January 24, 2024

Chicago Cafe: California's Oldest Chinese Restaurant

[Cross-post from UC Davis In Focus]

Featuring Gabriel "Jack" Chin

The Chicago Café in Woodland is the oldest Chinese restaurant in California – and possibly the United States – an interdisciplinary UC Davis research project led by Professor Gabriel “Jack” Chin has found.

Chin’s Asian Exclusion Research Project, composed of a cohort of law students and alums led by Natasha Kang ’23, as well as English, comparative literature and history scholars, identifies the Chicago Café as the longest continuously operating Chinese restaurant in the state in the new paper “Symbols of Survival: Finding the Oldest Chinese Restaurants in the United States.”

View video here.

The researchers also determined that the Woodland cafe, which dates to the early 1900s, is very close in age to Butte, Montana’s Pekin Noodle Parlor, widely reported to be the oldest Chinese restaurant in the United States.

Operated by generations of the Fong family, the Chicago Café has persisted through the anti-Chinese laws and public sentiment of the early 20th century, two world wars, the Spanish flu and the COVID-19 pandemic.

A UC Davis multimedia package published on Jan. 22 highlights the research project and café. On Jan. 23, “Good Day Sacramento” broadcast live from the café, where anchor/reporter Ashley Williams interviewed Chin and members of the Fong family.