastward?"

I'm not sure you would want it to. In my experience, the Chinese food at these places is rarely any good.
posted by joedan at 10:38 AM on March 15, 2010


I drive by these all the time, but I'm never in the mood for either when I do.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:52 AM on March 15, 2010


Here's another San Francisco strip mall on Third Street, called Bayview Palace. However, this one has offices above on a second story.
posted by flamk at 11:10 AM on March 15, 2010


If you want to hear someone talk about the history of chinese food in general and why it has been amazingly adaptable, Jennifer 8. Lee went to the google and talked about it for a while. It dovetails nicely with all the offerings of of regional cuisine at chinese food places listed in this thread.
posted by edbles at 11:13 AM on March 15, 2010


I remember in Oxford, right next to the student housing I was unlucky enough to be in my first year, there was this amazing Pan-southeast-asian/Chippy place. After a night out, there is quite literally nothing better than an order of chips and fried noodles. If you smiled just right, they'd often throw in a liter of Coke for free.
posted by PMdixon at 11:16 AM on March 15, 2010


Also, having grown up in South Jersey, I define a strip mall as a place that creates in me the unique feeling of depression, ickiness and homesickness that only impersonal tracts of branding and cars can. Cities, using my incredibly thorough sample group of one, seem to be immune from this because there's not enough room to get that desolation thing going properly.
posted by edbles at 11:18 AM on March 15, 2010


"[This kind] of Chinese food is so simple," he explained. "You can buy the sauce all ready to go."

Curious editorial marks... I am also reminded of that other FPP about the 3-point compass of fast food: Sweet, Greasy, and Salty.


@nelson "What I don't understand about San Francisco is for a city with some many recent Chinese immigrants, why is most of the Chinese food awful? Particularly delivery places."

Most Chinese food in North America is god-awful because it's not anywhere near authentic. Doing authentic food here would be a much harder sell: they forgo competitiveness if they limit to a particular regional cuisine and/or ignore the learned tastes of Americans in general. The only way to do authentic here, would be to go upscale. But that automatically rules out a large portion of Chinese immigrant chefs because they don't already have the skills/resources required to run an operation at that level. That's why the good restaurants here are few and far between, typically only found in the supporting presence of a large, well-developed Chinese diaspora.

I sorely miss the Chinese food in Vancouver. My family visited NYC recently (both the Chinatown and Flushing enclaves), and we found nothing comparable.
posted by polymodus at 11:58 AM on March 15, 2010


At first I was all, "Damn, we don't have combination Chinese food/doughnut shops here in Washington!"

Then I remembered that Chinese buffets always have little doughnuts which are like "religious experience" good. The buffet here in Mount Vernon labels them "house bread," which I find utterly charming.

And then I got really hungry but I'm trying to eat right so I had an apple and DAMMIT I DON'T WANT FRESH FRUIT, I WANT A DEEP FRIED CHINESE DOUGHNUT. Ooh and Crab Rangoon! POTSTICKERS.

Metafilter, you suck and I hate you.
posted by ErikaB at 12:11 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Most Chinese food in North America is god-awful because it's not anywhere near authentic.

Where in the hell are all you people eating this godawful Chinese food??? Are you only eating the places that other white people go? Because I have had many, many good Chinese food experiences in San Francisco, San Gabriel and San Jose/Milipitas, none of which were Americanised (and trust me, as a non-American in the US, I'm pretty sensitive to food, it's taken me a year to find a bread I like), and I'm feeling like I should consult the people that have taken me out to eat and get a list for y'all to soothe your frustrations. I can even get good Chinese food down here in San Diego (Chins, Ba-Ren if anyone is interested), a place notorious for it's lacking Chinese (and Mexican) food.

> "There is a Chinese-origin fried dough dish called You Tiao (literal translation: oil stick) which is commonly eaten for breakfast. It's a savoury item as opposed to a sweet one, and honestly I find it rather bland and greasy by itself. When paired with its traditional Chinese breakfast counterpart, hot soy milk soup, it is sublime."

I came here to say this. Oh lord, did the heavens open and angels sing the day I had fried dough and warm soy milk for brunch.
posted by saturnine at 12:27 PM on March 15, 2010


I live in San Francisco's Chinatown where we don't have any donut/Chinese food places, but I suppose that can be forgiven since there are a few places to buy donuts (or even better, sublime egg tart pastries) and then go next door for cheap Chinese food. Cruller and BBQ pork buns in two short stops, yum.

