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Report On Chop Suey Cafe (old Far East Cafe Location)

Walking into the Chop Suey Cafe was certainly like walking into a time warp with the same booth/dividers from the old Far East Cafe and only enough new fixtures to satisfy current building code requirements. Foodwise, one thing needs to be made clear. This is not an attempt to serve the same food that was offered at the Far East Cafe. Besides the new wave/fusion salads and burgers, even many of the "traditional" dishes on the short menu at Chop Suey Cafe are not items that Far East Cafe served, including orange chicken, kung pao shrimp, cashew chicken, and almond duck. (I know because I saved the take out menu from my last visit to Far East Cafe in 1984.) What they do serve is a variety of stereotypical Americanized Chinese food. As far as the food itself is concerned, we had the house special chow mein and the pressed almond duck. The chow mein was OK--thick noodles like the old days, heavy on the vegetables, but there was something modern tasting about the dish. The almond duck was kind of bland and is not nearly as good as the same dish at Paul's Kitchen. At $7.95 for the chow mein and $8.95 for 10 or 12 small squares of duck, this isn't the greatest food bargain either. I'd recommend that everybody go here once for the experience, but unless you have peculiar culinary tastes, I don't think you'll be back a second time.

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  1. Don't go expecting the same tasting dishes that were served at the original Far East Cafe. The original Far East Cafe owner's son Dewey who cooked there has had a place for many years on Caesar Chavez/Soto called New Formosa Cafe(only open for lunch and Saturday's until 7pm-closed Sun/Mon). He and his wife Betty told me the new owners of Chop Suey Cafe came around sampling their food at New Formosa Cafe trying to get the original recipes from the Far East Cafe and they wouldn't give them up. The infamous Formosa Cafe in W. Hollywood is also related to the original owners of the Far East Cafe.

    Paul's Kitchen downtown is a better choice if you're looking for that "old style" Cantonese cuisine. The one in
    Monterey Park seems to have gone downhill a bit from my last couple visits...serving what seems to be re-heated food.

    1. Thomas Wolfe said it best, "You can't go home again". I went there last weekend with some friends, hoping to relive some old flavors and memories. To say the least, I was very disappointed. Nostalgia is very overrated. Should have known when on a Saturday at noon there were only two tables occupied. I was hoping some of the old dishes they have on the menu would be at least close. Wrong!! Seaweed soup was wakame with tofu. Cha shu was a few slices of pork spread out on a plate served with little dishes of mustard. They could have at least had mustard containers on the table. Pakkai (like I remember and was hoping for) should have been dark orange colored. Chow mein wasn't even recognizable. Hamyu was a total disaster. Almond duck was the only thing that was even close... maybe 50% there. The waitress seemed surprised when she asked if we wanted a container for the leftovers and we said no. Oh well, at least I can say that I went back, just for old times sakes, but never again. One and done.

      1. We went there this past wkend, the food bordered on inedible. The chow mein was goupy, congealed. The appetizer came after the main dishes for which our waitress apologized for, but we were sorry to find out how greasy and gummy the shitake potstickers would taste. One tiny bit of shitake stuffed in a dumpling. Our waitress also seemed suprised we didn't to take any leftovers home. Duh!

        1. Thomas Wolfe was only partially right. You CAN go home again, it's just to a differnet neighborhood, that's all. The New Formosa Cafe in Boyle Heights is home. The moment I walked in the front door, the smell of the food told me that I have come home. We ordered all the old favorites that Far East doesn't do right anymore; almond duck (to die for), pakkai, chow mein, seaweed soup, pea chow yuk and cha shu. When we had questions of a certain item on the menu, Betty would just point to the couple in the next booth and to what they were eating. They were apparently fans of the old Far East and had been pre-warned and luckily for them, had not gone back. They had ordered most of what we were about to order plus shrimp cantonese, too. Gee, that looked awfully good...maybe next time. That was a lot of food for only three of us, and I figured there would be a lot of leftovers to take home, but we nearly finished all of it. Sadly there was not much to take home, but at least, I was in "China Meshi" heaven. Didn't order the ham yu, might have been a little overkill. But as we were leaving, Betty, who waits on tables and is the wife of the cook said that they have some frozen ham yu so I ordered some of that to take home. My 17 year old son, who had never been to the old Far East and had wondered what all the hype was about, had three large servings of everything. Now he knows, and he is a convert. Ah, home sweet home.

