The Best Real Chinese Food in America

Somebody once proposed that any town in America with a population of more than about 10,000 had at least one Chinese restaurant. That may or may not be true, but according to some estimates, there are as many as 50,000 such establishments around the country, and there are only about 20,000 incorporated cities, towns, and villages, so it’s not impossible.

Our earliest Chinese restaurants appeared in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere in the West in the mid-19th century, established by laborers, mostly from Canton, who worked on the transcontinental railroad and in businesses associated with the California Gold Rush. 

Today, Chinese is the country’s most popular “ethnic” cuisine today, edging out Mexican and way ahead of Italian. If you want to sample the food that’s in second place, though, here is a list of the best Mexican restaurants in every state.

Their popularity aside, times are tough for Chinese restaurants. Bad publicity associated with the coronavirus pandemic and recent instances of sometimes violent anti-Asian racism have taken their toll. To make matters worse, according to the New York Times, many old-school Chinese restaurant families are finding that the younger generation has no interest in taking over their businesses.

Happily, Chinese restaurants are still abundant at least for now (50,000!). 24/7 Tempo has put together a list of the best examples. Some of these are modest places, while others are extravagant dining palaces. Some specialize in Chinese-American dishes, many of which have their origins in the latter 1800s. Others serve the regional specialties of Sichuan, Hunan, Yunnan, and other regions that have unique culinary traditions. (These are 20 “foreign” foods that are really American.)

Whatever the style, every restaurant on this list is a first-rate representative of one of the world’s best and most diverse cuisines.