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Earliest Authentic Chinese Restaurant Outside of SF City Limits?

I've been working on the chronology of the spread of authentic Chinese restaurants in the Los Angeles area, where the first authentic suburban Chinese restaurant opened up in Monterey Park around 1975. Aside from Oakland Chinatown, does anybody remember when the Bay Area started seeing these? I remember going to a place around the same era, I believe right off I-280 in the Daly City area, kind of on a hill. However I wasn't tracking Chinese restaurants back then. Thanks.

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  1. The first one I remember hearing about as being worth the schlep from SF was the original Flower Lounge in Millbrae, which opened in1984.



    1 Reply
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Thanks for the info and links. I was hoping to hear from you!

    2. I don't know if it qualifies as "authentic" as I haven't been before, but I live close to Chef Chu's in Los Altos which supposedly has been open since 1970.

      1. I don't know what "authentic" means, either. But the first new wave/non-Chinese-American restaurant I patronized was King Tsin on Solano Ave. in Berkeley in the late 1970s. We used to go with my roommate's boyfriend, who was taking engineering and computer science classes with half the waiters, who were on student visas from China.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Mandarin Garden and Tsing Tao were contemporary with King Tsin.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            I remember going to King Tsin as early as 1975, and I think it had been around a few years then. But there were also other places in Berkeley at that point (I remember one on College just south of Ashby, whose name eludes me).

          2. I remember being very impressed with what I thought was the authenticity of Chef Chu's near Palo Alto (Los Altos) when my Stanford friends would take me there on visits from the Chicago Area during the early to mid 1980s. It's website says it opened in 1970. I also remember HKFL in the 1988 time frame and maybe earlier.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Thomas Nash

              Chef Chu's has some extremely non-Chinese dishes on the menu (notably crab rangoon), so maybe it was one of the earlier generation of places where you could get real Chinese food if you knew what to order, or ordered in Cantonese, or chewed out the chef in Cantonese if he tried to serve you Americanized stuff.

              I think Chandavki is looking for the newer-style places with purely Chinese-Chinese menus.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Yeah, I think you're right... The clientele seems to be decidedly caucasian. That being said, there are a number of more "authentic" dishes, but also its fair share of crab rangoon, general tso's etc.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  That's certainly the case now. But in the 1980s Chef Chu's had some of the most authentic and interesting Chinese (Northern/Sichuan) one could find anywhere in the US (including NYC and Chicago at the time). It was not all Caucasian at the time. Many Chinese patrons along with some Stanford types.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    In the 70s they didn't have dishes like crab rangoon on the menu.

                    When Stanford's will provision blocking alcohol sales within a certain distance of campus was over turned in the 90's (?), Chef Chu got a liquor license and changed up their menu.

                2. I think this pretty well defines the kind of Chinese restaurants that existed before the ones Chandavki's asking about:

                  "When some frustrated non-Chinese friends of [Jim Lee, author of the 1968 Jim Lee's Chinese Cookbook] found they could not on their own order the same lobster Cantonese at the restaurant he had taken them to, he went back and listened to what the waiters hollered to the kitchen. Eventually he deciphered three phrases. Plain 'lobster Cantonese' produced a bland concoction topped by a lot of pasty sauce; for those who asked for 'real' Chinese food, 'lobster Cantonese, Chinese style' had a little more garlic and less sauce. And 'lobster Cantonese, Chinese style, eaten by Chinese' was the real McCoy, boldly seasoned and served with the natural juices from the stir-fry."


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Olivia Wu, who wrote the article linked, is now an executive chef at Google, Inc. I found her interviewed on youtube:

                    Her son Wu-Bower is chef at Avec in Chicago.

                  2. My late cousin used to attend grad school at Stanford, and whenever his parents from Hong Kong visited, they used to find some of the best Cantonese food outside of SF that Hong Kong expats from back then would find acceptable, in downtown Mountain View. Kirin might be the only surviving restaurant from that lot, but I am not sure if that's part of the old scene.

                    1. I lived in Sacramento, and in 1973 or 1974 we got a dramatically different Chinese restaurant, named Peking, which served things like Peking Duck, Hot and Sour Soup, a number of Szechuan dishes, and some wheat flour items like two kinds of Green Onion Cakes. It was a complete break from American Cantonese, and quite welcome at the time. I believe the restaurant still exists, but has moved from its original Tallac Village location to the north area, on Fulton Blvd.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Tripeler

                        The first non-Cantonese food to speak of was what might now be referred to as the faux Hunan and Szechwan food that came out of New York in the early-1970s, after the first wave of non-Toishanese/Cantonese immigrants came to the US from Taiwan. However, this was not authentic Hunan/Szechwan food, as demonstrated by a comparison to the real Hunan and Szechwan food that has arrived in the past 15 or so years.

