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Jason Perlow

Chinese Restaurants in Hawaii

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In doing research on finding what the oldest chinese restaurants in the US (and New York) are, I came across this cool article by Tony Chang:


Has anyone ever been to Wo Fat and Lau Yee Chai in Honolulu? Any other notable ones?

I've been privileged to have eaten at almost all the restaurants mentioned in the article. In fact I even supplied many of the places with Meat and other provisions thru associates in Honolulu who helped develop the Hong Kong style and Vietnamese products into the Hawaii Market.

The article is interesting but the most important effect on the local Hawaiian appreciation of Chinese Food wasn't mentioned.

The type of food most enjoyed by Westerners and Locals evolved mostly from the menu of the "McCully Chop Suey", where the large portions of reasonable priced dishes became the local norm. It's hours of operation until the early AM hours made it a popular place for all the night people and entertainers.

The food has always been consistent, quick and tasty but very Island Orientated. The same or very similar type dishes were served in Chinatown and thru out Oahu.

The 1st authentic Chinese Noodle/Wonton Restaurant opened on Hotel Street in the 1970's to packed business. It served Congee, Noodles and Wonton, Suey Kow prepared as close to the real thing as possible. It was owned and operated by a lovely young lady.

The next Restaurant to enter the market was the "China House" at Ala Moana Center that offered Hong Kong Style "Dim Sum" and Banquet preparations. It didn't take long for other places to open or adapt.

After the success of these business to me the most important Authentic Cantonese Style Restaurant that had the greatest effect on Hawaiian Chinese Food opened. It featured "Taiwan Style Late Night Snacks", Small Dishes and Breakfast. A authentic Cantonese Roast Section and Fresh Live Seafood prepared to order in any style requested. There was parking available, plus it was open 24/7.

This was opened by a expert Hong Kong Restraunter who leased the Restaurant from China Airlines who owned the Hotel Property based on the assumption that he would provide service and Taiwan style meals for the flight crews who stayed at the Hotel. This was a opportunity for the Chinese Community and recent immigrants and students to enjoy Food prepared as they remembered.

After these changes took place the rest of the Market adapted and followed but the traditional places continue to do well. There were several Northern Style Restaurants as well as Hakka, Vegen and Szechwan Places that were welcomed and added to the variety with several opening branches in Seattle, Wa.

Hawaii also pioneered in the Asian Fusion Foods and the Thai Restraunts popular now everywhere in America.


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Tony Chang (eGulleter "pakeporkchop") is the most knowledgable person nowadays around regarding Chinese restaurants in Hawai`i. There are a number of other articles on his site that describe different varieties of local Chinese Food and how they evolved.

Both Wo Fat and Lau Yee Chai are still in business, though I haven't visited either since I was a kid. Wo Fat, located in Chinatown, is the oldest existing restaurant operating in the state of Hawai`i. It actually shut down in the early 1990s and was remodeled and reopened in 2000. It started off as a chop suey house, then gradually morphed into a Hong Kong-style seafood establishment, which I believe is what it is in its current manifestation. The Wo Fat building as a whole has a very colorful history, burning down two times and at different times being host to unorthodox enterprises, including "alternative" music raves in recent years.

Irwin is as usual correct that McCully Chop Suey has played a major role in the development of the local Chinese food scene. I believe that they were the ones who pioneered the popular "cake noodles" that have become one of the mainstays of the Sino-Local food. There are still several restaurants around the island that go by the name "Chop Suey" - the label doesn't have the negative connotations it has elsewhere; it simply refers to inexpensive, local-style Chinese food.

Another pioneer on the local Chinese food scene is Char Hung Sut in Chinatown, open since 1946, perhaps the first place to deliver local-style dim sum specialties ("manapua") in a closed building rather than on the street. As Irwin points out, China House at the Ala Moana center was the first to offer dim sum in the contemporary Hong Kong style.

One mainstay of the Hawai`i restaurant scene, House of Hong, closed very recently. It was a large banquet facility along the lines of Lau Yee Chai, in Waikiki, though it had been around "only" since 1964.

