HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >
Jun 27, 2011 03:20 PM

Oldest Chinese Restaurant in Bay Area

I'm trying to find the oldest continuously operating Chinese restaurant in the Bay Area. Quality doesn't matter, it's history I'm after. If it has been operated by the same family since it opened - all the better.

Also, if anyone has an idea of what might be the oldest continuously operating Chinese restaurant in the U.S., I'd love to find that out as well. Thanks.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. According to this, it's Hang Ah Tearoom in Chinatown (opened in 1920): http://www.sfvisitor.com/taste/foodfi...

    Hang Ah Tea Room
    1 Pagoda Pl, San Francisco, CA

    3 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Al's in Locke was a Chinese restaurant but has been operating as a non Chinese restaurant for many years. Doesn't count but it's good local history.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        and still looks like it probably looked in 1920

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          .... and is in a wonderful old Delta Chinatown- don't miss the museum a couple of doors down from it too.
          While you are in the area checkout Guisti's on Thornton road........ also a historic bar/restaurant though not chinese.

        2. I believe the Hang Far Low is one of the oldest if not the oldest. Was at 713 Dupont Street before the 1906 eartnquake, moved to 725 Grant Avenue after. Became the Four Seas about 1950.

          Four Seas
          731 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

          1 Reply
          1. re: CYL

            Except that the name change to Four Seas coincided with the sale of the restaurant, so neither the name nor the ownership is continuous.

            Four Seas
            731 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108

          2. I'm curious to know why you're looking for this! Please share :)

            27 Replies
            1. re: indigirl

              he's also posted the same question in the ny, la, and mountain states thread also.

              1. re: indigirl

                Mrv Stone is a mystery writer whose last book "The Living Room of the Dead" took place in Macau and Vladivostok. Perhaps looking for background for his next Ray Sharp thriller.

                1. re: wolfe

                  Just poking around for some new ideas. Constantly researching stuff that interests me. I was recently in Truckee and read a lot about the building of the railroad and that got me interested in the development of Chinese communities across the West.

                  1. re: estone888

                    Well then the link wolfe posted about Locke should be right up your alley. The story of the Chinese in North American has been largely untold. It wasn't until I got to know Melanie Wong, for example, that I learned there were Chinese communities in California well before the gold rush. Here's a recent interesting article: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article... And I recommend Ruthanne Lum McCann's "Thousand Pieces of Gold" (and the movie they made from it).

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Really? Where were these Chinese communities and what is the evidence and/or sources to claim that there were established Chinese communities in the USA well before "the Gold Rush?"

                      I'd love to see it! The SF Gate article you cite only places the Chinese in Monterey by the 1860's - and they were established there 11 years earlier!

                      It is known that Chinese sailors visited the US regularly and that Dutch trader/ambassador Andreas Everardus van Braaam Houckgeest (1739-1801) employed eight Chinese house servants in New York (and it is assumed later in Philadelphia, where he moved) before returning to the Netherlands prior to his death.

                      The earliest known Chinese documented in the USA that I have seen is in New York City in 1808 – when San Francisco was known as Yerba Buena. MoCA – the Museum of the Chinese in America claims that the first Chinese in the USA were in Baltimore but I have never seen their evidence.

                      There were three Chinese restaurants in San Francisco as well as a Chinese hotel in Monterey by September 1849. All documented by scholars Peter Kwong and Dusanka Miscevic (see below.)

                      Although there could be more material, it is not like there is a total dearth of information on the subject, including:

                      Corbett, Christopher. "Poker Bride: The First Chinese in the Wild West." Atlantic Monthly Press; New York, 2009.

                      Kwong, Peter and Miscevic, Dusanka. "Chinese America: The Untold Story of America’s Oldest New Community." The New Press; New York, 2005.

                      Tchen, John Kuo Wei. " New York Before Chinatown: Orientalism and the Shaping of American Culture, 1776-1882." Johns Hopkins University Press; Baltimore, 1999.

                      Tsui, Bonnie. "American Chinatown: A People’s History of Five Neighborhoods." Simon and Schuster; New York, 2009.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        The Ruthanne Lum McCann's "Thousand Pieces of Gold" book is the same story I assume told in Christopher Corbett's "Poker Bride." Still Polly Bemis was in the USA in the 1870's - not before the Gold Rush.

                        1. re: scoopG

                          Sorry, I was unclear -- was suggesting several different things to read about early Chinese in California. I didn't mean to suggest that those items pertained to the Chinese here before the Gold Rush. I've heard about the Chinese being here as early as the 1830s, but I can't find any references to confirm.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            I wonder what the California Historical Society has on this.

                        2. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Locke is a fascinating place. check out "Bitter Melon: Inside America's Last Rural Chinese Town"

                          1. re: hill food

                            The first Chinese (recorded) came to the U.S. in the 1820s as merchants...you know trade was a big deal. Gold miners and labors followed. My great-grandfather was a gold miner. There's also speculations about Zheng He, who pre-dated Columbus.

