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MSP: Chow Mein

Hi everyone~

I am looking for a good chow mein around town. I prefer chicken but, most importantly, a chow mein that comes in a brownish sauce. So many that I've tried come in a white/clear sauce/glaze that I don't like very much.
(The importance of the brown sauce all stems from the food at a Chinese restaurant that I LOVED to go to when I was growing up...Port Arthur's in New Hope if anyone remembers it.)


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  1. it sounds like you're looking for really "old school" chow mein, the kind you don't really see around much anymore. i don't like chow mein personally, but i used to work at the nankin downtown, and people would lap up the chow mein (4 kinds) by the bucketful. the most popular type seemed to be "subgum" chow mein, which i think is the "white/clear sauce/glaze" you don't like-- usually had mushrooms in it. i think the brownish sauce (dark) you're looking for might actually be called "chop suey." the nankin and its famous chow mein are long gone now, but the recipes are still cooked, in much smaller batches, at the family's other chinese-american restaurants: ping's on nicollet, and the wanderer in minnetonka. that's pretty much the extent of my local intel on chow mein, there used to be lots of little chow mein shops around town, but they seem to be a dying breed these days. maybe someone else knows more.

    2 Replies
      1. re: soupkitten

        uh, why isn't it working?

        Ping's Szechuan Bar & Grill
        1401 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55403

        Wanderer's Garden
        13059 Ridgedale Dr, Minnetonka, MN 55305

    1. I guess I've never checked the color of chow mein sauce before...

      I really like Hong's on 38th and Nicollet. It most reminds me of what I grew up with in Brooklyn Park, probably similar to what you grew up with. But they have two kinds (each in multiple flavors), one is pre made and one made to order. Clearly get the made to order one.

      I dislike Village Wok's a lot. I love their food, but their chow mein tastes like they are trying to make it good, which is not what I want when I get chow mein.

      1. If "old-fashioned" (= "greasy spoon") chow mein is what you're looking for, you really should go to Leo's Chow Mein. It's on Earl St. in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood of St. Paul (on the east side). It's been around forever, has great ambience, and some good comfort food. They also have an amazing lunch special-- something like 5 bucks for all you can eat, brought around to your table on big platters. It's great fun, and great people-watching too. We love it.

        1. I've had chow mein exactly twice in this town and did not grow up with it (other than in a can from La Choy). From the two times I've had it, I suspect it's just not a food that appeals to me too much. However, I bet that the chow mein was what you are looking for.

          The two places were Cathay Chow Mein on Nicollet just south of Diamond Lake Road in Minneapolis and Kim's Chow Mein on Marshall just east of Cretin in St. Paul.

          It's been years since I've been to either of these places, so maybe someone else can throw some more light on them.

          Cathay Chow Mein
          5457 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55419

          Kim's Chow Mein
          2048 Marshall Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55104

          3 Replies
          1. re: bob s

            You might check out Kim Huoy Chor, at www.yourchineserestaurant.com- another
            thread was recently started on this new place, and looking at their menu online, it
            looks like they have quite a variety of chow mein on their menu.

            1. re: faith

              Kim Huoy Chor is not that new (the website is dated 2006, for instance), and it's not that good. I think they've been there a couple of years, but they've had the "Grand Opening" sign out the entire time they've been doing some remodelling... It's pretty average, based on the few times I ordered delivery from them. It certainly might be better dining in... (EDIT: I do recall, however, that the eggrolls weren't half bad and, as I said in the other thread, they were the only place I could find that would deliver pho when I was sick last winter.) Here's the thread faith is referring to: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/468977

              I'd second Bob's recommendation for Kim's on Marshall before I'd send them to Kim Huoy Chor, I think. Plus, then you can walk a couple doors down to Izzy's for an ice cream cone when you're done. Kim's does a good job with that authentically unauthentic chow mein, though, I can't recall if it meets the OP's requirements for a brown sauce.

              Grand Shanghai on Grand Avenue in St. Paul also offers chow mein and, again, we like that better than Kim Huoy Chor (but not as much as Kim's).

