While my previous L.A. Weekly article on Chinese food for Mainland students at USC focused on the Chinese food trucks parked near the international student housing at Jefferson and McClintock, there are a few other alternatives for the Mainlanders. Most obviously, the students can get in their cars and drive to the San Gabriel Valley, which is less than 15 miles away, though this is not advisable during rush hours. Indeed, prior to the recent Chinese restaurant openings on the Westside catering to UCLA students that this was a common option for Mainland UCLA students, so this is just a continuing option for USC students. However, a couple of other alternatives were also mentioned on the Food Talk Central message board.
The most interesting option mentioned was the frequent use of delivery services like To Go 626, to have food ferried from the San Gabriel Valley to campus. Dozens of top Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, such as Chengdu Taste, Szechuan Impression, SinBaLa, Xi'An Tasty, Class 302, Gui Lin Noodle, Din Tai Fung, Shaanxi Gourmet, 101 Noodle Express, Savoy, and Beijing Pie House, have aligned themselves with delivery services like this. And while the delivery services derive most of their business from local San Gabriel Valley residents, they'll deliver almost anywhere if you pay them the approximately $1 a mile delivery charge. So for a rich Mainlander on the USC campus, a $15 service charge to get food delivered from your favorite San Gabriel Valley restaurant is quite insignificant.
You might think it's being presumptuous in assuming it's just rich Mainlanders at USC taking advantage of this delivery option, particularly since several students can go in together with a group order and make the delivery charge per head quite modest. However apparently the San Gabriel Valley Chinese food delivery businesses also do a thriving business delivering food to Mainland students at UC Irvine. And for a delivery charge of $45, clearly those deliveries are concentrated in the rich Mainlander crowd. Now why would a rich UC Irvine student pay $45 to have authentic Chinese food delivered from someplace like Alhambra when Irvine itself has dozens of authentic Chinese restaurants, all within convenient driving distance in your Maserati or Lamborghini from your campus digs? The answer lies in the fact that Irvine's Chinese restaurants skew toward their Cantonese and Taiwanese residents, meaning Cantonese, Taiwanese and Shanghainese style food. Irvine has only a small (though growing) number of Sichuan and other Mainland type Chinese restaurants (though strangely including a Uyghur restaurant), so if you really want the food of your home province and have money to burn, delivery from the San Gabriel Valley is an attractive option.
Another USC Chinese Mainlander food source, quite interestingly, is Lao Sze Chuan restaurant in Glendale. Lao Sze Chuan is a Chinese restaurant chain originally out of Chicago which developed national ambitions. The fact that the driving force behind the enterprise is now in prison for tax evasion has not stopped the national expansion plans which has seen branches open in the Palms Casino in Las Vegas, Phoenix, and here in Glendale. With the lack of Sichuan food in Los Angeles Chinatown, Lao Sze Chuan is the closest source of this authentic cuisine so its attraction to USC students makes some sense. On the other hand it would seem that it's not that much closer distance wise to USC than the San Gabriel Valley, so you'd think that going to Chengdu Taste or Szechuan Impression might be worth driving an extra couple of miles. Of course the other neighboring amenities of Glendale, such as the Galleria, Americana and movie theaters could also be a factor in drawing USC Mainlanders here.
One last point raised on the message board was the assertion that a lot of USC Mainland Chinese students don't actually set foot on campus, but are rather whooping it up somewhere in the San Gabriel Valley and hence don't need a campus source of Chinese food. Rather, these students purchase their degrees by having surrogates attend classes and take their tests, which makes some sense given the extreme wealth of some of these students. It might sound fanciful to think that this happens on more than just an isolated basis. However, it may well be true, as a scandal recently broke out at the University of Iowa, reported in detail in a Reuters special report, involving an organized ring that was involved in exactly these activities by dozens of Mainland students.