Takeout, as the format of Chinese food most familiar to U.S. eaters, came to the United States about 150 years ago, and it’s been evolving ever since. Familiar dishes such as lo mein and cashew chicken actually were created by Chinese immigrants to the United States who found limited employment opportunities (due to discriminatory employment practices, among other reasons) and therefore decided to open their own restaurants. These entrepreneurial restaurateurs developed new dishes based on ingredients that they had access to, as well as what they learned local consumers would enjoy (and buy). Although the American Chinese food tradition is well loved, it generally has not been very well respected. But the view is changing somewhat, due to a new generation of chefs who are starting to open restaurants that celebrate foods that previously have been denigrated, just as much as they’ve been gulped down. In many cases, the chefs’ styles and traditions started young, in that their parents owned and ran traditional-style Chinese restaurants, and now the offspring are paying tribute to those entrepreneurs and their efforts. Tim Ma, one such restaurateur—his parents owned a Chinese restaurant in Arkansas when he was growing up—opened the takeout-only restaurant Lucky Danger in Washington, DC, in November 2020, to critical acclaim, with the promise to offer “American Chinese by a Chinese American.” According to Ma, the whole endeavor “is a kind of respect for our elders…. That’s a little bit of the mission here.”

Source: Cathy Erway, “More than ‘Just Takeout,’” The New York Times, June 21, 2021; Tom Sietsema, “At Lucky Danger, Two Talented Chefs Just Want to Have Fun with Their American Chinese Food,” Washington Post, March 19, 2021