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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Taking Chinatown Eats With Wok Wiz Tour Guide Frank Jang

Posted By on Thu, Mar 15, 2012 at 3:15 PM

  • Frank Jang / Professional Event Photography by Frank Jang

​​Rice Plate Journal is a yearlong project to canvass Chinatown, block by block, discovering the good, the bad, and the hopelessly mediocre. Maximum entrée price: $10.

Frank Jang is known in Chinatown for his photography -- not only does he cover many special events in the neighborhood, he's devoted to documenting Mayor Lee's mayoral tenure -- but he also leads food tours of the neighborhood for Wok Wiz. Wok Wiz founder Shirley Fong-Torres passed away last year, but her daughter, Tina, has taken over the business. It continues to offer walking tours of Chinatown, all led by people who grew up in the neighborhood.

That certainly applies to Jang, who grew up on Pacific above the old Wo Chong tofu factory. A graduate of City College's hospitality program, Chong managed Zim's restaurants and worked in the family arts and antiques business before turning to professional photography. We met over lunch at Pot Sticker on Waverly Place, which, incidentally, was once owned by his aunt. "It may even have been called Pot Sticker back then," he says, "but I don't remember. Many of the businesses here have kept the same English name, but the Chinese name changes."

I asked Jang about how the food in Chinatown has changed over time, and his response echoed something that I hear over and over again from locals: The quality has gone down. Jang offered a possible explanation. "If you're a chef, you teach your cooks 80 percent of what you know," he said, "because if you teach them 100 percent, you're out of a job. When your sous-chef becomes the chef, he then teaches his cooks 80 percent of what they know. And many people start as waiters or busboys, then save up their money to open a restaurant." 

Nevertheless, Jang -- who, incidentally, takes his food tours to Z&Y (655 Jackson) for lunch -- had a few food recommendations:

Jang goes to Utopia Cafe (139 Waverly) for clay pot rice, Bund Shanghai (640 Jackson) for jellyfish, and Pacific Court Cafe (728 Pacific), the diner in the back of Meriwa, for fried chicken. Chef Hung's (823 Clay) is one of the last remaining spots for old-school Chinatown American dishes like oxtail, beef tongue, and pork chop, he says, and if he's in the mood for another Chinatown-only dish like tomato-beef chow mein with a little curry powder added to the sauce, he goes to Capital (839 Clay) or Garden (716 Kearny).

And Yee's (1131 Grant) -- one of Shirley Fong Torres' favorite places to take tours -- is good for rice-noodle soup with roast goose on the side; "If you go there after 3 p.m.," Jang adds, "they put out plates of roast meats for $2 a plate -- it's one of the best deals in Chinatown."

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Jonathan Kauffman


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