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Jun 27, 2011 03:16 PM

Oldest Chinese Restaurant in L.A.?

Anyone have any idea what would be the oldest, continuously operating Chinese restaurant in the Los Angeles area? If it was somehow still run by the same family that established it, that would be even better. (Quality doesn't matter - I'm looking for history.)

While you're at it - if you also happen to know what would be the oldest continuously operating Chinese restaurant in the U.S. - I'd love to know that, too.


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  1. Hi... Maybe the Formosa Cafe? It opened in 1925, according to Wikipedia. And does it even count as a restaurant (much less, a chinese restaurant) since it's reputation is at lease as much being known as a watering hole for the famous, infamous and anonymous? I believe it has had several owners during its 85+ year run. And for all I know, perhaps other more authentic chinese restaurants have been around continuously for much longer. But 85+ years is nothing to sneeze at. And if you want history, that they certainly have...

    9 Replies
    1. re: silence9

      I can confirm that Formosa is both a celebrity watering hole and Chinese restaurant...
      Several (many) years ago, I remember being in an empty Formosa cafe sitting next to Quentin Tarantino who was lecturing to Marisa Tomei on how Formosa is one of the best Chinese restaurants in LA and under appreciated. Not that I agree with his assessment.

      1. re: cls

        Isn't there a picture of Babe Ruth or somebody like that on the wall?

        1. re: cls

          I wouldn't agree with anything Quentin said. While I admit he is a creative genius, he's also a bit of an oddball and given to hyperbole. I knew him before he became famous when lived with his mother in Glendale. His mother and Mrs. G worked together at Cigna and we were at their house for dinner and games several times.
          I agree with your assessment of Formosa and with another poster's New Moon. Now, if the OP wanted to go down memory lane, here's a list of great Chinese restaurants that are, sadly, no longer with us: General Lee's Man Jen Low, Kowloons, Moongate Inn, Ah Fong's, and Wu's Garden.

        2. re: silence9

          Funny I've driven by that place a lot, but never new it had such history. What's good there?

          1. re: AAQjr

            Yes, me too, AAQjr. Now I must know : is it an old school Chinese American place? Cuz, if so, I am SO there.

            1. re: Phurstluv

              As I recall, not very good and relatively expensive.

              1. re: Chandavkl

                It's also not terribly Chinese. Lobster mac'n'cheese is as big of a seller as egg rolls.

                There were a few months last year when they turned their kitchen over to Red Medicine at night for "Red Med @ Formosa Cafe" which was cool.

                The atmosphere is awesome, but I wouldn't go to eat.

                1. re: Moomin

                  What? You don't find brisket tacos particularly Chinese? Drinks (maybe chips and guacamole is somewhat safe if you are starving...maybe).

                  1. re: Servorg

                    Yeah, Brian Huskey (Picca Mo-Chica, The Holloway) took over in June after Red Medicine pulled out.

        3. Try this page from the LA Public Library. It allows you to search for restaurant menus in their collection. The restaurants may or may not still be in business:

          1. Funny, we were sort of talking about this yesterday. Formosa Cafe sounds like a good guess. Bamboo Inn on 7th St. near Macarthur Park. has also been around for quite a while. It does not appear to have been remodeled since the 1940s at the latest.

            I know that the original New Moon Cafe opened up a long time ago. The original location on San Pedro St. was torn down and replaced by a modern version, probably in the 1960s. However, they were out of business for several years until younger generation family members opened up the garment district, Glendale, and Canyon Country locations.

            You do have to be careful as to lineage. For example, Lucky Star on Brand Blvd. in Glendale has a statement on their menu that says something like "Since 1947". However, I remember eating at the same location 20 years ago, but it was called Lantern Cafe back then, so it's clearly not the same restaurant; perhaps they mean there's been a Chinese restaurant at the location since that time. Or, a place like Dumpling 10053 had something on their business card indicating they had been in business since the 1970s or 1980s. However, I know that they opened up less than 10 years ago. So I asked them about that, and the reply was that included the time that the owner ran another restaurant in New York Chinatown.

            As far as the US goes, I know Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Manhattan Chinatown has been open since around 1920 and has been getting a lot a talk on the New York board because a young family member has totally revived the operation. Also, Sam Wo in SF Chinatown has been around for more than forever.

            Honorable mention goes to Golden Chicken Inn in Oxnard, where I ate yesterday. They've been around since 1929, though the current owner is a relatively recent immigrant.

            Dumpling 10053
            10053 Valley Blvd Ste 2, El Monte, CA 91731

            Lucky Star Restaurant
            374 S Main St, Orange, CA 92868

            Golden Chicken Inn
            701 S Oxnard Blvd, Oxnard, CA 93030

            New Moon
            112 W 9th St, Los Angeles, CA 90015

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

            10 Replies
            1. re: Chandavkl

              For west side Chinese I've got to think that Twin Dragon on Pico would be a contender. Same location since opening in 1962

              Twin Dragon Restaurant
              8597 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035

              1. re: Servorg

                Wan Q and Kowloon pre-dated The Twin Dragon. (Westside)

                1. re: maudies5

                  Yes, but they're long gone, as are a bunch of others.

                  1. re: Chandavkl

                    I figured we were playing with places one could still eat a meal, should one be so inclined... ;-D>

                      1. re: estone888

                        Estone888: in case you're still looking for Chinese restaurant history, here's mine.

                        My family ate every couple of weeks at Wan Q on Pico in the early 1940s. I was around 5 and recall talk about it being the first Chinese place on the west side. I remember my dad telling Benny, the owner, to "bring out whatever is special tonight". I'm pretty sure Benny built the restaurant. Kowloon came in the 50s and then Twin Dragon. None had the personal family feel of Benny's Wan Q.


              2. re: Chandavkl

                Mei Lai Wah on Bayard Street in NYC has been open since the late 1880's.

                The earliest Chinese restaurants in the US were in San Francisco. By early September of 1849 there were already three Chinese restaurants there and even one Chinese hotel in Monterey.

                In March of 1850, New York Tribune reporter Bayard Taylor observed that the Chinese had "summoned men to take their meals by the sound of their barbaric gongs" and went on to note that the Chinese restaurants were already "very popular with Americans on the account of their regard to quantity."

                Apparently the "barbaric" Chinese restaurateurs were shrewd enough to retain local attorney Selim E. Woodworth as their business lawyer.

                1. re: scoopG

                  Thanks scoopG. I knew you would come through. One question for you. Mei Lai Wah shut down in 2008, I believe, bumming everybody out. However it reopened a few months later under new management and the slightly different English language moniker, Mei Li Wah. Do you know if they kept the old Chinese name?

                  1. re: Chandavkl

                    This is all very helpful and interesting. Thanks.

                    1. re: Chandavkl

                      I'll have to try and check - I do know the building has long been owned by a Taiwanese concern. . .

                2. Just a quick request, folks, that if you've got non-LA thoughts on oldest operating Chinese restaurants, that you start a new thread on the General Topics board, rather than posting about them here. Thanks!

                  1. Not exactly on point, but I went by Phoenix Bakery and noticed a 73rd anniversary banner in their window. Definitely the same family throughout.

                    Phoenix Bakery
                    969 N Broadway, Los Angeles, CA