Thomas Wolfe was wrong.
Finding myself with a free afternoon in San Francisco, where I hadn’t been in three or four decades, I did what anyone in my position would do. I headed to Sam Wo’s restaurant in Chinatown.
Actually, calling it a restaurant is giving it a bit too much credit. Those of you who have been to this 100+ year old three story, 11 foot wide place to eat know that you enter through the ground floor kitchen. Then you have a choice of the eight table second floor or ten table third floor. Not that there’s much difference. Both have formica tables, little stools, tho there are a couple of booth like arrangements, on the second floor.
Having been there a number of times, first in the 60s and maybe a few times in the next decade or two, I thought I’d see if it was still what I remembered.
And it was.
The prices are a bit higher. A good sized plate of chow mein with pork and bean sprouts is now $5.50, almost twice the price of 40 years ago. And the combination fried rice with real shrimp, pork, and beef is now $6.00. But I couldn’t finish the two dishes, as good as they were. There are no checks and no tax (is there food tax in SF?), and you pay in the kitchen on your way out.
The ‘famous’ chef who was cooking in the 60s, and I don’t know for how many years prior to that, just retired three years ago. His replacement ain’t bad. The ‘restaurant’ is now being run by the third generation in the family, and the fourth generation is soon to take over, if you can believe the waitress, who has only been at the restaurant for 19 years (she wasn’t even born when I was there the first time).
There’s still the old fashion rope dumb waiter that brings the food up from the kitchen and single, bare light bulbs sticking out of the wall. You get water in little dixie like paper cups, along with throw away chopsticks. The flies aren’t too bad, and if you get the right table, you’ll have salt, pepper, and hot sauce all together.
But for $11.50 and a bit of ‘going home again,’ it was just the right reintroduction to one of America’s wonderful cities.