I still don’t know what the largest U.S. city without a Chinese restaurant is, but I know it’s bigger than I thought. I posted an Ask Metafilter question, which yielded a great candidate: Mountain Brook, AL, a toney bedroom suburb of Birmingham, with just over 20K residents and no Chinese restaurant, per Google and someone who lived there as recently as 2001.
Another inspired suggestion was the Chasidic enclave of Kiryat Joel, NY, whose 2009 population is probably close to 25,000. Kiryat Joel is technically a village within the town of Monroe, so I’m not sure it should count.
The thing is, I’m actually kind of surprised there’s no Chinese restaurant in Kiryat Joel. Every other Orthodox neighborhood I’ve been in has a glatt kosher Chinese place! Admittedly, they’re usually really bad — but they’re also always really full. I have fond memories of Mei Garden in Highland Park, NJ, a popular dinner spot after the Rutgers number theory seminar. Really just one fond memory — the food in general was terrible, but the pastrami fried rice was majestic. This is the kind of conceptual leap that eclipses its inspiration, like a cover version that makes the original song unnecessary.
Apparently Mei Garden isn’t the only place making pastrami fried rice, but they might have been the first.