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William Tan (left) and his family share one last meal at Seven Treasures on Aug. 9, 2023.

William Tan (left) and his family share one last meal at Seven Treasures on Aug. 9, 2023.

Mendy Kong

Loyal customers of Seven Treasures savor a last taste of their favorite Chinese restaurant

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect an earlier restaurant closing date. Seven Treasures closed early on Aug. 12 due to staff shortages.

There is 20 minutes until Seven Treasures opens at 11 a.m., and on a cloudy Wednesday, the entrance of the restaurant is already buzzing with people hoping to get their final fix of the restaurant’s most popular dishes: wonton noodles and 554, a pork, rice and eggs dish named after its number on the menu.

The line outside Seven Treasures continues to grow as the day goes on.

The line outside Seven Treasures on Aug. 9, 2023, continues to grow as the day goes on.

Mendy Kong

Seven Treasures opened in 1986 but closed on Aug. 12 after nearly 40 years due to its second-generation owner, Benjamin Au, retiring. It was one of the restaurants that opened at the same time Chinatown first began expanding, when the Chinatown Basin TIF was created “to assist the residential and commercial expansion of Chinatown on former railroad property.” Because there were not yet as many options as Chinatown offers today, the restaurant holds a special place in the hearts of many people, giving recent immigrants especially a taste of home.

News of the closure was driving hordes of Instagram foodies for a taste of authentic Cantonese wonton noodle soup. But for the original devotees of Seven Treasures the darkening of this particular kitchen has a different meaning: The dishes are excellent, of course, but moreso this was regular Chinese food. Humble, honest.

A bowl of the restaurant's iconic wonton noodles.

A bowl of the restaurant’s iconic wonton noodles.

Mendy Kong

On social media, devastation was a common refrain.

Standing in line, Victor Lee was born and raised in Chicago and started going in the early ‘90s. Lee, 40, also runs @hungryblackpanda, a TikTok page, and was among the first to spread word of the restaurant’s closing. His grandparents brought the family there after they first immigrated to the U.S. A fan ever since, he recalled nights spent with friends all ordering and eating the same 554 dish.

Victor Lee, 40, waits eagerly outside Seven Treasures.

Victor Lee, 40, waits eagerly outside Seven Treasures.

Mendy Kong

“It’s food that I grew up eating [especially] during the school year from high school to college when you don’t have money,” Lee said. “Seven Treasures was one of the few places that had affordable food to eat at, that doesn’t compare, and they have dishes that other places don’t.”

Lee had already eaten there the day before but was back again on Wednesday for another last meal.

Brenda Wong, 31, was in the same boat. She went to the restaurant with her brother the day after she found out it was closing on Instagram through @chicagochinatown, but her parents picked up another wonton mein for her when they had their last meal on Tuesday. 

Brenda Wong and her brother take one last photo outside of Seven Treasures on August 7, 2023.

Brenda Wong and her brother commemorate their last meal at Seven Treasures on Aug. 7, 2023.

Wong grew up in the western suburbs and recalled that her parents ate there ever since they immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam. Wong said her mom would often stop by the restaurant after work at her first job in the states because it was nearby and would be one of the few places open when her shift ended at midnight.

“I don’t think I really ‘found out about it.’ My parents just took my brothers and I there when we were little, since like the ‘80s,” Wong said. “It was a Chinatown staple that we would go and eat at growing up. I feel like it’s just the ultimate comfort food and it’s a place that reminds me of my childhood.”

Comfort is a big draw. When Wong’s catalytic converter was stolen two weeks ago, Seven Treasures was the first place she turned to.

“When I got into my car and found out, the first thing I did when I got back and walked into my apartment was get a wonton mein to cheer myself up. It was the first thing I thought of, and I was willing to pay extra to get delivery to Logan Square from Chinatown,” she said.

For Wong, saying goodbye to the restaurant is bittersweet. While she is happy for the owner’s retirement, she also feels like it’s the closing of a chapter.

“It’s kind of cheesy to say — it is my favorite restaurant, especially while growing up. At my age it feels like I’m transitioning into a different life stage, it kind of feels like I was saying goodbye to my childhood,” Wong said.

Seven Treasures begins to fill with customers on August 9, 2023.

Seven Treasures begins to fill with customers on Aug. 9, 2023.

Mendy Kong

Restaurantgoer William Tan, 36, was bidding a different kind of farewell to the restaurant. Tan was born and raised in the south suburbs of Chicago by Chinese and Burmese parents, and his family were at the restaurant as a tribute to his late father.

“It was my mom and my dad’s favorite restaurant since moving here for 40 years. My dad actually just passed in December, and as soon as I found out about this place closing, we decided to come one last time as a tribute,” Tan said.

“This is his favorite restaurant, [his dad] will only eat this wonton noodle soup,” added Neomi Tan, William’s mother.

Waiters guide hungry customers to their table or the to-go counter at Seven Treasures.

Waiters guide hungry customers to their table or the to-go counter at Seven Treasures.

Mendy Kong

Aside from the comfort of the food, the Tans, like many others, talked about how they became familiar with the owner and waitstaff because they were decades-loyal customers. Between the endless rings of phone orders and the chatter of tables, mobile phones cameras clicked as happy-sad patrons took commemorative pictures of themselves with the waitstaff.

“I know all of the workers here,” Tan said.

“All of the waiters are our friends,” his mother laughed.

The restaurant's '554' is a bed of rice topped with crispy fried eggs and char siu, Chinese barbecue pork.

The restaurant’s ‘554' is a bed of rice topped with crispy fried eggs and char siu, Chinese barbecue pork.

Mendy Kong

As meals arrived on tables, the wait staff wove in and out of the ever-growing crowd. The lunch rush showed no signs of stopping, and the line grew dense as groups of families, young adults and senior citizens made their way to the trademark yellow canopies. Like Seven Treasures first did all those years ago, it was bringing together a community.

Victor Lee, who has been busy updating TikTok with tips for getting one last meal from the restaurant, said, “I think without Seven Treasures, there is no Chinatown. It really made a name for itself.”

If you go: Seven Treasures, 2312 S. Wentworth Ave., Chicago; open everyday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. until Aug. 15. Victor Lee of @hungryblackpanda recommends going when it opens at 11 a.m. and between 2 to 5 p.m. Otherwise, prepare to wait in line for up to an hour — or longer.

Mendy Kong is a digital producer at WBEZ. Follow them @ngogejat.

Editor’s note: We updated the spelling of “mein” (noodles) to reflect the Cantonese romanization.

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