          3 Replies
          1. re: OldieButGoodie

            address please? i need to take my dad. he has ate at all the old places in chinatown, chinatown #2(old city market. it would be nice to hear what he thinks.

            1. re: phant0omx

              Cesar Chavez Bl. just east of Soto.

            2. re: OldieButGoodie

              Thanks for the recc. I am an almond duck fanatic. Can't wait. Where are they located?

              rw medina
              pasadena

            3. The food is terrible. The same neat decor, but they will not get repeat customers. The Chop Suey Cafe would be much better off if they offered something else rather than bad Far East Food. Instead go see Betty at the New Formosa Cafe, they have a Far East Cafe menu that has all of the favorites. Hom Yu, Pea Cha Yu, Almond Duck, Chow Mein with pan fried noodles... She asked me, is that the flavor that you are looking for? and I knew I was finally home again - The Real Far East. New Formosa Cafe 2415 E. Ceasr Chavez Ave.

              1. Have to agree with most of you. I went to Chop Suey--twice---with great expectations and was very disappointed. The food was as far from Chinese as you can go, yet be so close to Chinatown. Americanized to the point of total failure, at least for me. The chop suey was a goopy mess and the curry chicken had an after taste like disinfectant. Go into china town and eat someplace that actually uses Chinese broccoli! It's so much better!

                6 Replies
                1. re: ajbinla

                  My apologies to the typical chowhounder -- (Locals with get it.)
                  Okay here goes. A little history. The Far East Cafe is a historical and very personal institution to the Japanese-American community as well as many in the Chicano community. It is the only institution that I proudly claim as a ELA/Boyle Heights kid. For me the Far East Cafe is J-Town. What Manuel's is to E.L.A. What Pink's means to many westsiders. Imagine Manuel's or Pink's changing owners and menus. Impossible you say, well they did it to my beloved Far East!
                  This past summer my friends and I ate at the new Far East (Chop Suey Cafe). We met one of the two new owners a Sansei or Yonsei cat from the bay area I think. A really gracious guy who took us around the entire restaurant and he could not have been any nicer. The aged looking booths and the upstairs dining tables greeted me like an old friend. Nice. In the rear of the cafe you will find a cozy but chic bar area and they have converted the grimy outdoor alleyway into a cozy patio. The food however was a disaster. The Chinese food is on par with the Pomona Fair. Where is the mustard jar for crying out loud. The original Far East is DEAD and part of me died too.

                  1. re: Pakkai

                    from what i hear....you need to go to fomosa cafe in ELA for original far east cafe food

                    1. re: rickym13

                      Thanks rickym13,
                      I have been there many times and it is one of the last terrific old school cantonese joints left. Have you been to Chinese Gardens in Montebello or Canton City also in Montebello? Both places serve old time chinese food and are very good. Paul's kitchen in Monterey Park has gone down hill the last several years. Too bad because they had HAD a loyal base of customers that are leaving in droves. Why? Inconsistent food and the old staff is no where to be found. It seems the new management has changed the vision of the old Paul's Kitchen. Kareoke night and amateur band nights. It ain't no Madame Wu's!

                      However, the original Paul's kitchen on San Pedro St. is still a classic place to take friends and family.

                      1. re: Pakkai

                        oh man...good ol chinese gardens. have not been there in over 30 years but my parents use to take the family every other friday night for dinner...back in the 70's.
                        i still remember likeing those dry noodle snack as a kid!
                        i still go to paul's kitchen time to time since i live near by.....and yes they are very incosistent but when its good, i enjoy their bbq, hom yu etc....

                    2. re: Pakkai

                      Amen to everything you have said!!! Driving in from the SF Valley before there was a freeway (Riverside Drive most of the way) was a real chore and a long drive for my folks but well worth it.

                      1. re: Pakkai

                        Indeed. It's great to see the old CHOP SUEY CAFE re-open as FAR EAST and the owners should be commended for restoring the interior -- history practically drips off its walls. But, as someone who's organized events there, I concur: lousy food; great bar.

