That, in truth, was a consoling simplification. Americans have traditionally been willing to pay through the nose at French or Italian joints (where, in fact, Latinos often do most of the cooking). And every city has its pricey sushi bars and exorbitant tapas restaurants (tapas, as one joke goes, is Spanish for “$96 and still hungry”).
But Mr Huang is right that Americans have long expected Chinese food to be cheap and filling. One step up from the urban takeaway, with its fluorescent lighting and chipped formica counter, is the stripmall bistro with its imposing red doors and fake lions standing guard—sufficiently exotic to be special, but still affordable enough for a family to visit once a week when nobody feels like cooking.
Even the superior outlets were cheap for what they served (and often still are). Consider the hand-ripped noodles with lamb at Xi‘an Famous Foods in lower Manhattan. A tangle of long noodles, each about the width of Elvis Costello’s ties in the late 1970s, is tossed with curls of braised lamb and a complex, incendiary sauce laced with cumin and chillies—all for just over $10, a fraction of the price of comparably accomplished dishes at smart restaurants nearby. True, Xi‘an Famous Foods has no waiters (diners carry their plates on plastic trays to bench seating). But its noodles are handmade, and the lamb dish may be the single best thing to eat in New York at any price.
But now things are changing. Mr Huang sells deliciously pillowy stuffed buns in New York and Los Angeles for $5.50 each—or, as he puts it, “full fucking price”—and encourages other immigrants not to undervalue their work. Restaurants in Q’s bracket are cropping up not just in America’s Chinatowns but in the suburbs, where Chinese immigrants and their families have settled, following the classic strivers’ path. The median income of Chinese- Americans’ households is nearly 30% higher than the average. They are more than twice as likely as other Americans to have an advanced degree.