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Mar 6, 2002 04:45 PM

Duck Yee Won Ton @ New Woey Loy Goey, SF

  • m

When you see an old-timey place boarded up do you get that sinking feeling that more patronage from you personally might have saved it? That’s how guilty I felt when the windows were newspapered over at Woey Loy Goey. This basement restaurant just off Grant on Jackson Street in San Francisco Chinatown had been an institution. My father had repeated stories about his starving student days at Cal, treating himself to a 10¢ bowl of plain noodles in soup here and asking for extra chopped scallions to have more vegetable!

A few months later I noticed construction crews inside and learned from them that this was a remodel job under the same ownership. Finally, the grand opening was in December and I had a chance to try it anew last week.

Now there are fish tanks with live seafood – crab, lobster, striped bass and catfish. But even though the interior is spruced up and freshly painted, it still feels like an underground dive. The menu seems much the same with the kind of Cantonese-American food served in the ‘60s. Prices are still low with many dishes at $4 or less. Remembering that someone on this board was craving duck yee won ton, a dish I hadn’t eaten in decades, I looked for this old standard on the menu and found it.

Duck flavor yee won ton (in Cantonese, op gung yee won ton) was listed as $4.95, although my bill said $4. Yee-style of won ton means that the dumplings are deep-fried to puff them up and then served in soup giving them a soaked spongy texture. The big bowl had about a dozen won tons in a broth darkened by duck gravy and the requisite oil slick. This was topped with diced carrots, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots, button mushroom slices, cubes of Cantonese roast duck, and some sliced snow peas. I appreciated that the carrots and snow peas were fresh and not frozen or canned, making this a more updated style. My one complaint would be that this batch of won tons weren’t puffed up with enough air bubbles to get the right spongy character. Otherwise, this was a tasty and filling supper.

Sitting at the counter, I saw a number of rice plates pass by that looked very good, especially one with eggplant and stuffed tofu squares. The portions are generous but the plates aren’t heaped to overflowing, consistent with the prices here. At dinner, a big bowl of chicken bone soup is provided as a complimentary starter as had been the custom in old Chinatown.

This isn’t great Chinese food --- it’s cheap, quick and comforting. I’m glad that there are still places in Chinatown to find this kind of meal.

New Woey Loy Goey Restaurant
699 Jackson St.
San Francisco


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  1. God Bless you Melanie, and all those just like you.
    I truly appreciate the valiant efforts you make on our behalf in seeking out the little dives that we could all use for lunch.
    Since i work close to chinatown i truly appreciate your reporting on the places that you and your family have been enjoying for so long. I feel like i have an "insider's" view on an area of the food world, that some of us might be intimidated by, for one reason or another. (i am personnally lost sometimes since the food is so different from the limited china town i grew up with in Boston)
    anyway, to make a long rambling short,
    Thanks again,

    1 Reply
    1. re: Jupiter
      Melanie Wong

      You're welcome. (blush) All in the Chowhound spirit. Pls. let us know what you like and don't like when you have a chance to try it.

    2. Although I've never gone to Woey Loy Goey, I've heard a lot about the place from old timers. My brother used to bus dishes there in the 70's for $1 an hour plus tips for banquets. Thanks for bringing up the subject Melanie. Also, I miss the old Sun Hung Heung (spelling??) on Washington where I used to go with my parents and get the prawns wrapped in bacon and panfried and a big crock of Wor Yee Won Ton. I LOVE yee wonton of any kind. I will definitely try to go to the New Woey Loy goey to try out the duck yee won ton. thanks. Margret

      6 Replies
      1. re: Margret
        Melanie Wong

        I can just feel Jim H. popping in here soon with his SHH tales. I miss the old place too. Where else have you found good yee won ton?

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          I don't get around much anymore, so I haven't checked out any old haunts. I wouldn't be surprised if San Wong (Wang) would fix some Wor Yee Won Ton for you...although I think Yee WonTon is very Cantonese. For years I have been telling my friends that if you know what you want and tell the cook, you can usually get it (although at Jackson you might have gotten some guff from the waiter). I am still, however, searching for something close to Jackson Chow Mein, unsuccessfully, I might add. Keep looking, Melanie.

          1. re: Jim H.

            Jackson was my favorite lunch spot way back when. And beef chow mein with black bean sauce was my favorite noodle dish there. The noodles were crinkly, like ramen noodles, and I think they put in several green chiles along with the green bell pepper 'cause it packed quite a punch. I haven't seen it done that way lately, but the tamer chow fun version is fairly common.

            1. re: Sharuf

              The beef-green pepper black bean sauce Hong Kong style Chow Mein at Young's on Kearny is pretty close...different noodle technique, but very tasty. I have never had noodles quite like Jackson...I think it was the cooking method.

          2. re: Melanie Wong

            I've come across yee wonton in many Chinese restaurants. Usually in the Chinese American kind as opposed to the Hong Kong Style kind. However, I can't say that I would highly recommend any of them as especially good. They're usually ok. Maybe we were more innocent when we were little and the memory makes the food out to be better than it was...maybe? Nah! I'll keep looking.

            1. re: Margret
              Melanie Wong

              That's the spirit! You are a true chowhound, Margret. I salute you. (g)

        2. Glad to hear "Gooey Looey's" (as we called it) is still around. It's been many years since I lived and/or worked near the north end of Chinatown, and the bridge toll and parking fees have kept me from doing more recent Chinatown cheap eats explorations.

          Duck Yee Won Ton was always a favorite of mine, and as far as I can tell, it does not exist north of the GGate Bridge. I have shared my yearnings for it several times on this bbd. Thanks for your response.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Sharuf
            Melanie Wong

            Ah, 'twas you! I'll tell you, it is easy to park in Chinatown at night on weekdays. I've not had any problem finding space on that block of Jackson.

            I'll mention that the version at WLG didn't have that much gravy. If you like a thicker version, be sure to tell them.

          2. Nice report Melanie. And for the explanation of the Yee-style of Won Ton. A question? How is Wor Won Ton prepared? My favorite haunt of the past is Jackson Cafe - used to love the Tomato Beef Chow Mein.

            1 Reply
            1. re: gordon wing
              Melanie Wong

              It can be variously called/spelled "yee", "yee fu", or "e-fu".

              "Wor" means big pot, and the topping on the basic bowl of won ton soup is whatever the kitchen feels like and has handy. Usually an assortment of a lot of different things and some of whatever another customer ordred from the wok station at that moment.

              We've talked about Jackson Cafe a lot on this board. I miss the clams with black bean sauce and the tomato beef chow mein (with ga lai curry powder). I keep hoping to find another place that can do these as well, but the search continues...

            2. Thanks Melanie -- we've been looking for an old-fashioned Cantonese restaurant to satisfy those cravings to eat what we remember from childhood. One of the problems for us is one childhood was on the west coast and one on the east coast, and we remember completely different dishes!