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I didn't realize Tony was already an eGulleteer. You know for sure that eGullet is getting so big and recognizable that when I invite food writers to the site, I find out they are already members!

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No question about that Jason, you've created a monster.

I'm pretty sure Wo Fat is the oldest currently operating Chinese restaurant in the U.S. Don't know of any other place that was open in 1882 that still exists now. In fact, it's not much younger than the oldest surviving restaurants of any kind in the U.S., such as Antoine's (1840) and Tadich Grill (1849).

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Aloha, gang! Thanks for the kind words!

I'm off to China this morning, so I can't post as much as I would like to, as I haven't found a suitcase and have yet to pack.

Irwin mentions McCully Chop Suey. As the footnote in the Waikiki Lau Yee Chai article noted, McCully Chop Suey was the innovation of restaurateur Mon Loui, who had started as a waiter for P.Y. Chong at Lau Yee Chai, helped to manage famous Mok Larn Chien, and went on to establish Hon Kung, Inn of the Sixth Happiness, and the Oceania, among others. McCully Chop Suey was the first air-conditioned Chinese restaurant in Hawaii, and in 1959 it was the special favorite of the new breed of U.H. students studying late at the bright brassy Sinclair Library. Imho, it went downhill after Mon Loui sold it and has only recently begun a revival.

The second place that Irwin mentions as being on Hotel Street sounds like Mrs. Ho's Kitchen, famous for its soups and dumplings.

China House was indeed a pioneer led by Wilfred Young and his partners.

The airline hotel restaurant would be Mandarin Palace. The gentleman he refers to is probably Tony Ng, and that restaurant could possibly be the high water mark of Chinese cooking in Hawaii. That story would be found in this article:


Master chef Wing Hui Pui, as the article notes, is now in Las Vegas. He is the Executive Chef for the Mansion at the MGM Grand, a 29 room facility built at the cost of $250 million. You do not register for a room; you can only be invited to stay. 50% of the clients are Asian whales. For a vision of that world, see:


Be sure to read the second article, which speaks of the great chef.

Well, gotta start packing. I'll catch up when I get back. Good eating, gang, and thanks again!

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No question about that Jason, you've created a monster. 

I'm pretty sure Wo Fat is the oldest currently operating Chinese restaurant in the U.S.  Don't know of any other place that was open in 1882 that still exists now.  In fact, it's not much younger than the oldest surviving restaurants of any kind in the U.S., such as Antoine's (1840) and Tadich Grill (1849).

I beleive the oldest surviving restaurant in the US is Fraunces Tavern in New York City (1762) but it wasn't continuously operating. The oldest continuously operating Chinese restauraunt in NYC under its original owner (as in the guy who opened it, not his family) is

King Yum (1953), a Polynesian-Chinese place in Queens. He's owned it for 51 years. The oldest continuously operating Chinese restaurant in NYC, Wo Hop (1938) is run by its original owner's son.

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Have a great time in China, PPC!

Jason, thanks for the links to the King Yum thread on the NY forum. Great look back into Queens cultural history. Thanks also for the info about Fraunces Tavern - I vaguely recall hearing about it before, but didn't realize it was that old!

If you're looking for old Chinese restaurants that are still owned by the same family, Char Hung Sut has been run by the Mau family continously since its beginnings in 1946. In fact, the matriarch-founder, Mrs. Bat Moi Kam Mau passed away just last year at the age of 97.

It would be interesting to find out which are the oldest restaurants in various categories throughout the U.S. . .

As far as I know (hah!) the oldest continuously operated, family-owned restaurant in the U.S. is Antoine's, which has been in the Alciatore / Guste family ever since its beginnings in 1840.

I believe that the oldest COFO Mexican restaurant in the U.S. is El Charro Cafe, which opened in Tucson in 1922. Its current owner, Carlotta Flores, is the granddaughter of founder Monica Flin.

