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Mar 22, 2008 03:37 PM

[HOU] Any good old school Chinese/Cantonese restaurants??

I am looking for GOOD old school Chinese/Cantonese food in the Houston area and vicinity,(Humble, Kingwood, Porter,etc..) The kind of places that serve yummy wonton soup, egg-foo-young, fried rice, the real stuff!! I am from NYC and will be visiting friends that live down there who are former New Yorkers themselves. I am NOT looking for Thai, Vietnamese, Japenese,sushi, buffet chinese, etc., just good old school Cantonese. Any reccomendations is appreciated. Thankyou fellow chowhounders!

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  1. I'm from NJ originally, but I think the style of Chinese restaurant that I remember is obsolete now across the board. There are some pretty good Chinese restaurants in Houston for the anglo crowd. There are also some really interesting Chinese restaurants targeting the very large Chinese and Asian community in Houston.

    My favorite for anglos like me is Dumpling King on Westheimer @ Hillcroft (not a fancy place, but very very good dumplings).

    1. There are several Chinese restaurants that fit your criteria, or at least remind me of the Chinese I ate in the 60's in Chicago.

      C&S Chinese Cafe, Hwy 290 & 43rd St. Small place in strip center, but good food. I love the Kung Pao.

      Golden Wok, Ella & 34th St. Great Orange chicken, sesame chicken, and egg drop soup. I didn't like their Kung Pao becasue it had a lot of large mushrooms and vegetables, and the sauce didn't seem right, but everything else I have had is good.

      Empress Restaurant, Long Point & Antoine. Best sesame chicken I have ever had, good pepper steak, good soups & egg rolls. And they have cantonese style dishes on the menu.

      Oriental Village, 290 & Hollister. This place has a buffet that is very good, especially with kid in tow, but you can order off the menu as well. Extensive menu as well. It labels itself as a "Chinese Restaurant Hunan Cuisine". I am ignorant about the difference between chinese/hunan/cantonese, so . . .

      All of the places above have egg foo young on the menu and all have good fried rice (except C&S is pretty plain.)

      Here is a link to show you even more:

      1 Reply
      1. re: danhole

        I am retracting my recommendation for C&S Chinese Cafe. I has gone way downhill, and the prices have really gone up. It's just not worth it. My daughter said they go to Empress the most, now.

      2. I forgot to mention that all of these places I listed above are locally owned, and seemingly family run. You see the same people there each time you go.

        I also left out 2 more "upscale", as in comparision to diner table, versus table cloths!

        Yen JIng, W. T C Jester & Ella. Good food, but if it says it is spicy be warned - it is over the top spicy! Very extensive menu and they have Peking Duck for those looking for it. Nice interior, but you have to wait for your food, because they take their time.

        China View, Katy Frwy. Good food, pricey, exceptional decor, almost like a museum, and the only one with a website:

        No egg foo young but lots of really good entrees.

        1. As one of the posters indicated those types of restaurants are pretty much obsolete anywhere you go. You would have loved Ming Palace on Gray St. 40 years ago but that's been gone for years. Essentially you would need to find a Chinese restaurant that has been in continuous operation for several decades, somewhere in the central city, and I don't know if there are any places in Houston that fit this profile. Most of today's Americanized Chinese restaurants are operated by Chinese who have come to the U.S. in probably the last 20 or 30 years, and for whom the concept of old time Cantonese food is completely foreign. You probably recognize this by the fact that these Americanized Chinese restaurants often serve dishes such as Kung Pao Chicken, Mushu Pork and Orange Chicken which are not Cantonese dishes and were unheard of in the U.S. until the 1960s or 1970s.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Chandavkl

            It is impossible to find good egg foo yung west of the mississippi. I too love the old school american/chinese food. It is disappearing.

            1. re: Chandavkl

              Chandavkl, what specific dishes are Cantonese? I have menus for all of the places I listed and now I'm curious. Tell me some names and I'll look for them. I just mention kung pao because I like it. The OP asked about egg foo young, wonton soup and fried rice. Pretty basic stuff, I would think.