                            1. re: ML8000

                              Undoubtedly Zheng He's first restaurant venture failed due excessively long supply lines and lack of advertising.

                              1. re: wolfe

                                Yeah, but he had a monopoly on Eastern spices unless those damn Norsemen were bringing in lutefisk.

                              2. re: ML8000

                                And you are basing your information on what sources?

                                The earliest I have seen evidence for Chinese residents in the USA is 1808 in NYC (see "Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows & Mike Wallace. Oxford University Press; NYC, 1999.)

                                Chinese sailors were known to have visited America in the 18th century but not likely to have remained. Direct trade with China was prohibited during the Colonial period. America's first trading ship to China, the Empress of China departed in 1784 and returned 15 months later.

                                I have read of no such claims that Admiral Zheng He ever visited the America's.

                                1. re: scoopG

                                  Gavin Menzies "1421: The Year China Discovered America."

                                  1. re: wolfe

                                    My family member who is a Chinese historian thinks that book is ... less than credible.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      Next you will be denigrating "Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past" by Erich von Däniken.

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        Correct. No mainstream historian takes GM's "1421" book seriously.

                                        1. re: scoopG

                                          "They all laughed at Christopher Columbus
                                          When he said the world was round
                                          They all laughed when Edison recorded sound
                                          They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother
                                          When they said that man could fly
                                          Who's got the last laugh now."

                                          1. re: wolfe

                                            I absolutely adore Gershwin but alas he was an artist, not an historian. To quote an actual historian (Robert Finlay):

                                            "…Menzies attempt to rewrite world history is based on a hodgepodge of circular reasoning, bizarre speculation, distorted sources, and slapdash research. In reality, the voyages (Menzies) describes did not take place... and there is no evidence of the Chinese fleets in the Americas."

                                            1. re: scoopG

                                              Does Mousey's Root Beer and Salami Palace still exist?

                                              1. re: scoopG

                                                back when i still lived in San Jose in the mid-70s, the Sunday supplement had an article about how underwater archaeologists were exploring the wreck of an old Chinese junk in the Sacramento River delta from about that period, and how evidence had been discovered of a small Chinese settlement where they'd apparently intermingled with the Miwok, and how there's a statue of a Central Coast tribesman in China looking eastward across the ocean towards home. so put that in your jade pipe and smoke it (yes, one of those was found in the joint encampment done in classical Chinese style).

                                      2. re: scoopG

                                        It's more credible that Chinese monks explored the West coast of North America and sojourned in Mexico 1,000 year before Columbus' journey. http://is.gd/SeW4GA

                                2. re: estone888

                                  Down here in the central valley Richard Wing's Imperial Dynasty restaurant was founded in Hanford's Chinatown in 1883. Here's some of the history:


                                  1. re: PolarBear

                                    Other than the name and the decor, there's little about it that's Chinese. It was strictly Continental when I ate there.

                                    1. re: soupçon

                                      They closed half of the place in the 70s, iirc, and kept the euro centric menu with the CD name. Our last visit was in the 1980s on the same evening that the CA Supreme Court Justices were having an event. Recall tripping over my tongue on a trip to the loo seeing all of the old dustry rare wines sitting on the cupboards waiting to be served to the elite. The servers (Chinese) were a hoot, dinner and a show.

                                  2. re: estone888

                                    Read "On Gold Mountain" by Lisa See, a direct descendent of chinese immigrants who came to work in brothels , etc. Sacramento during the gold rush- fascinating look into local history .

                                    1. re: cecig

                                      actually, the see saga centers around L.A. plot follows the elder see as he starts selling ladies undergarment and eventually furniture and curios from china, asia.

                                      brothels are only incidental to the stories, not the main story line.

                              3. You might want to contact / visit the Chinese Historical Society in San Francisco's Chinatown.

                                "CHSA opened in its landmark Julia Morgan-designed Chinatown YWCA building in 2001. Founded in 1963, CHSA is the oldest and largest organization in the country dedicated to the documentation, study, and presentation of Chinese American history. Through exhibitions, publications, and educational, public programming, CHSA promotes the contributions and legacy of Chinese America. "

                                I've seen several exhibits there, including one of photographs of old Chinese restaurants throughout the US.
                                I'm sure they would have some useful information. Good luck!

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: The Librarian

                                  You're all founts of good information. Thank you so much.

                                  1. re: The Librarian

                                    Those were probably my photos you saw -- the Mostly Mississippi show. Yes, CHSA is where it's at!

                                    See also Jennifer 8 Lee's Fortune Cookie Chronicles http://www.fortunecookiechronicles.com/

                                    Another good book about Chinese American history, though not specifically about restaurants/food, is Driven Out http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=...

                                    1. re: indigirl

                                      That was a great collection of photographs. I really enjoyed the exhibit!

                                  2. What about Sam Wo?

                                    Sam Wo Restaurant
                                    813 Washington Street, San Francisco, CA 94108

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: jason carey

                                      I believe Sam Wo first opened in 1907, after the big earthquake.

                                      Sam Wo Restaurant
                                      813 Washington Street, San Francisco, CA 94108