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Apr 19, 2012 11:45 AM

Sam Wo closing... help!!!! Where... [San Francisco]

According to

A little help please? Where will my honey get his shrimp covered in pork grease over rice cooked in pork grease at 2 am after band practice/gigs? Any ideas?

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  1. If you want some old school abuse a la Edsel Fong, go to House of Nanking and ask for a menu. :)

    1. OH NO!! We had only 20 days left before we intended to fly across the country & visit Sam Wo. The last time I ate at Sam Wo was during the 1960s. I waited all this time to revisit and savor the nostalgia. Now, it's too late.

      1. I was just there Saturday and something was up. At mid afternoon, there was no gim fon because the owner had not been there yet and according to the ladies there, he is the only one who makes it.

        As luck would have it I will be off tomorrow and in the City. I guess I can park in the garage on Kearney and hike up for my last taste of his gim fon.

        2 Replies
        1. re: chocolatetartguy

          R.I.P. Anywhere else to get cold rice noodle rolls with lots of cilantro?

          1. re: dordogne

            I have the same question. They have been a must for me every time I am in Chinatown for, oh, 20 years now. I have never seen them made anywhere else.

        2. Actually it was only recently that I realized they were still open. Even at the time of my last visit there in 1980 I didn't think it was very good. Unfortunately, Sam Wo is an anachronism and I don't think you'll find a replacement. And probably for good reason.

          1. After dinner elsewhere tonight, I swung by about an hour ago to see Sam Wo lit up at night. I didn't eat there, just wanted to pay my last respects. The folks in line were sharing their memories of the place. At this hour, most looked to be younger than 35 y o, meaning they were too young to have been waited on by Edsel. Bittersweet.

            A couple photos:


            15 Replies
            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Great pics, thank you. Sam Wo is one of those places that is supposed to be there forever.

              I guess this sums it all up: "“Too old. Everything’s too old,” says the 56-year-old [David] Ho. “The building is too old. It’s very sad.”

              He adds that the three-story restaurant has been having problems with the fire department and the kitchen is too old, too. He says that he won’t reopen, at 813 Washington or elsewhere."

              And now I feel too old!

              He's smart for not trying to re-open elsewhere. Of course, it wouldn't be the same and there would be no point.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Made me feel old too thinking back on my 40-year old memories of the place. One problem, I'm told, is that the building is basically a lean-to resting on the side walls of the two neighboring structures. Essentially an alley that was roofed over.

                During the short time that I was on the sidewalk, I overheard several people say that they were San Franciscans but had never been there before, first hearing about it because of the hoopla over it closing. Hard to believe, but true, I guess.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  My family has been in SF and the BA since 1849, i.e., real 49ers. I came to NorCal in the 80s to go to school and stayed. I lived in SF for 17 years. I knew of Sam Wo's but never ate there because there was no reason...the reports were the food wasn't that good and wasn't into the whole insult waiter thing.

                  I've written it before, I think some people really enjoy the insults from Edsel Fong (or the guy at House of Nanking) because of the S/M element of someone you'd usually never associate with ripping you a new one. It makes some people feel better about racial divides, inequity and racism and such.

                  If the food was good, I might have tried it.

                  1. re: ML8000

                    Edsel passed away in 1984, so he was probably out of the picture by the time you arrived. I was never harassed by him. When I was a kid, Sam Wo was the only place that made yao tiu regularly, actually known by the older name as deep-fried devils at the time. Not very good ones by today's standards, but the only ones and we'd buy a bag to take home.

                    As you can see by the posts in this thread, really only one good dish at Sam Wo. Maybe two, if you count the fish salad. But at least you'd heard of the place even if you chose not to eat there. Seems unbelievable that anyone who lived in San Francisco and had been anywhere close to Chinatown would be unfamiliar with the restaurant and only learn of its history for the first time yesterday. I mean, when I'm in SF Chinatown, I invariably hear somebody on the street pointing tourists toward Sam Wo. But apparently so for some of the people in line last night said the news accounts were the first they knew of Sam Wo's existence.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Mr. Fong was alive when I got here and I knew of him, both from general word of mouth and my relatives. The usual response was "why do you want to go there?" Some relatives thought he was funny (his schtick) but others thought he made Asians look sad and dopey.

                    2. re: ML8000

                      Eh, I was a girl from the suburbs what did I know about good food? We used to come into the City on Friday and Saturday nights to go dancing, then trek over Sam Wo's afterwards.

                      It was all bright, welcoming, and unpretentious. Maybe it's a place for tourists, but I was a tourist of sorts. We always ordered fried rice and the noodle rolls and brought in our own Bailey's (! seems like a bad choice in hindsight) to pour into our tea. We thought we were clever but, of course, they just pretended not to notice.

                      We were waited on by Edsel at least once or twice but it would have been very close to when he died. He just seemed like a silly old man to us. And, of course, we thought he was flirting and not insulting. Silly, flirty old men come in all ethnicities.

                      I count these visits to Sam Wo's as formative experiences for me Chow-wise. Maybe it wasn't the best food, but it's the sort of thing that made me curious about what else might be out there.


                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        You're likely right about silly flirty old men. Any way, to be fair about Sam Wo's and being insulted, well you could have just as easily been insult in another Chinese restaurant and in fact I've witnessed it. Use to go to Silver Restaurant on Washington since it was open until 3 a.m. (later?). Use to be good but some weird insulting stuff happened with a Japanese friend (left over tension between Chinese and Japanese due to WWII).

                        1. re: ML8000

                          ML - Silver was actually good once? hard to believe. I only went because there wasn't anything else open at that time of the night in easy walking distance (Stockton Tunnel - over, not in)

                          1. re: hill food

                            when I was living in North Beach/Chinatown back in the 60's and 70's ...... many restaurants were open until 2am or later. Jackson Street Cafe was our favorite but it was only one of many choices. The Golden Dragon incident ( shooting ) changed all that to a large degree.

                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                          Ah, Edsel! He nearly killed me by waltzing me almost over the top of the stairs and made a group of Chinese business men serenade me with "Mona Lisa." Good times... To be in college again. I think his insults were really a schtick. He was a sweetheart (apart from near homicide-by-dancing).

                        3. re: ML8000

                          I don't recall Edsel being insulting, so much as putting on a crazy schtick that validated some of the Hollywood stereotypes at that point, and from what I can tell, he did it as a form of crowd control, and entertainment.

                          I can't say if the food was ever good, or our standards changed, but you're right there's been no reason to visit beyond ambience. I'd rather visit Chef Jia instead.

                          1. re: sugartoof

                            Once he told me "How you have such a pretty girl? She can do much better than you." Should I have been insulted? That was right before he gave her the paper and pencil to write the order he was "Too busy to take" and poked her lightly in the shoulder with a chopstick. The full Edsel. But I believe I heard him late one night tell that this schtick allowed him to put kids through college.

                        4. re: Melanie Wong

                          Huh, we have a diner --Al's Breakfast-- in Minneapolis like that. It's just a space between buildings that was roofed over. But, there aren't earthquakes in Minneapolis! I suppose they do need to bring things to code in order to continue on. It's interesting that this hoopla around the closing has caused them to reconsider a renovation plan.


                        5. re: The Dairy Queen

                          Much as I love the storied space, I disagree; the noodle rolls they make are not found anywhere else and they are amazing. I think there's a loyalty to the family and the food as well as the building. Of course, best case is $$ coming out of the woodwork and making reopening there possible.

                        6. re: Melanie Wong

                          What a crowd. As they say sometimes you don't know what you lost until it's gone.