Though we do have another outpost of Nelson's donuts-and-bad-sandwiches chain, but they add in a decent greasy spoon breakfast for good measure.
posted by dantsea at 12:28 PM on March 15, 2010


I used to live down the street from a pupuseria/donut shop. Pupusas are from El Salvador, they are like a really thick corn tortilla with the filling (beans, cheese, meat, etc) inside the tortilla and served with pickled cabbage and tomato sauce. The donuts were pretty standard, but the best part was the Indian store owner who played Hindi soap operas on the TV and could speak fluent Spanish. Something for everyone!
posted by wilky at 12:28 PM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh A+ to me for thinking everyone on Metafilter is white, can we please disregard the stupid "other white people" comment please.
posted by saturnine at 12:31 PM on March 15, 2010


Years ago in Oakland there was a Chinese/Donut/Liquor store near the community college. I was very impressed.

You mean Laney? As far as I know it's still there. Isn't it? I bought an eggroll and a red bull there once.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:49 PM on March 15, 2010


Most Chinese food in North America is god-awful because it's not anywhere near authentic.

Nah. You can have perfectly tasty Chinese food that only vaguely resembles anything actually served in China, just as you can have great Mexican food that has little or nothing to do with food eaten in Mexico and delicious pizza that differs strongly from the related product eaten in parts of Italy.

General Tso's Chicken is (AFAIK) utterly inauthentic, but there can still be good GTC and bad GTC.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:02 PM on March 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm curious if there are any hotdog+donut shops out there.
posted by kgander at 1:08 PM on March 15, 2010


You Can't Tip a Buick wrote: I call shenanigans on any definition of "strip mall" that focuses on the type of store rather than the actual form of the property.

I'll concede the point, especially when considering the land use and reuse difficulties with trying to reuse a proper strip mall for anything else. The architecture and planning of a proper strip mall is hideous, ugly, and highly dysfunctional in the grand scheme of things.

But the neighborhood and financial effect of a long row of cheap rent chain stores is pretty much the same.

joedan wrote: I'm not sure you would want it to. In my experience, the Chinese food at these places is rarely any good.

You just rang jonmc's bells and did little to dissuade him. The man is apparently fueled by refined corn starch, MSG, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, more MSG and malt liquor. I've seen pictures of his preferred snack foods and eating habits. The more unnatural the color and the longer the ingredient list is the more likely he is to eat it.

Granted, I have my own snacky-cake and cheeseburger fetishes that's no damn good for me and probably explains why my cholesterol levels make doctors triple-take and gasp in alarm. Barring a freak accident involving severe trauma, I'm pretty much certain about how I'll kick the bucket, and it'll be the moment when my heart clogs and leaps up to throttle my poor brain. Considering the extended family history of heart disease and all... but, hey... bacon!
posted by loquacious at 1:16 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


@saturnine "I'm feeling like I should consult the people that have taken me out to eat and get a list for y'all to soothe your frustrations."

I'm sorry, I was careless and let my east-coast bias slip in. California has lots of good, proper Chinese food at affordable prices. My friend took me to a little place in Milpitas, and the Hunan-chicken plate that I ordered was... wow. Nice food memories of that.

The NYC area is more problematic though. I have asked (Chinese) friends where to go, but I haven't come across a place that matches the level of West coast Chinese cooking... yet.


@ROU "Nah. You can have perfectly tasty Chinese food that only vaguely resembles anything actually served in China"

Then it shouldn't be called Chinese food. In fact you point out the bigger problem with Chinese / Chinese-American food in America. First, fusion cuisine is known to be hard to pull off. Second, when we talk discuss Chinese food, generally we're referring to food you could easily come across while visiting Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, or Taipei.

General Tso's Chicken is a good example. As you point out, a few restaurants have been able to reappropriate the dish. Still, the Chinese food I crave doesn't include GTC; I miss the old stuff that I grew up with.
posted by polymodus at 1:29 PM on March 15, 2010


Most Chinese food in North America is god-awful because it's not anywhere near authentic.

"Authentic" mexican food in california is pretty much nothing more than taco night at a friend's house. Sure it tastes great, but it also tastes great somewhere else too. I'm pretty sure it's the quality of the food that differentiates authentic mexican food from california style. Cheap, tough, meat stewed for hours on end with any variation of spices and whatever eventually tasting like heaven is far from what I expect at your local taqueria, where you can just buy awesome cuts of beef for $9.95. Plus I'm pretty sure that NO ONE piles on the condiments like we do. (sour cream, guacamole, cheese, olives, green onions, blah blah blah)
posted by bam at 1:29 PM on March 15, 2010


polymodus: Re-appropriate General Tso's? The dish didn't exist until it got invented to accomodate the sweet, non-animal parts palette over here.

