Egg roll with shrimp, pork, and peanut butter at Chinatown Cafe in Chicago (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
My cousins Irene and Pauline Yau closed Chinatown Cafe Friday night after 30 years of serving Chinese-American diner food including Chicago style egg rolls, General Tso's chicken, and their famous satay chow mein.
You know how much I love diner food. And Chinese-American diner food? An even more personally beloved endangered species.
My cousins and owners Irene and Pauline Yau at Chinatown Cafe in Chicago (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
I took my mom for one last meal at tea time missing both lunch and dinner rush so we all had a chance to chat. Irene and Pauline's father actually told my parents about the closing a few weeks ago but they never bothered telling me. Instead my friend and LTH Forum co-founder Catherine Lambrecht forwarded me the story from DNAinfo Chicago
BBQ pork at Chinatown Cafe in Chicago (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
At its peak Chinatown Cafe was packed with cops and city workers thanks to the Yau son who works for the city himself, and Irene's husband Marvin Tang too, a Streets and San dispatcher no less. I used to think they had the safest restaurant in the Chicago at lunchtime, even as cash only.
General Tso's Chicken at Chinatown Cafe in Chicago (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
But in 2008 business dropped off dramatically when the city forbade workers from driving work vehicles outside their districts and installed GPS units. The only time out of area police regulars could stop in for lunch was on their way to or from court.
Satay beef over pan fried noodles at Chinatown Cafe in Chicago (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
I've shown you Chinatown Cafe's egg rolls previously with my Egg Roll Project
. Pauline revealed that they did in fact fry their egg rolls in lard.
"That's the only way they look so pretty," she said.
And yes, the Yau sisters and I are blood cousins: their father's father's parents were my mother's father's grandparents.
They think the building dates back to the 1920s or 30s, starting its restaurant life as a Greek diner, then as Chinese-American diner, opened as Chinatown Cafe by the immediately preceding owner, then continued by their father in 1983. A cop regular bought all the furniture, which he'll use at a club he's opening. The plates, cups, and flatware will now be found at Turtle's in Bridgeport. They don't know what will happen to the space which they've always rented.
But the food, though gone from the restaurant, will live on. Trust me.
Chinatown Cafe in Chicago (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)