                        1. re: Chandavkl

                          Thanks for your reply. At the time, I really had no idea, but I knew it was quite a bit different from ordinary California Cantonese style stuff. I moved from Sacramento to Tokyo in 1977, so had another set of new foods to enjoy.

                      2. What about Kee Joon's that used to be in Burlingame? When did it start up?

                        Also I have a vague memory of a place in downtown Redwood City. The chef made marvelous carvings out of daikon that we kids would play with. Maybe it was called Peacock? In any case, the food was distinctive enough that my relatives in San Francisco would drive down to the Peninsula.

                        1. Another one was Fung Lum in Campbell, which was authentic back in its time (it opened in the 70's). Over the years, it adjusted and Americanized up until it closed.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Jon914

                            In Oakland Chinatown in the early 80's was On On Restaurant which was a Hong Kong style restaurant, more hole in the wall. It was one of the first in Oakland to serve the won ton that was mostly shrimp and the HK style chow mein (thin noodle fried crispy with protein/vegetable and sauce over the top). I went to Cal with the owner's son and that's how I found out about it. It was on the corner of Webster and 7th across from Tin's restaurant.

                          2. Not outside of SF, but Cecilia Chiang opened the restaurant that became the Mandarin in 1961.


                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              I happen to have a copy of Doris Muscatine's "A Cook's Tour of San Francisco" (1963), which I found in a used bookstore in suburban Tokyo, and it says:

                              "The main exception to Cantonese cuisine in San Francisco is a comparatively new restaurant, The Mandarin, at 2209 Polk Street, outside of Chinatown. This establishment specializes in the cooking of northern China, with such rare procedure -- in San Francisco, at least -- as that of the Mongolian chafing pot. This vessel, warmed by a charcoal fire and a central chimney, contains a substantial chicken broth, enriched by successive dunkings of thinly sliced chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, vegetables, bean curd, and rice noodles. The Mandarin believes that it is the first and only Chinese establishment in this country to present beggar's chicken -- a finely flavored bird bundled in clay and baked. Prawns a la Szechwan are sauteed with a special hot sauce, duck is smoked whole in tea leaves, or roasted Mandarin style. There are sweet and sour meatballs, and Chinese cabbage in a creamy white sauce. The carp in a sweet and sour sauce, full of such delectables as lichee nuts, is outstanding. Pepper chicken is characteristic of the spicy cooking from the Szechwan area. There is an unusual dessert here of fried apples or bananas in a candy-coating. Prepared in chunky pieces, they come piping hot in a flowing caramel sauce. You pick up a piece with your chopsticks and plunge it for an instant into a bowl of ice water. The candy-coating hardens, the fruit stays hot, and the result is altogether delicious. The Mandarin offers a substantial choice of a la carte dishes, three family-style dinners, and a banquet menu. Its prices are comparable to those of the most expensive restaurants in Chinatown." (pages 101-2)

                            2. Speaking purely out of speculation, it seems like there were probably Chinese restaurants serving Chinese laborers in the mid 1800s.

                              This article indicates that while the initial Chinese restaurants may have initially served a mixed crowd, racial tensions led to Chinese restaurants being frequented mostly by Chinese (which would imply some degree of authenticity).


                              2 Replies
                              1. re: mr_darcy

                                Interesting read. Of course what was considered "authentic" to us Toishanese (who were the bulk of the Chinese in the US before 1960) became the basis of what is now considered to be Americanized Chinese food today, as explained in my Huffington Post write-up on that topic.

                                1. re: Chandavkl

                                  Just looked up your article, fascinating stuff!

                              2. Wing Fat, San Mateo

                                Opened in 1958

                                1. There was a Sichuanese restaurant called O Mei in either Berkeley or Albany on Solano Avenue ca. 1970 (definitely before 1971 because I went there when I was living in University Village).

                                  It's difficult to judge the authenticity in retrospect, but I recall it being very different from the Cantonese-oriented (no pun intended) Chinese food I was used to, and I was captivated by a dish called "Strange Taste Chicken" on the menu (obviously 怪味鸡).

                                  I don't know if it's related to O'Mei Restaurant in Santa Cruz, which also dates from the '70s.

                                  1. Not sure if this is to the point, but I remember eating at Fu Lu Shou (sp?), a Northern Chinese place at the old Great China location on Kittredge in Berkeley, in the mid 70's. Also from that period China Station for classic Cantonese in the building that now houses Brennan's.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                      Yes...forgot about Fu Lu Shou. Another one I went to in 1975 or so.