One of the first restaurants I tried in Rochester was Golden Port Dim Sum. I didn't choose it because I thought it would be anything special, and lo and behold, it wasn't. The food was good but nothing exceptional, and although it seemed like a Chinese restaurant, the menu included Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Korean dishes.
My Rochester friends frequently go out for bubble tea, sushi, and Pho, but I've noticed that they never get Chinese food. I do see an unfortunate number of students eating Panda Express, but that's probably because it's conveniently located on campus. This all got me wondering how legit Rochester's Chinese restaurants are, both in terms of quality (is the food drowning in MSG-laden sauces?) and authenticity.
In a very non-scientific survey, I asked three of my friends with Chinese backgrounds what they think of Rochester's Chinese food scene. One is an international student from Canton, one is a Chinese-American who has lived in the U.S. since she was 3-years-old, and one is a Chinese-American from Rochester who has never been to China. Here is what they had to say.
Rochester's options are pretty sad.
While most if not all of the restaurants that my friends have tried are Chinese-owned, they agreed that they aren't great. Kate, who is from China, was polite enough to deem some restaurants "decent" but then admitted that she was influenced by quantity more than quality. She also complained that they weren't cheap.
"The quality of Chinese food in general in the U.S. is quite poor and cheap, but I find that to be especially true here."
There is however one point of redemption: Asian Food Market, which stocks up in NYC Chinatown. Segueing...
NYC Chinatown is much better.
While Kate has never been to NYC, the other two praised Chinatown as having much better, more authentic options. The Rochester native noted that NYC has a much larger immigrant population.
She also added that even the options there have deteriorated over the last 10 years (ahem gentrification), Boston Chinatown should get honorable mention.
White Swans is fair.
Despite being a pan-Asian restaurant, Rochester's White Swans Asia Caffe comes recommended for being decently authentic. Unfortunately, it does not deliver. One girl orders The Wok when she desperately craves Chinese food but said she'd prefer White Swans.
If you don't know what you're looking for, you might be satisfied in Rochester. Most people know better than to believe that Panda Express and P.F. Chang's serve legit and/or good Chinese food. However, when it comes to local joints, I think that many Americans fail to recognize fake Chinese restaurants.
Their last piece of advice? "If anyone reading this article hasn't had a butterfly cookie or sesame oil, they should consider it."