              I just checked with my old-style chow mein "expert" (ha!) and his recollection was that "none of the above" had brown sauce on their chow mein, though I personally don't remember.


            2. re: bob s

              Cathay's Chow Mein today is certainly not the chow mein I grew up with. Used to make it as well when I worked at Willow Gate Chinese Restaurant (in Highland Park on Cleveland Avenue) in the 80's. Last time I was back (2006) Willow Gate had turned into another one of these inedible, non-authentic, all-you-can-stuff buffets that seem to be so ubiquitous these days. Although chow mein, as it was made back then or is made today, is not truly an authentic Chinese dish. We did have it weekly growing up it almost and it is comfort food for me today. Like Churchka says, it is not supposed to be too good! And the type of chow mein served up in Minnesota is not found elsewhere - at least I've never seen it outside of MN. We used molasses and soy sauce to darken the sauce up a bit and make it look more appealing to the eye.

            3. Asia Chow Mein in Columbia Heights - been around forever. I am 90% sure that the Asia special Chow Mein comes in the brown gravy. The other varieties may too.

              1. Places Link

                Asia Chow Mein
                4905 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55421

                1. Personally, I adore House of Wong on Larpenteur and Fernwood(?) in Roseville. They also do nice Egg Fu Young- much different than most I have seen. Theirs is a large omelet shaped item in a Chicken like gravy sauce. MMMMMMMMM

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: BillyP

                    House Of Wong
                    1163 Larpenteur Ave W
                    St Paul, MN 55113-6382
                    Phone: (651) 488-6687
                    So funny I was about to post the exact same thing. They also have wonderful pork friend rice.

                  2. Sorry, I am too stupid to use place link.

                    House of Wong
                    1163 Larpenteur Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55113

                    1. I LOVE Duc's of Maplewood on Century (120) and 10th (Minnehaha) in Maplewood. It's in the strip mall behind McDonald's. EVERYTHING is made to order, it's super fresh and delicious. It's a little more expensive but totally worth it. I work in New Brighton, and my coworkers drive there for lunch.

                      1. So am I to understand there is no old-school Minnesota chow mein in the Twin Cities anymore? What is the world coming to?

                        I grew up with Cathy Chow Mein and am horrified to learn they've smartened up their chow mein.

                        I guess it's time to start digging around the tiny neighborhood places I pass but never enter.

                        I googled 'chow mein Minneapolis' and found Jin's Chow Mein in Crystal which by the reviews on planet99 sounds like it might be the real deal.

                        A little Chow project. Fun.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: MplsM ary

                          I think they just change the recipe over the years. I am sure Cathay is now on the 5th generation of Owners if not more. Then again folks might all have different memories of Chow Mein's deliciousness, depending on where in the Twin Cities one was raised. I'll make a batch whenever my spouse leaves town for a few days as Sparky does not "understand" it. As a kid I thought it was so very special to actually be able to put cashew nuts on top of a food! Still do. I think that was called Subgum Chow Mein at Cathay.

                          1. re: MplsM ary

                            I visited Jin's Chow Mein in Crystal (the Crystal Shopping Center, Bass Lake Rd) in October 2008 on a family visit. It is, indisuptably, the real deal.

                            Recipe as follows (proportions left as an exercise for the reader):

                            meat (pork for the cheapest item on the chow mein menu)
                            lard (feel free to substitute something healthier)
                            corn starch
                            salt, pepper, msg, soy sauce
                            and, yes, there is definitely a hint of... molasses!

                            The restaurant had a clipping from this article as well:

                            The clipping had more info than the web page tho...

                          2. Has anyone here ever tried Golden Chow Mein on West 7th in St. Paul??? I’ve been eating there for years, but never had the chow mein. But based on what I have had there-- The fried rice, the lo mein, the egg foo yung, egg rolls, etc.--- my guess is that they would make a pretty good old-fashioned American Chinese restaurant chow mein. Very friendly owners and I’ve always loved the things I order there. In fact, I have them on speed dial.

                            Golden Chow Mein
                            1105 West 7th Street, Saint Paul 55102

                            Uncle Ira

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Uncle Ira

                              I really like Golden Chow Mein on W 7th!

