PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –– Those iconic neon “Chop Suey” signs are long gone. I miss them. I also miss the profusion of Chinese restaurants that served the classics – Chow Mein, Pepper Steak, Moo Goo Gai Pan, Egg Rolls and Egg Foo Yung.
The Chinese restaurant scene has evolved into “Fusion” and highly reviewed eateries that offer heat infused dishes from exotic provinces. I have been told by a food writer acquaintance that what I crave is not Chinese, but “Chinese – American.” It’s true. And I’m not alone.
So if you’re among those of us who have Chinese-American cravings, they can still be satisfied. Join me for a dependable pair in Philadelphia, a trio in the suburbs and a New York original.
146 North 10th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
When I arrived in Philly over 50 years ago, I was introduced to Chinatown and the Imperial Inn. I’ve been going back ever since.
The menu exemplifies classic Chinese food for American tastes. But it combines that with traditional Dim Sum, tidbits of filled dumplings, served by the piece from rolling carts that circulate through the dining room.
My favorites here are barbecued spare ribs that are among the meatiest in the region, won ton soup, loaded with soft wrap won tons and pork strips, and the traditional Chow Mein.
Servings are more than ample and the prices reasonable. Like many old school Chinese restaurants, Imperial does not have a web page. But here’s a menu.
108 North 10th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
A small comfortable space with a staff that’s eager to explain dishes is just steps from the Chinatown Arch. The wide-ranging menu order is typical of a traditional Chinese-American restaurant with items that also appeal to a local Asian lunch and dinnertime crowd.
All the familiar plates are here and the combinations provide the basics – soup, egg roll, favorite dish and rice. Again, prices are Chinatown reasonable.
As the great depression of the 1920’s and 30’s came to an end, it was the pricing that attracted families to the Chinatowns of America from Philly to San Francisco.
Have a conversation with Jack Chung, who with his wife, Amy launched this favorite suburban Blue Bell stop, and you’ll get an education in the evolution of Chinese food in America.
Golden Sea was created to satisfy traditional American tastes with an upscale approach to cooking and presentation, while keeping prices in line with custom.
For a treat try a Wor Bar, brought sizzling to the table. Familiar soups and appetizers lead the way with delicate won ton soup and egg rolls that bring back memories. Another spot, where you’ll want to try a combination.
You’ll find Lemon Tree further out in rapidly developing Chester County near Lionville. The restaurant has evolved from a traditional Chinese eatery in a Collegeville location to a restaurant that now combines the familiar flavors, favored by 1940’s and 50’s Chop Suey addicts to a menu that includes more authentic native Chinese dishes, appealing to a younger, more adventurous American generation.
My own tastes here run to their memory reviving egg rolls combined with the familiar shrimp and delicate lobster sauce.
I wouldn’t call VeeKoo, “Fusion”. It does not combine ingredients and prep styles of different Asian nations and cultures into single dishes. Instead, it is a among a growing number of restaurants that present the unique dishes of several cultures on a single menu.
That includes “Chinese-American”. Since that’s where my cravings live my favorites here from the 40′ and fifties are a savory sauced Pepper Steak and the mildly sweet Shrimp and Lobster Sauce.
For seekers of 60’s dishes, the General Tso’s Chicken is hard to top. Combinations at lunch and dinner provide the chance to try multiple courses from soup to fortune cookie. The menu is expansive and does cover Japanese and Thai favorites.
17 Mott Street
New York, NY 10013
This is the place – the one single place on the entire east coast – maybe the planet, where anyone alive today can find every Chinese and Chinese-American dish they ever loved, in its original form.
Wo Hop has been a New York Chinatown fixture since the 1930’s. Today it remains open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and the line can be snaking out the basement door at 2 in the morning.
After a night on the town, what better way to wind down, sober up and satisfy an age-old craving to consume a heaping plate of delicious, glutinous Chicken Chow Mein over thin, crisp fried noodles?
The place may be crowded, the food could arrive all at once or staggered. The pictures on the wall are faded images of largely unknown stars – performers from forgotten circuses, burlesque, vaudeville, off-Broadway, way off-Broadway.
It is the iconic Chinese restaurant that did and still does draw New Yorkers and former New Yorkers to Chinatown for inexpensive family day trips.
As a kid, mom and dad with my sister and I in tow, took a nickel subway to Lower Manhattan and strolled the streets and shops till hungry. Then off to Wo Hop or one of its neighbors.
The only thing missing 75 years later is that familiar neon “Chop Suey” sign that told us there were magic flavors under those shiny metal covers that topped the overflowing plates of vegetables and meats in sauces that induced culinary ecstasy.
Try it. You’ll like it.