            2. I will admit first off I am not from Houston!

              Second what is "old school" chinese/ Cantonese? Was there only 5 or 6 dishes on the menu and they did them really well? What is so different than the more authentic Chinese places that are along Bellaire in W. Houston? I guess I am not understanding the connection between what Chinese used to be and what it is now. My favorite places in Dallas are First Chinese BBQ, Kirin Court, and Maxims (most of which are highly praised on CH for Dallas). They all have Cantonese dishes on the menu. They might not have egg foo yung but the others definitely. So what is the difference in ordering the wonton soup from these types of places than what you had many years ago?

              I am only 30 so I need some clarification and specifics, as my idea of Chinese cuisine is rapidly expanding in Dallas (i.e via Shanghainese (Yao Fuzi & Shanghai), Sichuan (Sichaunese Cuisine & Little Sichan), Cantonese (the above mentioned), Hunan (Hunan Restaurant) and Shandong (Chef Hsu)). This accounts for four of the eight great culinary traditions plus an extra one (Shanghainese) in China represented in Dallas. I can say since I love spicy foods all the time I tend to like the Sichuan places the best.

              12 Replies
              1. re: LewisvilleHounder

                Thanks Lewis! I am wondering all of the above as well. Houston has a tremendous variety of chinese restaurants and I have no idea how someone from LA could even begin to judge the places I listed. There are more than one community of chinese/asian dominated areas. I just can't believe someone couldn't find what they are looking for,

                1. re: danhole

                  By the way I was SS (Soul)

                  Anyway I read recently that Houston has the second largest Viet population in the country and I know the Chinese population seems a bit larger than Dallas. I would assume with that kind of diversity you would find what you want. I have made note of your recs and will try them out soon when I visit my bro. Donnaaries (from Dallas) also has a list she likes in Houston.

                  Perhaps the OP can expand on what exactly they are looking for....I know those are the dishes in question but what made them so special to remember them for 40+ years. If someone from the same generation (I would say late 40's to 60's) as the OP that has lived in Houston and dined at a more authentic place nowadays and compare the two it might help us out give the OP the recs he wants.

                2. re: LewisvilleHounder

                  From the time of the Gold Rush until just after World War II, probably 95 percent of the Chinese in the United States came from an area known as Toishan, a seven district area on the outskirts of the city of Canton, now known as Guangzhou. Think of an analogy where all the Americans in a foreign country came from, say, the area in and around Pasadena, Texas. These Chinese immigrants brought a combination of their own food, and an adaptation of their own food to reflect locally available ingredients, and as curious non-Chinese neighbors began to sample the food, the tastes of these neighbors. This led to an identity of Chinese restaurants in the United States that was marked by an almost uniform menu of items such as chow mein, chop suey, fried rice, wonton soup, egg rolls, sweet and sour pork, egg foo young, pressed duck, and bok choy. This is the kind of stuff you could find at Ming Palace, and is referred to as old style Cantonese food. Starting in the 1950s, due to a number of political events here and abroad, the mix of Chinese immigration to the United States drastically changed. This in turn led to the evolution of Chinese food in the United States. As allegedly Hunan and Szechwan style cuisine made its way across the United States in the 60s, it introduced new Americanized Chinese favorites such as kung pao chicken, hot and sour soup, orange chicken, mushu pork. sizzling rice soup and General Tso's chicken to name a few, the type of stuff you're more likely to find these days at the General Joe's Chopsticks chain in the Houston area . Then with changes in American immigration laws, greatly ramping up the numbers of Chinese in the country with a new wave of immigration, you had the emergence of the authentic cuisines from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China begin to appear, first in the mid-70s at Sun Deluxe on Chartres Street in the old Chinatown area by what is now the convention center, then along Bellaire Blvd. starting in the 1980s.

                  1. re: Chandavkl

                    My one of my original questions still stands unanswered:

                    So what is the difference in ordering the same dishes from the new authentic Chinese places than what you had many years ago? MSG? The veggies were different so you had a bit more American veggies instead of the exotic items you can get now? Or is it the fact that we don't have a uniform menu?

                    I do understand your post above (an thank you for the info) but I am not clear on the differences between the same dishes ordered now and then, besides the availability of ingredients has since changed and the menus aren't as uniform.

                    1. re: LewisvilleHounder

                      I think it's a case of the recipes having changed, and the purveyors of the old recipes having retired and not having the chance to pass it on to their successors. My relatives arrived in Houston in the 1930s (we're Toishanese), and as far as I know all the Chinese in Houston through the early 1960s were Toishanese. Today, Toishanese are a very small part of the Chinese community which is dominated by Taiwanese, ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, and Hong Kong Chinese. Coincidentally there is a posting today on the Manhattan board wondering what happened to the old style egg rolls. Similar threads are fairly common on the California and New York boards both about egg rolls as well as other old style Cantonese (really Toishanese) fare.