                              I used to be a big fan (still am technically) of Hope's Chow Mein in Richfield, but it generally is too inconveinient to get to, so a few years ago I went on a hunt for a "suitable" replacement... They have a couple groupings of Chow Mein on their menu board. Stick with the "Made to order" chow mein. I'm partial to the Special Chicken - It's the closest thing I've found to Hope's.

                              The pork fried rice is phenominal - I'm continually stunned at the amount of pork they put in the fried rice. The sesame chicken is really good too. They have a tendancy to be heavy handed on the sauce, so I request "easy on the sauce". Egg rolls are house made and are pretty good too.

                              One of the owners mans the front of the operation and is one of the quirkiest and fun folks I've come across in my dining adventures. If you're familiar with show MadTV, you'll know what I mean when I say, "Miss Swan". She's genuinely appreciative of your business and is one of the reasons I keep coming back.

                            2. I think that what you're calling the "sauce" is actually the thickening agent. If they use a cheap thickening agent-- the flavors are masked. Real chow mein ( yeah, it's americanized) like what you're looking for is made by cooks from a region in Canton, China called Taishan. This is where the original immigrants to San Francisco and New York came from-- as well the the early chow mein places here. Several of the places mentioned by others do have Taishanese cooks. Uncle Ida mentioned Golden Chow Mein on W. Seventh (1105) in St. Paul. Yup-- they've got it. their # is 651-228-1276
                              Oh by the way, slexie-- some of the "brown-ness" of the chow mein is just a little more soy sauce used in the prep.

                              1. I've not been there, but my neighbors all rave about Sui Yep on Payne Avenue. I think they only do takeout.

                                When I worked at Honeywell in Plymouth, there was a little hole-in-the-wall chow mein place in the strip mall at 55 & Boone or Winnetka where Down in the Valley and Schuler's Shoes are. It was called Lu's Chow Mein, I think.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: eastsidegirl

                                  I second Leo's Chow Mein..my grandma loves chowmein (and egg foo yung) and I stop by there pretty often to pick it up and bring it to her. It's pretty irresistible, and soo cheap. Less than 4 bucks per entree for a huge portion. She's 90 and claims to be able to make 5 meals from one Egg foo Yung order!

                                2. The 'brown' sauce comes from the addition of a little oyster sauce. If you can't find a chowmein that hits the spot for you, maybe you can try buying some oyster sauce from a chinese market and adding a little to the dish that comes closest for you!

                                  1. This may answer your ? I remember the Star/Trib. paper had a recipe for Port Arthur's chow mein some years back, the Taste staff is great at e-mailing a recipe, the brownish sauce was molasses in the sause. Or try Ming -tree in Champlin it is most like Port Arthur's in the area.

                                    1. The real question is where can you get it like the Nankin used to serve (old # ???)? classic Minnesota Chow Mein.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Latinpig

                                        please see my post at the top for the family's other restaurants

                                        1. re: Latinpig

                                          The guys that own King's City Restaurant used to work at the Nankin... Years after I got into 'real' Chinese food I went back there with my family to visit Sammy and Kami - they lived on the same block as I did in Crystal when they moved here from HK - and I ordered Chicken Fried Rice. Not only did it taste exactly the same (enough to trigger deja vu, actually) but it was delivered in the same covered dishes that the Nankin used to have.

                                        2. Hello! Like Jennyknitstoo, I grew up on Cathay Chow Mein and it was a BIG deal. We didn't go out to eat much or ever get fast food or take out, so bringing home Cathay after church was a major highlight. My whole family loved it, and we still get it occasionally. I don't know if it's not as good as back then (30+ years ago) or if my tastes have just matured, but I do admit now that it's not sublime. (I still love the egg foo yung though). Like Mpls Mary, it was my job to distribute the cashews on each plate (I ate all the broken pieces - probably not fair - and probably just one of the reasons why my dad really did call me chow hound!). Chow mein just IS comfort food, and if that's what you're looking for, Cathay will probably fill the bill.