                    3. Took my dad to the old Far East in Little Tokyo (now called Chop Suey) when first re-opened. My dad is 85 and he and my family have been going to Far East since I was in diapers. That was THE place to go for Chinese-meishi. When the earthquake closed the old place we were so sad. But elated when we read in Rafu-Shimpo that the restaurant was re-opening. I took my dad there for lunch and the service was terrible. There were hardly anyone there but we didn't get a waiter for like some 15 minutes. I had to flag down one several times but they either ignored me or said they would come back. We finally got our menus and were shocked to see that our old favorites were gone. At the time they didn't even have the pressed almond duck. Frankly they didn't have any duck dish. We ordered the sweet and sour pork (which was bland and the sauce a pale yellowish orange, not red at all), chow mein (this was also disappointing with more vegetables than noodles and bland as all get out) and the hamyuk. NOW we thought here was something that was going to be good. It was terrible. Salty, bitter, and dry. Nothing like the old hamyuk of old. Not even close. They had all these thai/fusion/asian type stuff on the menu. If you want that kind of americanized "Chinese" food, go to those awful Panda Expresses. They forgot to get us our steamed white rice. I had to ask for it several times. They finally brought it but we were almost done with our meal. I have to say, those guys at Chop Suey sure were amateurs when it came to running a restaurant. Maybe it's gotten better since we first went, but by the sound of things, food hasn't changed for the better. We left vowing never to return. It was very sad. The building and booths looked the same. It was a hard reality to face that as someone pointed out, "you can't go home again." We were hit again with the closing of Tin Sing in Gardena. They had all the old favorites and it was closer to home (Long Beach). But now Tin Sing is closed and has trouble re-opening because of some dispute over parking with the city of Gardena. I'm sad to hear that Tom's Kitchen in Monterey Park is going downhill. I guess we'll have to stick with the original Tom's Kitchen and try New Formosa.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: toyo2960

                        Yeah all the Old Cantonese places are falling to the wayside..... Tin Sing was set to reopen but the STUPID Mayor of Gardena Vetoed the request to reopen..... Don't know what his name is but raise Cain if you can...... Pauls Kitchen on San Pedro is probally one of the last OLD School cantonese to remain open.

                        1. re: USADINER

                          The owner is a jerk. He also owns a catering company that catered my wedding reception at JANM. The service was SO bad and he tried to pawn the whole thing off on me, saying I wanted to keep the cost down. Okay...so I didn't know I had to pay extra for people who had a brain. I had no champagne when the toast was happening. My husband and I didn't get served first, in fast we got served after half of the guests did. Then one of my bridesmaids asked for a fork to eat the cake and the girl clearing the tables gave her a dirty one that she just took off a table she cleaned.

                          1. re: bigtums

                            I don't know what's wrong with the new owners of Chop Suey. Maybe they're too young to remember the old place. Or they're not from around here. I wrote earlier of my experience at Chop Suey and how my dad and I were very disappointed. My dad was born in LA (he's 85) and used to go to Far East as a kid. I make better Chinese food (chops suey) at home. I was jonesing for some real haam yu (the crap at Chop Suey was terrible, didn't even resemble the haam yu of old). So I got the recipe from a Chowhound friend and made it the other day. Turned out great. My dad was actually pleased. Came pretty close to what we remember. I hope the new owners of Chop Suey come up with a new chef. All this bad press can't be good for them. Maybe they can't cook the old chop suey recipes from the greasy past, but at least they could make a good Chinese dish. Overall, the food is just bad. Chinese, fusion, Thai or otherwise. I'm an avid cook and enjoy REAL authentic cuisine. This place has neither. It's just nice that they fixed the old place up. But if the food keeps being bad, the place is going to close fast. That will be the greatest tragedy.

                            1. re: toyo2960

                              which IS pretty sad. i enjoyed their happy hour food in the past, and it's gone way, WAY downhill since opening. The bar is cool as dirt though

                              1. re: ns1

                                this is somewhat funny, the last time i was there was for happy hour. i wanted to walk through the restaurant to go to the bar. while walking up to the front door there were two waiters outside and as i was going to enter they asked me if what i wanted and if i was lost.

                                the food and service is really bad. the time i was there, a couple of my friends ordered chow fun. it took at least half an hour to make and from what i saw, they were one of maybe 3 people actually ordering food in the place. it took roughly another twenty minutes to get their food. what they did was leave it on the sill where all the food comes out as we saw it come out, but couldn't get anyone to check if it was their food.

                                i have to give it up for the bartender chick. when it gets busy she works really hard being that she's the only one holding down the fort.

                                1. re: phant0omx

                                  yup, that she definitely is. usually pretty good eye candy too.

