I have a friend who lives in Monterey Park, in the heart of the Chinese food empire, and who is a big fan of Chinese food. She also won't drive more than a mile away from home for food. While that still gives her a decent array of Chinese restaurants to choose from, it also eliminates probably 95 percent of the Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, and correspondingly most of the best restaurants there.
On the other hand, there are virtually no limits on where I travel in search of food, which led me to wonder how exactly what was the furthest I've driven for food and how far other people might be willing to drive. Now I don't mean vacations that are devoted to or inspired by food, such as travelling to New Orleans or New York to sample various examples of the cuisine there.. Rather how far would you drive from a fixed point in search of a single meal? In my case it was 150 miles one way, 300 miles round trip.
As far as a single meal is considered, the furthest I travelled was 150 miles from Naples, Florida to St. Petersburg, Florida, plus the 150 miles back. And this doesn't count the 110 miles I drove from Miami to Naples earlier the same day. Here's what happened. A few years ago we had a firm meeting in Naples, FL, but the closest airport I could fly to was Miami. After landing in Miami I headed to a Chinese restaurant for dinner, where I grabbed a copy of the local Chinese newspaper which apparently covered all of Florida. Even though I don't read Chinese, I find that Chinese language newspapers are a great source for finding authentic Chinese restaurants in strange cities, and the ads always include the English name and street address. Anyway as I went through the Miami newspaper an advertisement for a Hong Kong style Chinese restaurant in St. Petersburg caught my eye. I had previously visited the adjoining city of Tampa where at the time I had great difficulty locating any Chinese restaurants at all, let alone anything good or authentic, so I was totally intrigued by the prospect of something authentic in St. Pete. So the next morning I drove from Miami to my hotel in Naples, checked in, and then immediately dashed out to drive to St. Petersburg and back. By California standards, the food at Lucky Star Hong Kong wasn't particularly good, but it was surely much better than anything I ate while I was in Naples.
Honorable mention for my longest drive goes to the time when I was attending a meeting in Monterey, California. Having a long lunch break I decided to drive to Silicon Valley for lunch. Yeah, that was only 75 miles one way and a 150 mile round trip. But I enjoyed the lunch adventure so much that I also drove back from Monterey to Silicon Valley that same night for dinner, which matches the same 300 daily mileage on the Florida trip. And not quite as ambitious was the 90 miles drive from Chicago to West Allis, Wisconsin, to eat at Fortune Chinese Restaurant (which incidentally was quite good). This was a perplexing one in that I had assumed some kind of suburban Chinese community must have developed in this Milwaukee suburb, akin to Monterey Park in California, to be able to support an authentic Chinese restaurant. However, when I got there and chatted up the owner, I asked how many Chinese lived in the Milwaukee area. He said about a hundred. Is that enough to justify an authentic Chinese restaurant?
Now if you count same day driving trips for multiple meals, my driving range is further. For example, a few weeks before 9/11, I flew from Los Angeles to Washington D.C., landing after 4pm eastern time. I immediately hopped in my rental car and headed to Philadelphia, where I hit up Philadelphia Chinatown. (You have to do things like that to reach 6,000 Chinese restaurants.) I finally got to my D.C. hotel a little before midnight. But my longest driving adventure was flying from Los Angeles to Dallas, landing around noontime, getting my rental car and driving to Houston, a one way drive of over 250 miles. I then headed to Houston's "Chinatown" on Bellaire Blvd., made the rounds, and drove back to Dallas, arriving back sometime after midnight. This time I almost bit off more than I could chew because I didn't account for arriving in Houston at the start of rush hour. For those of you not familiar with that city, they have traffic congestion which can hold its own with Los Angeles, so arriving there at the beginning of rush hour and leaving before rush hour ended led to an unplanned and frustrating encounter with traffic on top of a 500 mile plus round trip after a three hour airplane flight.