The oldest COFO of any kind in Hawai`i is Helena's Hawaiian Foods, which opened in 1945. The kitchen is still, amazingly, run by the original owner, Helen Chock. Helena's won a James Beard "American Classic" award a few years ago. . .

Doing a bit more research. . .

The Union Oyster House of Boston, founded in 1826, claims that it is the oldest continuously open restaurant in the U.S.

The Hays House of Council Grove, KS, founded in 1857, claims to be the oldest continuously open restaurant west of the Mississippi.

The oldest existing restaurant in California is the Tadich Grill, mentioned earlier. However, it only acquired its current name in 1871, and it has been closed for short periods on multiple occassions and is not in the same family. Jack's and Maye's, also in San Francisco, are slightly younger, but I'm not sure if either has been continously open.

The oldest restaurant in the Pacific Northwest is supposed to be the Horseshoe Cafe in Bellingham Washington, which opened in 1886, though it is not CO or FO.

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I wish I could contribute, but I'll just post to say thanks to all for the great info.

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My current favorite is Maple Garden (no, not nearly as old as Wo Fats). I used to eat there in the 70's/80's.

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We have enjoyed King Tsin throughout the years. The location has changed from Beretania to

Young Street to now on Beretania again although a different address after a 3 year or so lapse.

And a welcome return it is for them! I have never had a thing that I did not like there and they

will cook to order too. Usually I carry out seemingly half the menu and they are always surprised

that the quantity is only to feed 2 or 4 people. The car smells so great from the black bean sauce,

kung pao, hot and sour soup, mongolian beef, spicy eggplant, those potstickers with the great

chili oil, the mu shu pork with a really good not too salty plum sauce. Sorry for the sentence

run on. If it wasn't such a headache to drive to town I'd eat there way more often! I have always

wanted to try Maple Garden - what is really good there? A hui ho.......

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Aloha! I have a few moments, so I wanted to "tweak" the timeline posed by Irwin.

While I agree with the stature that Irwin has accorded to McCully Chop Suey, the credit for the modernization of Chinese Cuisine in Hawaii should be awarded to an earlier Mon Lui establishment, Mok Larn Chien. I should also note that Mon Lui recently passed away; his funeral services were held just last week and an institution has truly passed.

Back then, new items were also being introduced in other restaurants. In 1954, Wah Duck Young opened King’s Garden in Kaimuki and offered a delicious suckling pig and spicy “fragrant” duck. Hong Yee “Blackie” Wong imported Alaskan king crab and served it with black bean sauce to eager customers at New Star Chop Suey. The restaurant sign (a giant crab) cost 800 dollars, a large expense at that time.

Chinese food became widely popular in the local community. Wishing to prepare these dishes for themselves and their families at home, many sought recipes and took cooking classes. Gail Wong wrote “Authentic Chinese Recipes” in 1954, followed by YWCA cooking teacher Gail Li Sia’s publication in 1956.

Preparing for a growth of tourism, the Hilton Hawaiian Village recruited chef Dai Hoy Chang, who had been cooking at Lau Yee Chai since 1938. He opened the Golden Dragon Room in 1958, and it subsequently became a full-scale restaurant.

Statehood in 1959 brought larger commercial and social investments to Hawaii. The pace and quality of life was heightened, and Chinese culinary establishments expanded to meet this market.

McCully Chop Suey was the first Chinese restaurant to offer air-conditioning.

Along with Golden Duck and Diamond Chop Suey, it attracted University of Hawaii students for late night snacks after study hours in the new Sinclair Library.

Yong Sing ventured into the downtown financial district in 1966 to offer business lunches. Patti’s Chinese Kitchen introduced Chinese fast food when they opened at Ala Moana Center in 1967, and the Wong Family offered a sit-down alternative to center shoppers with the Coral Reef.

The beginning of dramatic culinary development followed the enactment by the Congress of the United States of the Immigration Act of 1965, which raised the quotas of immigrants from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Peoples Republic of China.