                              2. re: toyo2960

                                if you are ever in monterey park area...try:
                                chinese garden (across from montebello golf course)
                                new fomosa cafe (east l.a.)

                        2. DEAR OWNERS:
                          IT IS NOT TOO LATE.
                          CLOSE DOWN AND REBUILD YOUR KITCHEN WITH A SIX WOK SET-UP.
                          FIRE YOUR culinary STAFF AND HIRE THE COOKS/OWNERS FROM THE FORMOSA CAFE IN EAST L.A. AS CONSULTANTS (SHIT, PAY THEM $100,000). Dewey and Betty are the owners of the Formosa Cafe and they are ready to retire. If you have not been to their little cafe then you need to stop by before the joint closes down. SERIOUS! It will bring tears to your eyes as it did to a Nisei man who sat down for some Hom-Yu. He thought he would never taste that taste ever again. True story ask Betty.
                          I am just another B-Head from the East Side.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Pakkai

                            From previous posts in other threads, it seems like it came down to a question of money, that the new owners didn't feel like paying the money for the old, authentic, good recipes - a very bad decision on their part. With Little Tokyo as busy as it is, the Chop Suey Café is almost always deserted when I walk past, even when every other crummy sushi joint will been at least half-packed (and the good places are packed to the rafters with crowds' waiting on the pavement). They could have a gold mine on their hands if they just played it smart and got their food together. I can see the cool interior from the street through the big picture windows, thank you very much. They need something more to entice me inside when there are so many other options in that neighborhood (with more opening all the time).

                            1. re: Pakkai

                              AMEN! I Still remember the Old Cantonese Dishes.... Shrimp chow mein, chicken chop suey, pepper beef, old style almond duck, wor won ton, seaweed soup.....
                              DAMMIT Listen to Pakkai! Get the ball Rolling before it's TOO LATE!

                              1. re: Pakkai

                                Huzzah! Let's hear it for Pakkai. He's right. Chop Suey should go to Dewey and Betty for the recipes. But I heard somewhere that they wouldn't give them up. The owners of Chop Suey got it all wrong from the start. I don't know if they are cheap, or just don't know how to run a restaurant. A great restaurant lives and dies on it's food. Not some cool bar. Or great ambience. Okay, so what, Chop Suey has a bar. But I could go to a Japanese joint across the street and get a drink and better food. Owners: Find a REAL Chinese chef. (He may well be Chinese, but he ain't no chef) You guys are killing an institution. Little Tokyo is slowly melting away. New Otani has been sold. Soon the only thing left of this district will be the Koyasan Temple and the Japanese American Museum. With so much bad critiques of Chop Suey, I'd like to know what the owners think of this. The place is empty most of the time. While the other Japanese places are doing good business. Go to Chinatown on Spring Street. The restaurants there are packed. It's the FOOD stupid!! Get it right.
                                I don't want to see my beloved Far East Cafe shuttered once again. Perhaps forever. It's a shame to my all the generations of my family who celebrated weddings, funerals and birthdays for all these many many years.

                              2. Thank you for the hedzup. Out of respect for my family and the memory of the original Far East, I was so looking forward to re-visiting a treasured site. How sad, with all the great chefs in the area, they couldn't find decent staff. Chinese Garden and Canton City will remain my destinations for old school American Chinese food. The last time we visited Chinese Garden it was nearing closing time, but the owner and his staff were still very attentive and pleasant. I stop into Canton City for the rumaki---ooh, so good and crunchy!

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: la vida dulce

                                  The good ole days of finding a good Cantonese Restaurant are gone, especially in the South Bay Area when Ting Sing in Gardena closed down...

                                  1. re: flylice2x

                                    really miss Gung Hay too. found a soyu dish last night

                                2. Does anyone have the latest on the New Formosa Cafe?

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: OldieButGoodie

                                    Last I heard (on CH) many months ago was Dewey the owner had taken ill.

                                    1. re: monku

                                      Dewey passed away. See link below for thread w/his obit. Sad.....

                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/635527

                                       
                                  2. Very depressing experience at the Far East on Aug 14, 2009. Restaurant phone was not picked up all day on a Friday. Went early to find out what's up. Only operation running was the bar. Very sketchy business in the restaurant. What is going on? Person I spoke to says they are trying to adjust the restaurant's direction. Seems like the direction is giving up altogether, NOT improving the business. Bar atmosphere was fine, food was very forgettable.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: gki

                                      Walked by Sunday night 8/23 during Nisei Week Closing dance and every restaurant on that side of the street was full and saw one couple leaving Chop Suey Cafe after eating and no one else was in there.

