The original L.A. Weekly/Huffington Post/People.com item on my visits to over 6,000 Chinese restaurants has generated all sorts of comments. One common reaction has been disbelief, with a number of commenters actually trying to do the math. How could I possibly have eaten at 6,000 different Chinese restaurants, since that would require trying a new Chinese restaurant every day for over 16 years? And even if you did one a day, wouldn't you run out of new Chinese restaurants to try?
Well the question is a valid one, but there really is an explanation. First of all, I've been doing this for more than 16 years, more like 35 years, though in the older days there weren't that many places worth trying. But more importantly, a good chunk of those 6,000 restaurants are located outside of my Los Angeles home base. When I'm home, I probably average at most maybe just two or three new Chinese restaurants a week, a pace which would indeed take forever to reach 6,000. However when I'm out of town I literally eat four or even five meals a day, each at a different restaurant. Consequently a four day trip to New York or San Francisco can easily add 20 restaurants to the listing, with most of my non-work hours devoted to scouting for food. I've perfected the breakfast and lunchtime subway dash between Midtown Manhattan and Chinatown (take the B or D train from under the Sheraton Hotel to Grand Ave.). And San Francisco is an especially fruitful destination, since besides the large quantity of good Chinese restaurants there, if I order a bad dish somewhere I don't have to finish it, but rather I can pack it up and give it to one of the homeless people that are ubiquitous around San Francisco Chinatown at night (where I always stay, though do not necessarily eat). That's what I call a win-win situation--leftovers for the homeless and I don't have to fill myself up on something that's not very good.
Once in a while I get even more ambitious, like the dim sum crawl through the suburbs of Toronto that I previously blogged about two years ago, where I hit up six dim sum restaurants one Sunday between 9 am and 3 pm. Or similarly the eight hour drive I took from Miami to Boca Raton (a straight line distance of less than 50 miles) as I zig zagged across South Florida to the scattered Chinese restaurants I had located in the Miami area Chinese newspaper.
Sometimes I'll drive, rather than fly to meetings in places like San Francisco, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Phoenix to sample Chinese restaurants on the way to my destination. (When else would I get a chance to try the dim sum in Palm Springs, Fresno or Bakersfield?) And when I do fly into the Bay Area for a meeting in San Francisco, I often fly into San Jose instead, so I may eat at restaurants in Silicon Valley or somewhere else between San Jose and San Francisco before making my way into the City. Attending a meeting in Washington D.C.? A couple of times I flew to New York and then rented a car, so I could sample some of the eateries between New York and D.C. Another out of town strategy is that I often make it a point to stay in a hotel closer to the focal point of Chinese food than my business site to maximize my access to Chinese restaurants. Also, that makes me feel more like a local as I drive 20 miles to my work destination, rather than staying on premises. Things like that are a necessary part of getting to 6,000.
A corollary to these rules is that when scheduled for a trip to one city, if that city doesn't have a large representation of Chinese restaurants, I'll look for relatively nearby (by my standards) localities that expand the pool. For example, after attending numerous meetings in Orlando and pretty much trying all of the worthwhile Chinese food there, I've driven at dinnertime to Tampa, St. Petersburg and even Gainesville and Cocoa Beach. A trip to San Antonio meant arriving in town two days early to enable side trips to Austin and Houston. And of course there were my driving marathons mentioned in previous blog posts, such as from Dallas to Houston and back the same day after taking the early morning flight from Los Angeles to Dallas. Or Monterey to Silicon Valley, twice--in the same day.
A corollary to the corollary is that aside from the Chinese food, my side excursions also provide an opportunity to see sights that I wouldn't otherwise get to visit, and which I have found to be quite enjoyable. Yes, that was a circuitous trip around South Florida, but I got to drive along the other Hollywood Blvd., and rode the entire length of Hypoluxo Road asking myself why would they name a major street after a chemical process? (Hypoluxo turned out to be a Native American chieftain.) And I saw how the urban area abruptly ended at the Everglades, and how they built way too many new houses in that metro area. I learned that most businesses in the Chinese suburbs of Toronto were not located in storefronts on the streets, but in giant shopping malls, often largely obscured from street view. So while the food was the immediate goal, there are definitely major non-culinary benefits.
And don't forget the phone books. Each year when the new Los Angeles Yellow Pages come out I check the restaurant listings to see if there are any new neighborhood restaurants I may have missed.
So yes, the road to 6,000 was real, but you just have to work extra hard to make it happen.