Meet the Bloggers: Luis Chong
Blogs about: cheap food, ramen, the esoteric
In an Internet log-jammed with aspiring writers who'd kill for a little attention, it's refreshing to meet a guy like Luis Chong, who can't stand the spotlight. Luis made his name writing detailed reviews on sites like Yelp ― he's more like a noble public servant, providing semi-anonymous guidance to legions of confused diners. He's so attention-shy, in fact, that he took a bit of persuading to be interviewed here. Luckily I nailed Luis down to a weekday lunch at the tiny FiDi joint Muracci's, where he opened up (a bit) over generous portions of breaded pork cutlets, brown curry, and rice.
Jesse: What's your food background?
Luis: My relatives are all from South America and Asia, which gave me unique exposure to international foods. Things that people cringe at, like brains and offal, are normal to me. In fact, that's the type of food I seek out.
Does your palate earn you a reputation with your friends?
That's how my food writing started. I honestly never considered myself any kind of expert (I still don't), but I found that when I would go out to restaurants with friends or co-workers, I was the guy who knew all the items on the menu. Things that were foreign to them were normal to me. Writing about food gives me a chance to share what I know.
Can you find most things you like in the Bay Area?
I've been here for 25 years and I know most of the places to go, all the little dives and holes-in-the-wall. Still, there's lots of things I can get when I travel that I can't seem to find here, like fried cuy (guinea pig).
Do you travel a lot?
Yes, but I usually try to veer from the beaten path. Let's say I'm in Hawaii. I'll end up wandering around the backroads into little neighborhoods most tourists don't see. Mostly I do it for the food! I also steer clear of "typical" menu items. Chicken is boring, so why not try the alligator?
Are there things you won't try?
I'm not a clean freak and I've definitely eaten more than my share of street food. I keep my eyes open, though, and won't eat things I suspect are dangerous. Like there's this sushi place I'm not going to name. It's very popular, and people go crazy over it. But if you watch the chef, he drinks a lot while he cooks and he'll leave the raw fish out much longer than he should. That's a place where I might order the chicken.
Besides safety issues, there aren't many items I won't try on a menu, but stinky tofu stops me in my tracks. I can get some of the milder stuff down if it's deep-fried and covered in pickles. But otherwise, no way.
What is your niche in the Bay Area food scene?
There are way too many people here trying to be the first ― the first to cover a restaurant opening, to try a new chef, to announce some breaking news. I don't need to be part of all that competition and hype. Instead I try to find places most people aren't going to stumble upon on their own, little out-of-the-way spots doing something that no one else is.
Do you have any favorite fine dining spots?
I've tried a lot of nicer places as part of my financial services day job, but those are work meals. I'm sure the food is great, but I'm too busy thinking about things like, "If I order that appetizer, am I going to seem greedy to my boss?" All those places end up blending together in my head.