When Moon Palace opened in 1965, (on the former site of Sun Yun Wo), it heralded the arrival of the Hong Kong style of presentation. The noodles and dumplings were smaller and more delicate than those offered at older Cantonese-style restaurants.

By the late 1960’s, immigration from Taiwan and northern parts of China had increased significantly. There was growing interest in cuisine from regions in China other than the southern Cantonese and Hong Kong styles. The first “northern” Chinese restaurant in Honolulu, Winter Garden, opened at Kahala Mall in 1969. The owners were from Shanghai but served the Szechuan and Hunan styles as well.

Paradise Garden followed in 1970 on Kalakaua Boulevard, serving Peking-style dishes. A five-table establishment operated by the wife of a University of Hawaii professor, the small shop offered pungently spiced dishes to crowds of diners. The novelty was such that customers happily stood in line waiting for an available table. Another early northern restaurant was Szechuan Mandarin Cuisine in Palama, opening in 1971.

In 1973, James Liu introduced his version of the Shandong style at Beijing, which he managed, and then opened the Mandarin, where meat, fowl and fish were blast-fried or braised with heavier preparations of onion, garlic, and chili. In the restaurant’s private room, Professor Daniel Kwok and Honolulu Star-Bulletin editor Hobart Duncan began a new dining club called the West Lake Society.

Normalization of relations with China and President Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing in 1972 elevated the prestige of Chinese cuisine and stimulated interest in this culinary art.

Arline Hoe, after closing Dragon Pearl in 1969, developed the Asian and Chinese Culinary Arts program at the Pensacola campus of Kapiolani Community College.

Many contemporary Chinese chefs, including Russell Siu, Sam Choy, and Harry Yim, received their early training in her program.

Titus Chan, who had developed a popular cooking show for Hawaii public television, rode the crest of this interest when he was syndicated nation-wide in 1973. The companion book for the series, “Cooking the Chan-ese Way”, was released in 1975.

More Hong Kong-style restaurants opened. The Oceania, a floating restaurant modeled after similar restaurants in Hong Kong’s Aberdeen area, was brought with great fanfare to Honolulu Harbor in 1972. Adjacent to Ala Moana Center, China House became the place for mall shoppers to rest and snack on noodles and dumplings.

The western China style from Szechwan matured at the Maple Garden in 1975. In addition to the now ubiquitous mah po tofu, hot and sour soup, and smoked tea duck, owner Robert Hsu offered a northern-style breakfast menu based on soy milk, “dou jiang”. Accompanied by roast cakes, “shao bing”, deep-fried crullers “yu tiao”,and other pancakes, buns, and condiments, it is one of the more unusual Chinese dining experiences available in Honolulu. The southern Chiu Chao and Hakka styles were also brought here with varying success.

Also in 1975, the Lau family adapted the San Francisco-style baked bun at Royal Kitchen. One of the original tenants at the Mun Fa Chinese Cultural Plaza, their new buns with varied fillings became popular inter-island gift items. Also at the plaza, the Empress became the largest Chinese restaurant in the state, offering a venue for large parties outside of Waikiki at reasonable prices and with free parking.

For a more detailed timeline of the Hong Kong initiation to Honolulu cooking, go to


Kai Lan attracted crowds to its tiny Liliha Street location in 1977 with its initiation of Hong Kong-style live seafood, such as clams in black bean sauce. Raymond Chau followed the next year with the opening of Won Kee and his Hong Kong-style crab and lobster. Chinese Menu offered similar items in 1979 to University area patrons.

In 1980, the Great Wok of China opened in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center.

It was the first and probably only Chinese restaurant in Hawaii to offer close-up wok cooking in a configuration similar to Japanese teppan-yaki.

As the return of Hong Kong from the British Commonwealth to China loomed, in-migration from the Crown Colony increased and Honolulu restaurants positioned themselves to meet the new arrivals.

