King Yum Chinese Restaurant
181-08 Union Tpke, Flushing, NY
I was at Belmont Park this weekend hanging out at the Grill Kings BBQ competition so I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to visit nearby King Yum restaurant in the Flushing village of Hillcrest, the “Old Neighborhood” that my mother and father grew up in during the 1950′s thru the 1960′s and where my aunt and uncle still live today.
King Yum has a great deal of sentimental importance to me because it is the restaurant where I was first exposed to Chinese food as a young child by both sets of my grandparents, Sid and Frieda Esikoff and Jack and Sylvia Perlow.
King Yum is by all measurements a historical landmark and an important community watering hole and eatery in the borough of Queens. It’s the oldest continuously running Chinese restaurant in the borough (since 1953, that would be during the Korean War when Harry Truman was president and Eisenhower wasn’t sworn into office yet!) which was operated by its original owner, Jimmy Eng up until he passed away in 2007.
Eng was a very young and dapper octogenarian who still visited every table to check on the happiness and wellness of its patrons, and who still got up to sing golden oldies during the restaurant’s Karaoke night. It is also one of the last remaining Polynesian Chinese restaurants in the entire country with original Tiki-period decorations and artifacts dating back to the 1960′s.
The food at King Yum is Chinese American, which a cuisine has been pooh-poohed by a lot of Chinese food buffs in recent years as being inauthentic, dated, gloppy and lacking of flavor. This is a sentiment that for the most part I tend to agree with. However, King Yum is the exception rather than the rule — every dish here is made with care and there are no shortcuts taken, which I’ll elaborate a bit more on.
Suffice to say that King Yum is one of the restaurants that established and invented the cuisine, and in my opinion, pretty much every Chinese American restaurant in this country that makes a version of King Yum’s dishes is a crappy and unfaithful copy.
King Yum is THE benchmark by which all Chinese American cuisine should be measured up to — they do everything the old fashioned way, using recipes that haven’t changed in 54 years. You can also get very authentic modern Chinese dishes as well at King Yum, but the traditional Chinese American dishes at this restaurant is what keeps bringing me back.
Storefront on Union Turnpike, at night.
The architecture of King Yum has remained largely unchanged for the past 40 years. While the neighborhood itself has changed a lot and more modern Chinese restaurants have moved into the area, King Yum remains as a bastion of well prepared Chinese American cuisine.
100 yards to the left of the restaurant lies Hillcrest Jewish Center which was also established about the same time King Yum was opened. If you ever heard the expression about the relative success of opening Chinese restaurants in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, this was likely the restaurant and neighborhood that defined it.
Jack Perlow, my paternal grandfather had his orthodontics practice across the street and was one of the founding members of the HJC. The residential neighborhood adjoining Hillcrest Jewish Center is practically surrounded by Chinese restaurants Kosher eateries and Bagel Stores — everything a Jewish New Yorker needs for basic survival. Peking House, another long established Chinese restaurant is very close to the Hillcrest center as well.
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Entering the restaurant you immediately see a large tiki idol adorning the entrance with a waterfall, enticing you to the tiki bar and other Polynesian nostalgia inside.
This is the “China” room, the original dining room that opened in 1953.
The “Polynesian” room, which was added in the late 60s.
The Tiki bar is a great place to watch a Yankees or Mets game.
The drink menu.
King Yum’s Mai Tai. Perfect balance of flavors and extremely potent. A Classic.
The Boco Loco, served in a coconut.
These vintage Tiki masks would scare the crap out of a young child, as it did me when I was around six or eight years old.
All of the Tiki/Polynesian fixtures you see here, including the bar and all the bamboo accouterments (all the walls in the main dining room are paneled with bamboo, the place looks the restaurant that used to be in the Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney world) are ORIGINAL. The restaurant appears as its was, back in 1968-1970, with little or no changes.
Many of King Yum’s wait and kitchen staff have been working there for over twenty years. Jimmy Eng’s children now manage the business. I wasn’t able to snap a photo of him before he passed away, but he looked like a million bucks for someone in his mid to late 80s.
King Yum’s Dim Sum appetizer, which is an extra-large large Siu Mai with a pork and water chestnut filling and a oyster sauce-based dressing.
This is their Subgum Wonton Soup for two. It contains fried wontons, as well as big slices of roast pork, white meat chicken, shrimp, bok choy, mushrooms, water chestnuts and snow peas.
A portion of the wonton soup in a retro Chinese soup bowl.
The holy trinity of Chinese American cuisine: Egg Foo Young, Shrimp and Lobster Sauce, and House Special Fried rice. Many Chinese restaurants cop out and thicken their sauces with cornstarch, but King Yum only uses egg whites and flour to thicken their classics.
Spare Ribs. In my opinion they are the very best in the entire Metro area.
Sichuan Wontons, one of the “newer” additions to the menu.
King Yum’s Egg Rolls are the best of any Chinese restaurant I’ve been to in my life. Egg Rolls are fairly simple to make and don’t have a lot of ingredients, but King Yum’s are distinctive because they use real roast pork (instead of ground pork dyed red color) as well as shrimp, preserved Chinese vegetable and cook the finely chopped cabbage with a lot of pork fat, giving it a very intense flavor.
Egg Roll Closeup
House Special Fried Rice — with real lobster and lots of roast pork and cooked the proper way, with Dark Soy.
Sizzling Rice Wor Bar — Roast Pork, Beef and Chicken with mixed vegetables over sizzling rice on a cast iron plate.
This is a sauteed fish fillet dish that my wife ordered.