I have been turning this topic around as well for a magazine pitch. I'd recommend you stop see if you can speak to first- and second-generation American chef-proprietors to see how their cooking as evolved. The folks behind Baohaus, Momofuku, Maharlika, Torrisi immediately come to mind as people who are passionate about translating their history into modern cuisine.
Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003
Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003
163 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003
Torrisi Italian Specialties
250 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10012
137 Rivington St, New York, NY 10002
111 First Ave, New York, NY 10003
Check out this book: Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York by William Grimes.
From Publishers Weekly
Paris has better French restaurants, Madrid has better Spanish restaurants, and Tokyo has better Japanese restaurants, Grimes concedes, but no city... offers as many national cooking styles, at all price ranges, as New York does. It wasn't always this way. As Grimes points out, it wasn't until the early 19th century that Manhattan and Brooklyn's culinary offerings extended beyond boardinghouse and tavern. His lively, profusely illustrated history veers in one fascinating direction after another, from the proliferation of oyster houses in the 1800s to the original recipe for chop suey. Grimes hits all the obvious high points—Delmonico's, the Automat, Le Pavillion, etc.—but also puts a spotlight on forgotten venues like Forum of the Twelve Caesars, an outsized theme restaurant from the same company that owned the Four Seasons. He gets personal in the final chapter, describing the scene of the late 1990s and early 2000s from his front-line perspective as the restaurant critic for the New York Times. (He has since moved on to the book review desk.) All the material is so fascinating that you'll wish every chapter was at least twice as long, but it's hard to imagine a more entertaining introduction to the subject.
Interesting subject! For information on how Chinese food has been interpreted, re-interpreted and re-interpreted again over many generations in the U.S., try talking to the curators at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) in downtown Manhattan. It's a tiny museum, but they've curated a fascinating exhibit in the past on the development of Chinese-American cuisine. They probably still have good research materials on hand.
In addition to the requisite Chinese American restaurant (I think Charlie Mom is popular for this genre, but hopefully others can verify... I have to confess Chinese American is neither a favorite nor a forte), try an "authentic" Europe-by-way-of-Hong Kong restaurant serving spaghetti with ketchup, mayonnaise and pork sung sandwiches and milk-coffee. (Read this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/493453)
You could also try lomo saltido, a Chinese Peruvian fusion dish at a Peruvian restaurant. Panca is an inexpensive, decent option in the West Village. And as you wander around Chinatown, pick up an egg custard tart (dan tat) at almost any bakery. These are a fusion creation that originated in Macau, incorporating Portuguese influences to become a now-ubiquitous dessert / snack that's similar to a flan, but so, so much better.
Afterward, if you want to recalibrate, try a good "authentic" restaurant like South China Garden. They do mostly Shanghainese food, which is a sweeter, mild cuisine. If you like (very) spicy food, Grand Sichuan is a well-loved mini-chain in town. Legend is a relative newcomer in the Chelsea area that also serves fairly good Sichuan food. And Xi'an Famous Foods is a mini-chain in NYC that serves authentic and I think very good western Chinese food. Western Chinese cuisine has been influenced heavily by Muslim dietary restrictions so pork is uncommon, while lamb is very common.
South China Garden
22 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013
229 9th Ave, New York, NY 10001
92 7th Ave S, New York, NY 10014
464 6th Ave, New York, NY 10011
Xi'an Famous Foods
81 St. Marks Pl, New York, NY 10003
Other very interesting trends:
- Europe-by-way-of-Japan: Basta Pasta, Cafe Zaiya (spicy tuna onigiri, fried chicken bento, mochi donuts)
- Americanized sushi: Examples include California rolls, mango jerk chicken maki rolls (i.e. available at Aki on W. 4th St.), Philadelphia rolls, Boston rolls.
- Mexican Korean fusion: Korean taco trucks serving things like kimchi and bulgogi on a corn tortilla
37 W 17th St, New York, NY 10011
181 W 4th St, New York, NY 10014
18 E 41st St, New York, NY 10017
Mobile truck, no formal location, New York, NY 10001
, New York, NY 10001
Yes, exactly! I don't remember the exact story, but IIRC, the chef at Aki was once a private chef for a Japanese diplomat to the Caribbean. I can't say I love the food there (the fish and rice are not close to being the same caliber as Yasuda, 15 East or Kanoyama and I am unfortunately a bit of a hidebound traditionalist when it comes to sushi), but might be interesting for the OP's research purposes.
15 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003
204 E 43rd St, New York, NY 10017
175 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003
181 W 4th St, New York, NY 10014
Here is a New York Times article written by the grandson of an immigrant. The article details his grandmother's coming from Italy to America and shows how and why she changed the traditional Italian recipes she had grown up with. The author travels to that Italian village to compare their recipes with those he had grown up with in America.