60. Lettuce Wraps
Restaurant: P.F. Chang's
How it happened: When Cali-based restaurateur Paul Fleming moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, he couldn't find any Chinese food he liked, much to his chagrin. When he told his close friend, professional food consultant, and Asian-food royalty Philip Chiang (his mother Cecilia, often described as the Julia Child of Chinese food, ran the Mandarin Restaurant in San Francisco) about his problem, they did the logical thing and opened up their own Chinese restaurant in a Scottsdale strip mall. Using Chiang's culinary chops, his mother's recipes, and Fleming's American business savvy, the restaurant was almost an immediate success, bringing a higher-end, Westernized Chinese-food experience to a mainstream audience. Their signature lettuce wrap appetizer, a traditional recipe perfected by Cecilia complete with spicy, tangy chicken, is still the highlight of the menu, and indicative of their overall mission to expose a wider swath of America to the intricacies of traditional Asian cooking in a comfortable setting. That (super-secret!) lettuce wrap recipe made them famous, and continues to lure people past those iconic, Forbidden City horse statues, and through the mood-lit doors.
Why it's important: "P.F. Chang’s lettuce wraps have been an approachable entry point for people to discover fresh, simple, scratch-made, and inspired Asian cooking, which is now one of the fastest-growing food segments worldwide," said P.F. Chang's chief marketing officer, Dwayne Chambers, who also notes that other restaurant concepts now offer versions of the dish. Beyond just bringing an idiosyncratic Eastern appetizer to American tables, it proved that lettuce, in lieu of bread, is not just a healthier option, but can be decidedly delicious in its own right. -- WF
Photo: Courtesy of P.F. Chang's