Of course this is based off of wiki and that one video I linked upthread if I'm talking out of my ass please stop me before I bring it up in front of non-internet people.
posted by edbles at 2:05 PM on March 15, 2010


It's not limited to chinese food.
posted by jewzilla at 2:14 PM on March 15, 2010


Original poster here. Happy and amazed to see so many people interested in the thread, even if I don't have a damn thing to add on the what-constitutes-a-strip-mall argument.

I'm an east coast resident whose California experiences have mostly been in Los Angeles and the East Bay - so that's where the strip mall association comes from. For any die-hard SFers who were offended by my tying of chinese/donut restaurants to strip malls, I humbly apologize.

With that said, I think we can all agree that Chinese food kicks ass, whether it's "real" Chinese food, Americanized General Tsos and crab rangoon or whatever your local variant may be. Chinese food = good.
posted by huskerdont at 2:23 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


You gotta respect anyone who does all that chopping of every ingredient.
posted by Cranberry at 2:26 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


polymodus: Re-appropriate General Tso's?

Hehe you're correct. I hadn't eaten then and my logical faculties were starting to fail.
I should have said something like reversely-appropriated; we think of appropriation happening in the direction of exotic culture to majority culture, whereas ROU was citing an example where it happened in the reverse direction. :)
posted by polymodus at 2:36 PM on March 15, 2010


Second, when we talk discuss Chinese food, generally we're referring to food you could easily come across while visiting Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, or Taipei.

Depends on who "we" are, but when you're speaking American English to a group of strangers, "Chinese food" doesn't refer to food you could come across while visiting China, no matter how much you think it should. Based on how speakers of American English use that language, it refers to food you get from Chinese restaurants in the US. In the same way that in American English, "pizza" doesn't refer to the original Italian product but to what it morphed into here. GTC is Chinese food, but it is not food from China.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:40 PM on March 15, 2010


The "Chinese-Canadian" restaurant thing in Western Canada is admittedly a but weird, but its less weird if you understand the history of a lot of those places.

No, the food is nothing like you get in China or any other part of Asia.

"Chinese-Canadian" places are often (especially in smaller towns) are more Canadian than Chinese, since a lot of them are run by third and fourth generation Canadian families. In the case of Western Canada, this means a lot of these "Chinese" restaurants pre-date most of the white settlement of the area they inhabit (the Chinese in these kind of places are quite often descended from railway workers). It shouldn't be too surprising that the Asian connection sometimes seems a little shaky.

I see some Indian-Canadian restaurants starting to do the same thing...
posted by Deep Dish at 2:43 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Based on how speakers of American English use that language, it refers to food you get from Chinese restaurants in the US.

If by the phrase "Chinese food" you implicitly restrict the discourse to "American Chinese food", then you're missing out on a whole other world of culinary possibility.

When I ate with some friends recently, one of them mentioned: "The Indian food we find in restaurants is nothing like the Indian food we have back at home." So clearly there's overloaded use of terminology.

Fact is, American English is getting to be quite international these days anyways.
posted by polymodus at 2:44 PM on March 15, 2010


"The NYC area is more problematic though"

You have the only Uniqlo store in the entire country. I consider crappy Chinese food a great way to balance out this injustice.
posted by saturnine at 2:45 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the same way that in American English, "pizza" doesn't refer to the original Italian product but to what it morphed into here.

I don't really hear people say, "Shall we go for some Italian?" anymore when discussing about a nice pizza place. But this linguistic travesty happens to Chinese food, and surely I'm not the only one who would feel this to be a loss.

I know it's unwieldy, but I guess the -American suffix is sometimes what we mean even though it's too much trouble to say it aloud.
posted by polymodus at 2:50 PM on March 15, 2010


Please tell me majick didn't really just disable his user account because of this thread. Because, really, that would suck. His user profile says he joined in 2001, people.
posted by misha at 3:27 PM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


In Minneapolis there is (was?) a restaurant in a downtown food court called the "Louisinana Cafe" (sic) that served such authentic soul food specialties as "Kim Chee". It also had something labeled "Bourbon Chicken" that looked suspiciously like General Tso's. All the food came with a side of rice. I swear this is true.
posted by norm at 3:42 PM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Please tell me majick didn't really just disable his user account because of this thread. Because, really, that would suck. His user profile says he joined in 2001, people.

