by Dan Johnson
At ABC Chinese Fast Food, cut-rate philosophy is also a powerful advertising tool.
When you mention the bargain barrel noodle house at 7th St and Main St amongst polite company, you are guaranteed to receive a horrified reaction. Locals of all stripes accept the consensus that ABC is a dump and should not be handled with a ten-foot pole.
After all, the signage is crafted from cheap-o stencils, the stock ceiling fans wobble precariously and the seating is a motley array of repurposed articles that suggest salvage from thrift and clearance outlets.
We are meant to assume that the food is equally shitty because we are a society that does not know how to distinguish between the way something looks and the way it actually is. Enter influencer culture, which has established its headquarters at the opposite end of the block from ABC where Little Damage inspires people to wait in line to get a photographable cone of melt sugar.
Yet, an ABC lunch hour spent at a fold out table by the grease flecked sneeze guard revealed an extremely brisk business. Locals of all stripes packed themselves cheek to jowl in an assembly-line model of food service efficiency.
Have these people not heard the scoffs? Are they worried about the potential blow to their image if they’re seen entering the premises? Have they given up on their personal brand???
No. Because that’s not how the actual world works. Décor is nice. Right? But is it worth paying for? Not especially. Not unless you’re trying to get laid or you need to convince a loved one that you’re doing alright psychologically.
I enjoy sitting inside Don Francisco, but I can’t help but wonder what the cost of that nice interior design works out to on a per sandwich basis. These are not calculations anyone at ABC is worrying about. Because it’s clear that rent and utilities and possibly some disinfectant are the only overhead.
That’s the draw. Plain and simple. Combo A gets you fried rice or chow mein with one dish. Combo B gives you the same prerogative with two items instead of one. It’s three bucks for another item and two bucks for a heaping side of fried rice.
With this savings should come reasonable questions about the basic ingredients. I don’t feel as if this price point accommodates the best in organic or even fresh meats and vegetables. Quite the contrary. I feel as if perhaps the owners might be inclined to stretch a buck here and there and make something last or acquire an item that may be past its prime.
With that in mind, I played it safe with an enormous five dollar helping of wonton soup and aforementioned side of fried rice. I’ve been burned by orange chicken before. Badly. Moreover, I felt nervous about the orange hue of the chow mein. In a week devoted to gluttony, why fuck up my play with a quick taste of medium rare poultry mixed with radioactive noodles?
The result was strongly in the positive. First, I had to wait five minutes for my wonton soup, which is an eternity at ABC Chinese Fast Food. The name does not lie—customers get processed within a minute. It’s a model of streamline possibilities that also ensures a deceptively large volume of customers trudge through in any given day.
(This, incidentally, is a strong refute to my earlier qualms about old food. Items do not seem to sit beneath the heat lamps for long enough to go bad.)
Second, the carrot, broccoli and onion broth was populated by fresh vegetables. They had nice coloration and a strong crispness. The wontons themselves were abundant and not chewy-weird.
Third, the only issue I experienced in the hours afterwards was the customary sodium dehydration. Foodies will knowingly look down their brow at me and ask “what was I expecting from Chinese food?” Really, that’s cheap food in general. Salt and sugar are the actual bottom rung of the food pyramid in this country and, if we’re being honest, the true gateway drugs at the root of our nation’s substance abuse problems.
The more I think of it, the more I suspect all of the ABC detractors are actually long-time customers who don’t want to out a decent restaurant with limited seating. It’s an effective trick for ensuring that a low-rate institution can continue doing business without getting sideswiped by trendiness.
We should try it on a large scale. When someone asks you if you like living in Downtown Los Angeles, tell them it’s a shit pit where twelve-foot tall crack heads walk around collecting the skulls of retail managers and armored cars circle the blocks at night looking to abduct dogs whose owners don’t pick up their shit.
That will keep the hordes at bay for a bit.
I award ABC Chinese Fast Food a “1” on the binary and thank brewmaster Peter Mumford for being a steadfast proponent of his kung pao secret spot.