SinoSoul.com is a food blog where you might find the word "deplorable" describing the burger "ball of beef" at well-respected L.A. restaurants such as The Hungry Cat and Jar. Of the Father's Office burger, what masses often declare their favorite burger in L.A., SinoSoul's Tony Chen audaciously types, "Don't over-caramelize the shallots, stupid." He stirs controversy, yes, but according to Chen, he's just speaking the truth. Isn't it refreshing, though, a real opinion? He thinks L.A. has no good ice cream, but its ethic-food scene is top-notch. Secretly, Chen would like to wear a suit and tie to dinner every night. And if you can believe it, there are a few restaurants that can whet Mr. SinoSoul's appetite. From his good side to his ugly, meet L.A.'s most controversial food blogger.
Why are you a food blogger?
All of us who blog are pretty narcissistic, pompous and maybe a little hypercritical -- at least I am. When I moved back to L.A. in 2002, Yelp evolved, and as much as people hate Yelp, 90% of all food bloggers evolved from Yelp some way, shape or form. I came back to L.A., expecting these amazing meals, and time and again, I was throwing my money away. There's just a lot of bad food, right? And I thought, well, these stories should be told because our money is hard-earned. Yelp is no longer reliable; there's got to be a better source that's more true. I thought, well, I can offend anyone in my own web space, so why not?
How do you discern good food from bad food?
It's a difficult question. There are good things, and there are bad things. There are critical people; I think it has to do with who you are. I've been reading that people just want to say good things; that if there's nothing good about it, they're not going to say anything. Or they're learning to enjoy everything. I don't think it's possible. That's very Utopian thinking. I wasn't raised to not think critically.
Is this why you might be the most controversial food blogger in L.A.?
I was told last week that I have a big mark on my head.
Who put the mark on your head? Bloggers? Chefs?
Bloggers, people -- not chefs. I'm not a big chef groupie. I try not to make enemies with the people who cook my food. That's stupid. They're performing a service. So, unless they really rob me, I try not to blast them. But, that's also a very fine line; if they're going to serve me a poor meal, I take personal offense to that. But why do I piss people off? I don't know; I'm a d**k [deadpans]. I'm not trying to monetize. I'm not trying to get famous. I think my shtick is just being really angry. And that doesn't go very far.
What food blogs do you read and why?
I've stopped reading "amateur food blogs." I read, like, the Vanity Fair or the People Magazine of food blogs. I read Eater, I read Grub Street. I read quite a few Jewish publications: Foodaism, Jewish Food ... I find the whole Jewish food movement fascinating and their obsession with Chinese food. Some of the best food writers are Jewish.
Aside from your own neighborhood of San Gabriel Valley, what other L.A. neighborhood do you like to explore?
I like Compton a lot. It's a food desert. It's really gritty. I wrote about Compton -- I call it the Compton Culinary Corridor. So, there's Mom's Burger. There's Honey's Kettle. There's Bludso's. Those three stops are the best of Compton right now.
Describe the last time a meal made you really, really happy and really, really pissed off.
I had a fabulous meal at Patina. Patina really held it down. I was really surprised. Even though it's a chain, the service was spectacular; they were friendly but not overbearing. The sommelier was down-to-earth but very much an expert. Then again, I had the black truffle dinner. (Disclaimer: It was a PR dinner.) The last meal that really pissed me off was at The Gorbals. Really? The matzoh ball, bacon-wrapped? So bad.
You recently traveled to Southeast Asia and ate very well. Name a few Asian restaurants in L.A. that are of comparable taste.
Pailin Thai. They catered our baby shower. I love Cancoon Thai -- it's Northeast Thai food. They making everything in-house -- down to the curry paste, the sausages, the meatballs. A Mom 'n' Pops shop. Never blown up; never appreciated. I love Yoma Myanmar -- it's Burmese food. It's insane. You know your Golden Triangle, Burma Super Star ... so pathetic compared to what this lady is serving.
Quick Guide to Tony Chen's L.A. Faves:
Mom's Burgers, 336 W. Alondra Blvd., Compton; 310-632-6622
Honey's Kettle, 2600 E. Alondra Blvd., Compton; 310-638-7871
Bludso's BBQ, 811 S. Long Beach Blvd., Compton; 310-637-1342
Patina, 141 S. Grand Ave.; 213-972-3331
Pailin Thai, 5621 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; 323-467-6775
Cancoon Thai, 9887 Alondra Blvd., Bellflower; 562-925-0993
Yoma Myanmar, 713 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; 626-280-8655