I feel as if someone should start keeping count. There's been a flurry last couple of months.
posted by Catfry at 4:01 PM on March 15, 2010


You want 'authentic' Chinese food? Go to china. Or whatever region of China turns your crank: Szechwan, Mongolian, etc.

As someone upthread said, even when dealing with 'inauthentic' dishes, there are degrees of quality. and, frankly, arguing about authenticity in Chinese food makes you look like you just stepped fully formed out of here.
posted by jonmc at 4:32 PM on March 15, 2010


Giant Robot had an article about this a couple of years ago (issue #49 -- article isn't online) where they went around and ate at a bunch of these places over the course of a few days. It was good stuff.
posted by darksong at 5:09 PM on March 15, 2010


More strip malls in SF: the one on Sloat. the one up on Twin Peaks. i'd argue in favor of Laurel Village as a strip mall b/c of the dedicated parking.
posted by feckless at 5:14 PM on March 15, 2010


Second, when we talk discuss Chinese food, generally we're referring to food you could easily come across while visiting Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, or Taipei

No, generally when we're talking Chinese food, we're talking about the food one can find in San Franciscon Los Angeles, New York, London, or any other large western city. Now, if you were talking about Sichuan, or Canton, or Jiangsu, Hunan, Anhui or Fujian cuisinen THEN maybe you could be actually talking about the cuisine found in Hong Kong or Beijing. But calling it "Chinese" indicates that it's the mongrel smogishboard of food that may be influenced by Chinese spices and cooking methods, but is generally adapted for the Western palete and eating habits.

And within that category of "Chinese", one can find poor and excellent restaurants, just as one can find establishments of varying quality in Hunan or Cantonese styles.
posted by happyroach at 5:32 PM on March 15, 2010


Please tell me majick didn't really just disable his user account because of this thread. Because, really, that would suck.

Mother of fucking hell.
posted by loquacious at 7:07 PM on March 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mods need to post a big "gone sxsw-in' there may be an influx of poorly thought out or offensive comments, pardon our mess" sign.
posted by edbles at 7:38 PM on March 15, 2010


polymodus: I don't really hear people say, "Shall we go for some Italian?" anymore when discussing about a nice pizza place. But this linguistic travesty happens to Chinese food, and surely I'm not the only one who would feel this to be a loss.

The vast majority of 'Italian restaurants' serve Italian-American food, most of them do not serve traditional food like they serve in Italy, even if they pretend to do so. My wife and I are living in south-Jersey, but neither one of us is from the area, so if we decide to search out some from-Italy-style-food, we specify that we'll find a place with 'Italian food, not Italian-American." They're both fine, but there is a lot of difference.

As a side note: I loved it when I went to India and they had tons, tons of 'Chinese' food joints, in some areas at least 1 out of every 2 food shops, in some places even more. But it wasn't real food like people eat in China, but it wasn't fake-Chinese food like in the States, either, it was a whole separate set of staples and expected dishes. Lots of them, in the States, are served at 'Indian' places. The 'Mexican' food we found was like White People Mexican in the States, except with more cilantro, though surprisingly not really any more heat.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:45 PM on March 15, 2010


I'm curious if there are any hotdog+donut shops out there.

Donut shops in Australia often sell hot dogs. In my experience they do it poorly. Typically, they boil red coloured frankfurts and steam sugary buns that taste like a mcdonalds burger bun. Toppings include mustard, sauce and cheese. Onions if you are really lucky.
I think the combination comes up because the hotdog equipment is really small in space required, the mark up is quite large, and the skill required to serve is negligible.
So why donut shops? Aussies don't eat many hotdogs, and it is very rare to see a place that specialises in hot dogs or to see a hot dog cart (except at midnight outside a pub, where they perform an excellent service).
Without enough business to support a dedicated operation, they can be set-up as a secondary facet of an existing place, just like the chinese/donut places.
The other factor is that Aussies don't eat donuts for breakfast, they are almost exclusively a morning tea/afternoon tea snack or dessert course after lunch.
This may vary for stale petrol station donuts, which seem to be eaten by teenagers with the munchies at any time.
posted by bystander at 11:54 PM on March 15, 2010


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