                      1. re: Chandavkl

                        So, what you are saying is that the chop suey and chow mein we eat now, is not what it used to be? If you are not born into a chinese, or toishanese family how would we know? I am just a stupid Heinz 57 american, and I did not live in Houston in the early 60's, but I do remember the chinese food in Chicago in the later 60's and the places I mentioned ar very similar, except I did NOT grow up eating Kung Pao. Didn't have that until around the 90's. Did have chop suey, chow mein, egg foo young, eggrolls, moo gu gai pan, fried rice and many other dishes.

                        Another question is that if a chinese restaurant has a mix of the old classics and the americanized versions, should it be dismissed, in your opinion.

                        1. re: danhole

                          I'm not making any qualitative comments about the old or new styles of Chinese food, only that there are stark differences. I can give you an example. Traditional chow mein was made with fresh noodles made of wheat and water, and was slightly thicker than spaghetti. The noodles were partially browned. The dish included meat, celery and bean sprouts with a sauce having the consistency of gravy. Today's chow mein may be made with extra fine fresh noodles made with wheat, egg and water, or it may be made with thicker dry noodles, and may be prepared any number of ways with any number of condiments. The difference between the old chow mein and the new chow mein is very striking, and there is no mistaking the old chow mein. I'm not saying that either style is necessarily better than the others, but a lot of people who grew up on the old style Cantonese food became very fond of it and lament the fact that it's getting harder to find.

                          1. re: Chandavkl

                            Thanks for the explanation. I wonder if, at the restaurants that gave you a choice of chow mein or cantonese chow mein, if the cantonese style is close to the original. I may have to try that one day.

                            1. re: danhole

                              It's possible. For example, some restaurants specify some of their chow mein dishes as being "Hong Kong" style. This is the thin fresh egg noodle fried fairly crispily like a pancake which has the condiments (meat, vegetables, gravy) poured on top. In such case their regular chow mein would be something different, made with thicker noodles. Of course the one thing that is not necessarily uniform with the old style Cantonese food is the terminology. For example, it appears that "chow mein" in Miami meant a dish without noodles (even though "mein" is the Cantonese word for noodle), and probably was the equivalent of what was called chop suey in other cities. (What we know as chow mein was called lo mein.) Then there were the places that served the canned chow mein chips as the noodle their chow mein. (Do they still make that stuff?)

                              1. re: Chandavkl

                                To add a note to Chandavkl's excellent explanations, a lot of this old school vs. new school Chinese food is a matter of immigration history, and the cultural phenomenon of immigrant communities being "frozen in time." By that I mean, when immigrants come to the US, they tend to "freeze" in time the culture of their home countries (including food culture) whilest the culture IN their home country progresses. Chinese food in China is not the same now as it was 50 years, thus, with each new generation of Chinese immigrants coming to the states, the restaurant owners are changing, even the old owners are having to adapt to "new taste." This "frozen in time" phenomenon is not solely limited to Asian immigrants (though this is most evident due to the fact that Asian immigrants have a long history in the US of having community centers like Chinatowns and are still immigrating at a high rate) and can be seen in Little Italy's and certain Hispanic communities as well.

                                1. re: donnaaries

                                  WOW! Thankyou all for your amazing replys. I appreciate this. This posting is really to help my friends find a good place that live in Houston. They are originally from New York and cant seem to find any good ol' Cantonese. Thanks again.

                    2. re: Chandavkl

                      My family came the United States in the late 1800's (my mother's side) and in the 1940's (my father's side). Both branches of my family are from Toishan. For truly authentic, homemade type of Cantonese food, my family likes to go to either Hong Kong Food Street on Bellaire (the food is really good here, but the service is like being in Hong Kong - there isn't any) or to East Wall, also on Bellaire. East Wall is probably our favorite family restaurant (it is clean, they are fast, the owners are very nice and the food is fairly inexpensive. Order off of their lunch menu for 5-7 dollar dishes. They have things like salted steamed ground pork, bittermellon, good wonton soup, etc on their menu that are very authentic.