Dim sum parlors proliferated. China House, Panda Cuisine, and Royal Garden formed one cluster near Ala Moana Shopping Center. Ting Yin, Sea Fortune and Cheung Kee competed for Chinatown customers while Empress was joined by Legend at the Chinese Cultural Plaza. Chan’s had the University area to itself and Hee Hing ruled in Kapahulu; Eastern Garden slipped in between them at lower Waialae Avenue. Eastern Garden then established a Pearl City branch and went after the Waikiki market with Beijing, Seafood Village, and Shanghai Garden.

Similarly, Yong Sing faced downtown competition with Hong Kong Harbourview at the Aloha Tower Marketplace.

Forum recruited a Hong Kong chef, Kwok Wah Chan, in 1992 and earned a reputation for fine Cantonese cuisine. With the acquisition of the only cabaret license in the down-town/ Chinatown area and the introduction of Chinese karaoke, it was poised as a unique food and entertainment location.

Increasing in-migration from other regions in China prompted the emergence of different cooking styles in snack shops and food malls. Ja Ja, Fu Mei and Café Paulina were early purveyors of Taiwan food items, particularly the soup and noodles that are characteristic of the Fukienese style. These items are now offered at Dew Drop Inn and KC Kitchen.

Cuisine from Singapore and Malaysia, including Straits Chinese or “Nonya” food, first appeared at Peter Germain’s I in Kapahulu in the early 1980’s, followed by Chet Chua’s Orient Fare, then Café 33, Fu Lu Shou, Shirley’s Pantry, Hannah’s Kitchen ,Tsuru Diner, Noodles Express. and New Century Restaurant Limited menus are now available at Triple One in the Maunakea Marketplace.

I'd love to gossip about Singapore Bistro and HeiChinRou but that will await another column!

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PPC - sorry for not replying sooner - that is such an amazing post. So much history in it that I have to sit down for a while to digest it all. I assume this will turn into another episode of "Wokking Around Town"? I hope you're also turning all this into a book - I'm sure there would be a lot of demand for it - I'd run out and buy the first copy.

A lot of "what's happened to them now" stories. Such as Titus Chan - I believe he must have been the first non-Western chef ever to have his own TV series distributed nationally.

Yong Sing is the shuttered restaurant on Alakea and Hotel, correct. I'm surprised someone else has not opened up there yet. Perhaps the rents are too high for such a large establishment?

One place I remember from my own youth in Manoa is Manoa Chop Suey. Now turned into a Starbucks - almost a cliche, but such a typical example of the passage of time. It's interesting that in Hawai`i, the word "chop suey" when attached to a restaurant doesn't have the same negative connotations that it might on the mainland.

Again, thanks for the great post!

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Out there...What was the little place on Hotel Street that was great? Was in the late 70s. Mini Garden?

Edited by pake (log)

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Another place in the 50~60s that my family used to go to was Golden Duck on Piikoi and Young Streets. Other than that the only places I remember were McCully Chop Suey, Wo Fat and Lau Yee Chai (only for special occasions though).

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Thank you, thank you for a truly informative post. I especially appreciated the connections you made between changes in the restaurant scene and the changes in politics that precipitated them,


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Pake Pork Chop thank you for your informative interesting approach to this source with details that answered questions about things I've been curious about for years.

I'm curious if anyone recalls the unusual Chinese Restaurant that used to be located on King or South Bretania Street that relocated to Kalihi about 1985/86.

What was so special was that the Chef prepared daily fresh pans of "Asian Style Chinese Candy Treats" that my kids always brought home on the way from school. I used to stop by in the afternoon for orders of Roast Duck Mai Fun that we enjoyed, but the main reason was watching him make the candies from a wok and baking sheets, then placing them into a Bakers Rack to Cool. He would be a terrific hit at our "Pikes Market".

Fortunately when the moved to Kalihi two of my kids were already driving so we were always stocked up at home. I have never been able to find such a good variety anywhere else, and I've sure looked especially in San Francisco and Seattle to no avail.

Another topic also beginning in Hawaii was the export of "Chinese Vegan" and "Hakka Food" from Honolulu to Seattle where both original restaurants are still doing well. Any other Honolulu Chinese Exports ?


Edited by wesza (log)

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