                                    2. Sad to hear of the dismal reports. I was there right before they shut down many years ago while on LA jury duty. They had just finished filming Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and closed down not long after.The food was great as ever and I was looking forward for them to reopen. But every time I went by, it was still boarded up. Anyway, I've heard nothing but negative reports since they reopened recently and am quite hesitant to go back. I guess the old days have come and gone. Too bad...

                                      1. I guess they're still hanging on despite everything. I see where they're hosting a retrospective program on the Far East Cafe there on July 18.

                                        -----
                                        Far East Cafe
                                        347 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Chandavkl

                                          The only thing missing will be the good food they used to serve.

                                        2. The Far East Cafe brings back my childhood memories of my parents driving to J-town and having pakkai, chow mein, etc. How I miss the place! I can't stand the Panda chains. Cantonese food is becoming a rare commodity indeed. In Mar Vista, there is Canton Kitchen and Canton City in Montebello. There is nothing like a good old-fashioned egg roll. The ones today are so meh.......

                                          -----
                                          Far East Cafe
                                          347 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA

                                          Canton Kitchen
                                          12511 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90066

                                          Canton City Restaurant
                                          121 N Garfield Ave, Montebello, CA 90640

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: meg3325

                                            Well for ambience you can't beat Bamboo Inn near MacArthur Park. That might be Raymond Chandler at the next table.

                                            -----
                                            Bamboo Inn
                                            2005 W 7th St, Los Angeles, CA 90057

                                          2. Another Cantonese place is Wah's Golden Hen on Virgil. It's across the street from Cha Cha Cha. I haven't been there in many, many years but the reviews on Yelp are still positive. I used to eat there for lunch when I was a student at LACC. Those were the days!

                                            -----
                                            Cha Cha Cha
                                            656 N Virgil Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90004

                                            Golden Hen
                                            709 N Virgil Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029

                                            1. What happened to that place? I was in Little Tokyo a month ago, and Chop Suey or was Far East has been, as far as I'm concerned, destroyed. I peeked in and the new owners took out every antique lacquered booths and dividers. Now the front was all bar. So what is this place? Just a bar? It's really sad to see what they did to that place. The exterior brings back fond memories, but the interior has been raped. I don't know if they serve food anymore. Not that it was any good when the new Chop Suey opened. It had no resemblance to the original Far East. In fact, it was one of the worst Chinese food I've had since Panda Express. Yes, the food in Chinatown (Spring Street) or driving out to Monterrey Park or San Gabriel are the real deal. I'm talking about chop suey, the catch-all for Chinese food from the late 40s through mid sixties. Greasy egg foo young in brown gravy. Almond duck, sweet and sour pork, ham yuk, shrimp in lobster sauce...and egg rolls packed pork, not just a little meat and all cabbage. I think New Formosa cafe is closed now. I went there before they closed and it was great. I've been to the Formosa Cafe in Hollywood, but frankly the food wasn't all that good, despite the connection with the owners of Far East. It's like going to El Coyote for Mexican food; the food sucks, but you only go there to get drunk on margaritas. Paul's Kitchen in Monterrey Park is long gone. I haven't been to one on San Pedro in a while, but it's in a lousy neighborhood. They also had Mexican food on the menu I think (maybe because of the area); but the last time, I couldn't find it; I got lost. Creepy part of town.
                                              Oh, someone mentioned if I had some old pictures of Far East, I might and might not. I'd have to find them; they were mostly wedding receptions or (sadly) lunch after a funeral. That was a big tradition for my family: go tot Far East for lunch or dinner after someone died.

                                              -----
                                              Paul's Kitchen
                                              1012 S San Pedro St, Los Angeles, CA 90015

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: toyo2960

                                                The Far East closed down for good after the Northridge quake. I grew up eating there with my parents so the place has many memories. I actually like the pseudo Chinese American food from that era. The old Cantonese style food is gone. Now it's mostly Mandarin style cooking and it's completely different. Canton City in Montebello and The China Cafe in downtown's Grand Central Market are of the few places you can still get Far East type of Chinese American food.

                                                -----
                                                Grand Central Market
                                                317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013

                                                Far East Cafe
                                                347 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA

                                                Canton City Restaurant
                                                121 N Garfield Ave, Montebello, CA 90640