Listen

News 88.9 KNPR
Classical 89.7 KCNV

member station

KNPR

Chinese Dining Has Taken Over The Vegas Valley

award_hainanchick.jpg

Desert Companion

Hainan chicken from Flock and Fowl.

More than 20 years ago, Las Vegas’ Chinatown began as a single shopping plaza of Spring Mountain Road. 

Now, it spans three miles and boasts hundreds of restaurants -- naturally, many of them Chinese.

But the quantity of local Chinese restaurants isn’t nearly as interesting as their quality. Many of them go far beyond the Kung Pow chicken of old -- though many places still offer that, too. 

And you can find plenty of options beyond Chinatown -- especially in Downtown and the southwest.

Bill Wong is a restaurant consultant and a member of the Asian Chamber of Commerce board. He told KNPR's State of Nevada that demand from people moving to Southern Nevada is driving the increase in diverse restaurants.
 
"There is a demand for their own diverse food ... from their home village," he said, "If you look at the whole Spring Mountain corridor, you can see a lot of shopping areas being built and they're filling it up."
 
He said that kind of continued growth is good for the community. 
 
Wong said it is not just locals who are coming to Las Vegas' Chinatown to find great food from the various Asian countries and regions of China, but tourists are also flocking there.
 
He said they are using the review app Yelp to find the best places to eat.
 
The growth in the number of Chinese and other Asian restaurants has highlighted a problem with the Southern Nevada Health District's health inspectors, Wong said.
 
"It's the health department's lack of understanding of Asian, diverse food, in Las Vegas," Wong said.
 
Wong said it used to be that health inspectors would work with restaurant owners to come into health code compliance, but now he believes there is a "gotcha mentality" in the department 
 
About three years ago, 50 or so Asian restaurants confronted the health district about the problem. Wong was one of the organizers. He said nothing has improved since then, and, in fact, in some ways, it has become worse.
 
He said a lot of the problem stems from the approach that the health inspectors have towards Asian restaurants.
 
Jenny Wong and her husband Sheridan Su have been bringing Chinese food to Las Vegans for nearly a decade. They started with a truck that served bao and, just recently, they opened their third restaurant.
 
Wong said when they first opened their food truck, they had to explain to everyone what bao was. Now, it is a common food that most Americans know.
 
She said it is necessary for Chinese restaurants to serve Americanized Chinese food like chow mein and General Tso chicken. While it might not be authentic, it is a way for people to try out something new.
 
"I think it is important for American-Asian cuisine to pop up because it allows people to dip their toes into something that they consider exotic," she said, "Then it starts to become the norm and then there starts to become the correction."
 
She said people move on from Americanized dishes into more authentic or regional cuisines of China. 
 
Wong said when she and her husband opened Fat Choy, their goal was to create food they enjoyed, which included American food like burgers and fries and Chinese food like bao and rice bowls. 
 
"It is very much something that we have to integrate into the menu together without bastardizing either culture," she said.
 
Su and Wong's new restaurant venture Every Grain concentrates on rice and noodle bowls, specifically braised pork and rice.
 
Su once manned the kitchens of some of the high-end restaurants on the Strip. He said the menus were determined by casino executives who wanted to please the extremely important high rollers from Asia.
 
Now, he works to bring high-quality food to everyone at a good price. His goal for Every Grain is the taste of Taiwan.
 
"Growing up in America, it was a little confusing -- I wanted to, I guess, find myself," he said, "So with this project, Every Grain, it's kind of diving deeper into the food that my family grew up on. For me to put out these recipes, and have other people come in and say, this reminds them of home ... it's the ultimate compliment," he said.
 
While Wong and Su are making a name for themselves with downtown eateries, the main place to find Chinese cuisine remains Spring Mountain Road, with a growing number of Asian restaurants along South Rainbow Boulevard and South Durango Drive near the 215, notes restaurant critic and food writer John Curtas.
 
He said one new concerning trend in local Asian restaurants is investment from California, along with China and other Asian countries, in restaurant franchises from Asian countries, both in Chinatown and other areas. 
 
"What I look for is the quality and passion in the food, because we've become so hot, because we are now being featured on PBS specials and there's national articles being written about our Chinatown, you're seeing a lot of franchises coming in and they are going to raise the rents for small operators," Curtas said.
 
He is particularly concerned that, while the incoming franchises are quality establishments that know how to operate well, they could push out small family-owned restaurants with more personality. 
 

Support comes from

Guests

Bill Wong, consultant and member of Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce; Jenny Wong, managing partner, Fat Choy, Flock and Fowl, Every Grain; Sheridan Su, chef and owner, Fat Choy and Flock and Fowl and Every Grain; John Curtas, food writer, Eatinglv.com 

 

 

You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for.  If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.