Hi, my name is Chris and I spend entirely too much time scrolling through TikTok, which often results in me stumbling upon a fascinating thing that someone said. Recently, I watched a disturbingly gory horror movie because TikTok alleged it was making people pass out and vomit.
Today, TikTok said that the best Chinese restaurants have 3.5 stars on Yelp, a theory fully explained by Freddie Wong, aka @rocketjump. His reasoning is that “cultural expectations for service” are different in the US compared to Asia, resulting in Chinese restaurants receiving lower ratings for their “bad service,” that’s balanced out by the higher ratings for their good food, landing them precisely at 3.5.
Now, I’m just some American dude who loves all Chinese food, whether it be from a fancy restaurant, a local hole in the wall, or a chain like Panda Express, but I really wanted to test this theory and judge whether or not it’s legit.
To begin this case, I need to collect evidence, so I’ll search Yelp for a precisely 3.5 star-rated restaurant, and another one with 4+ stars, then I’ll try both to see which restaurant has better food.
The 3.5-star restaurant I found is called The Dragon Restaurant. In addition to being rated EXACTLY 3.5, they have 323 reviews…
… Interestingly, one of the frequently mentioned terms in these reviews is “service,” which certainly aligns with what Freddie said, though I will say, many of these reviews are actually positive, giving praise to their service.
The other establishment I chose is Sea Dragon Chinese Restaurant, which boasts a 4.1 star rating off of 470 reviews.
I ordered the exact same items from both restaurants — orange chicken and kung pao chicken, which are two meals that I’m most familiar with, and thus, hopefully more qualified to rate. While orange chicken is an American-Chinese dish, kung pao is an authentic Sichuan dish, so I’ll get to see how Freddie’s rule holds up as an American who has tasted both.
EXHIBIT A: THE 4.1 STAR RESTAURANT’S ORANGE CHICKEN. As you can see, they went heavy on the sauce, which you’ll never catch me complaining about, though it does eliminate crispness and made the chicken’s crust a little soggy. It came hot and fresh, and reminded me of buffet food, but not in a bad way. It was like when you catch the food coming out hot and fresh. I enjoyed it, and would rate it around a high three out of five stars.
EXHIBIT A-1: THE 4.1 STAR RESTAURANT’S KUNG PAO CHICKEN. Again, it was extremely fresh, and again, it’s heavy on the sauce but still pretty good! You’d be impressed if you got it at a mall food court but underwhelmed if you had it in a fancy restaurant.
EXHIBIT B: THE 3.5 STAR RESTAURANT’S ORANGE CHICKEN. One bite and I was like, “Ohhhhh, I see.” The quality was a higher level, better flavor, crisp crust, a very good sauce-to-crust ratio. You could actually taste orange, which, to me, is always pleasant considering it’s in the dish’s name.
EXHIBIT B-1: THE 3/5 STAR RESTAURANT’S KUNG PAO CHICKEN. You could really taste the difference in quality, with more flavorful sauce and a fresher ingredients, ( the crisp peppers, for example). Since I’m only one person, I did want to bring additional people to the stand to get their opinions…
To make it fair, I gave no context to my friends Kali and Farryn. I just served a bowl of the items from each restaurant and asked which they found better. Without any knowledge of the experiment, Kali immediately recognized the quality, flavor, and “hints of orange” in Dragon Restaurant’s 3.5-rated chicken. Meanwhile, she thought the 4.1 star chicken tasted similar to the frozen orange chicken from Trader Joe’s, which, once I heard it, I immediately understood the comparison. Overall, she preferred the 3.5 restaurant’s food, further supporting Freddie’s theory.
Then, my colleague Farryn tried both dishes and to my surprise, she preferred BOTH of the 4.1 restaurant’s menu items over the 3.5’s. HOWEVER, Farryn also informed me that she loves “trash food,” meaning she doesn’t mind fast food vibes over ~fancy food~. The 4.1 restaurant’s sauce drenched orange chicken is precisely the type of thing that she enjoys, so they got the nod, and made me consider that maybe people don’t always want the “better quality” item, sometimes ya just want sloppy garbage, and I say that with love and respect to the 4.1 establishment, who had solid food and fine service.
It’s time to close the case…
I saw enough during this experiment to convince me that Freddie’s theory holds true. Plus, I found out that one of my favorite Chinese food restaurants in Los Angeles that I’ve been going to for years is rated EXACTLY 3.5 on Yelp, further cementing this a guideline I’ll incorporate into my Chinese food decision-making moving forward.