                                          1. There is a restuarunt in south st. paul "Hong Kong" connected to an asian gift store that has the best chow mein I have ever had. the vegtables are fresh and crisp. the sauce is flavorfull, quality pieces of chicken, abundunt portions. If anyone else has eaten there it was worth the trip. I believe the cross streets are 12th and Southview. a few blocks north of 494 and the 7th street exit just west of the new river bridge.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: showercapcrazy

                                              I would like to retract my posting for the Hong Kong restuarunt in south st paul. I recently ate there again and had a completlely different experience. Not good. However The Tea House ind St. Paul off 94 and White Bear is suprisingly good.

                                            2. Sorry for resurrecting another oldy moldy thread but I just got the scoop on some "old school Minnesota" chow mein. Jade Fountain in Wayzata.

                                              Jade Fountain
                                              838 Lake St E, Wayzata, MN 55391

                                              1. Can anyone give me a recipe for this type of chow mein? I grew up on Jin's Chow Mein (the best), but I now live on the West coast where "chow mein" is something completely different.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: membrane

                                                  If you will try posting the request on the Home Cooking board, the posters there are usually great about offering informative, helpful answers to recipe questions.

                                                2. Kengs Chow Mein in Crystal has the old school chow mein (on 42nd near Douglas). They have been around for 30+ years and as far as i know they have not changed the recipe. I haven't been there for a while as I moved out of the old 'hood, but I believe that my parents still get it.

                                                  1. Ming Tree in Champlin serves excellent brown sauce chow mein.

                                                    1. Hello - The Taste staff is great at e-mailing a recipe, the brownish sauce was molasses in the sause, see above post, Jin's is great stuff, grew up on it also.

                                                      1. OLD RECIPE FROM ST.PAUL PAPER. PORT ARTHUR CHICKEN CHOW MEIN,8 CUPS CHOPPED CELERY,21/2TBSPN. OIL,6CUPS CHICKEN BROTH,1TBSPN.SOY SAUCE,3TBSPN.MOLASSES,1 TBSPN.MSG [OPTIONAL],SALT,SUGAR,1/3 CUP CORNSTARCH[MIXED WITH WATER],11/2 CUP SHREDDED CHICKEN,BOILED,[OPTIONAL],CHOW MEIN NOODLES,STEAMED WHITE RICE. boil celery in water until tender;drain.lightly brown chicken in oil.add celery and chicken broth;cook covered until boiling.add soy sauce,molasses,msg and salt and sugar to taste.thicken with cornstarch mixture to desired consistency.serve over noodles and top with shredded chicken.makes 4 to 6 servings

                                                        1. I was going to say Keng's Chow Mein in New Hope (although I just saw somebody already did). My mom worked there when she was in high school (in the 60's) and still goes there when she wants "old school" Chinese food. Although I haven't been there in years, I remember going there as a child and thinking it was the only Chinese restaurant on Earth because it's the only place we went!

                                                          Keng's Chow Mein
                                                          New Hope, MN, New Hope, MN

                                                          1. Woooops, the St.Paul (Eat) not the Mpls. (Taste) sorry. Thank you stinamond5 .

                                                            1. If you are still looking for a place that makes great chow mein w/ brown sauce try the China Dragon in Maple Grove.

                                                              China Dragon Restaurant
                                                              11251 96th Ave N, Maple Grove, MN 55369

                                                              1. Try jin's takeout in Crystal Shopping Center.

                                                                closest thing to the old Nankin.

                                                                cheap too...but takeout only...and no checks

                                                                1. Chin Chin Chinese at 981 Smith Ave in West St. Paul. It is called Minnesota Chow Mein on the menu. I get it when I am craving old style chow mein. It is exactly what you are looking for. Brown gravy, celery, crunchy noodles.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Desss

                                                                    Wow. Way to resurrect an old thread. Dragon City on E. Lake St. in Mpls. also has this type of old-style Cantonese food - celery, crunchy noodles and gloppy sauce. Curious why anyone would want this (Maybe good in an emergency?) but that is perhaps a topic for another thread.

                                                                    1. re: ChancesR

                                                                      Nostalgia. But, also, it's a wonderful guilty pleasure if done right.