The Hong Kong Café in Flagstaff was my cook and kitchen
when I had nothing better. The customers were mostly Navajos and Hopis and a few intergalactic stragglers like myself, looking for succor in a plate of chop suey and a cup of hot tea. Those days are over now. Flagstaff has only one chop suey joint left out of the three I knew twenty years ago, and it’s looking more ‘fusion’ every day. Places like this are so ‘out’ that they might actually be back ‘in’ if they can hold on long enough and sell themselves as kitsch, without having to go the way of diners first. You don’t go to places like this for good Chinese food. You go there for atmosphere, a taste of the old days when people were fleeing the Midwest dust bowl, when people were fleeing the Caste wars, when people were fleeing their own personal demons. You go there for the blue-plate special under $5, with a piece of pie afterward for a buck and change. Little by little, Thai or more-modern Chinese eateries open their doors to the more sophisticated clientele that moves in when cowboy-and-Indian towns have been sufficiently sanitized for mass consumption. The same happens with Mexican places when the Mariachi décor gets traded for a more tropical look and hopefully the food gets a makeover also.