Have you ever noticed some of the restaurant names in Chinatown?

I work right near Chinatown and pass through it every day. yet it was years before I really started to notice some of the restaurant names there.

Let me share a few of my favorites.

Eat First Restaurant
Seeing this restaurant name when walking down the street poses a fairly obvious question: “As opposed to what?” What is the restaurant owner suggesting happens “first” at other lesser dining establishments? And how is the “eat first” moniker a competitive advantage? All I can think of is “Eat first and ask questions later,” which isn’t terribly appetizing.

New Big Wong
So when naming this restaurant, the owner didn’t think calling it simply “Big Wong” would be good enough. They probably didn’t feel that packed enough punch. Hard to imagine, but that could be possible. So instead, they decide to call the place the New Big Wong. That’s kind of genius.

Okay, I will admit, when I first moved to DC, this was the first Chinese restaurant I ate at. Why? Because I couldn’t wait to go back to work and have someone ask me where I went for lunch.

Step back, pun-loving DC Thai restaurants! The proprietors of Wok-N-Roll know a thing about wordplay, too! But what makes this restaurant noteworthy isn’t the name, but the building itself. If you read the tiny marker attached the the remains of the facade, you’ll learn that Wok-N-Roll used to be–about 145 years ago–the home of Mary Surratt. Back then, Mary was one of the conspirators convicted and hung hanged for the assassination of President Lincoln. Today, Mary Surratt is one of the hardest working spooks in DC. I’m not talking the CIA variety, either. Her ghost is rumored to haunt no less than four locations in downtown DC, including this building. So if you see a rather pale woman roaming the tables at Wok-N-Roll, it might be Mary! Scary! If you told spectral Mary that her home was now a restaurant that serves Chinese food, she’d probably reply, “What is Chinese food?”

Mee Wah Lung
Perhaps I’m being too much of a stickler here. But I’m pretty sure having the word “lung” in a restaurant title is a pretty tough marketing challenge. That may explain why it is now out of business.

Asian Spice

Asian Spice is not an unusual name in itself, its actually fairly clear and straight forward. The name would only be a problem if they served, say, Icelandic hot dogs or Hungarian baked goods. There are several dishes on the Asian Spice menu with unusual names. Case in point, the rack of Lamb, aka “Silence of the Lamb.” Plus, $29! They must have to pay some royalties or something.

I can only imagine that there is some Chinese language blog out there somewhere who loves to nail Chinatown’s other business for the translation of the characters they more-than-likely misuse. So I guess we are all even in the end.

Any other restaurant names–from Chinatown or elsewhere–that stick out in your mind as classics?

50 Comment

  • Eat First is actually one of my more favoriter spots in Chinatown. The food ain’t bad, it’s cheap, and the people are super friendly. As for Big Wong, there is a rather famous Big Wong in New York Chinatown. I always wondered whether there was some connection here, and if maybe the ‘new’ is in relation to the mothership up north.

    If you can read Chinese, it is even more fun to compare the English names with the Chinese. They often have less than nothing to do with each other. For example, Jackey Cafe, immediately next door to Eat First, is actually Becoming Dragon Seafood Restaurant.Mee Wah Lung’s mistake may have been not coming up with a better name instead of simply spelling out the Chinese phonetically.

    • Of course this makes perfect sense. They still sound pretty unusual though.

      I admit that I, too, have eaten at the Eat First and found it shockingly unhorrible. However I’m suspicious of how a place in downtown DC can offer a $3.95 lunch and make a profit.

    • Kinky Friedman often mentions the NYC Big Wong in his goofy mystery books. I’m sure the NYC one is much better than the one here. 🙂

  • Are we still pretending there is an actual chinatown in D.C. ?

    I think there are 2 or 3 ethiopian restaurants on U st. Lets give CVS and Starbucks signs that look Ethiopian and then we can say we have Ethiopia-town too

  • New Big Wongs was also the first at which I ate in DC, also purely because of the name…and to this day, it’s still my favorite. You can get all the odd delicacies there, such as sauteed frog with chives, tripe and sour cabbage, etc. Good stuff.

  • Eat First and the New Big Wong are both decent Chinese restaurants, and they are dirt cheap. Sadly, our Chinatown completely lost its character (and dozens of Chinese businesses) when the Verizon Center was built. But for really fantastic Chinese food, head north to Rockville’s Sichuan Pavillion (5-10 minute walk north of the Rockville metro stop).

    While I know Anonymous at 7:38 was being facetious, the area around 9th and U SHOULD be tagged Little Addis or something similar.

  • i like this post a lot 🙂 and i have pondered these restaurant names myself as well.

  • New Big Wong designates it as different from the original Big Wong (in DC, don’t know if it was affiliated with the NY one but I doubt it) which was closed after numerous health code violations oh about 20 years ago maybe. When it reopened, it was “New.”

  • In Portland, OR there used to be a Chinese restaurant called Hung Far Low

    • I remember when on H Street here in our own Washington, D.C. chinatown we had a walk up row that served chinese with a similar shingle hung outside.

      It was called, “Wong Hung Low”.

  • Saw New Big Wong Christmas Day. Funny. Asian Spice is very good. Went there when Matchbox was packed.

  • The best thing about New Big Wong is that lunch special, which costs only $8 pieces of old masking tape.

  • In Burke there is a restaurant called Ho’s Dynasty, in Alexandria there’s one called Ginger Beef Foody Goody and another called Jackie Chan.

  • oh hahahaha let’s laugh at Chinese names hahahaha.

    Christ. what’s the next post? “Why do people from India have such funny names?!?” “What’s the deal with Koreans owning dry cleaners?!?!”

    can’t wait.

    • I knew it would only be a matter of time before someone would post about being offended.

      Have you ordered the new eidition of Huckleberry Finn yet?

      • I’m only surprised it took someone 5 hours to say that they were offended. Frankly, even if I posted “Man, aren’t kittens cute”–someone would write an email (or more than likely an anonymous comment) that took me to task for offending them.

    • go back to China.

    • Hello? Can you sense a joke? Let’s just bring up:
      Why are Jews so cheap?
      Why do Italians from New Jersey love gold chains?
      Do Black people really love fried chicken & watermelon?

      Seriously, get a sense of humor or move to Montana or Wyoming, where there aren’t so many ‘minorities’ to stereotype. By the way? You just stereotyped yourself as a very odd, non-humourous…probably Asian who cannot take a joke. Get over yourself. Enjoy life! =D

  • I <3 East First.

  • I’m partial to the Fu Kang on RIA

    Also, are we still pretending that there is a fort at fort totten? Or woods that woodridge is ridging or Edgewood is edging?

  • Also Mary scary should have had a rudimentary understating of what Chinese food was. There were Chinese in dc before the civil war.


  • Yes to Fu Kang! My favorite though (also along Rhode Island Avenue, NE near Woodridge) is Wah Mee, which always makes me think of some sort of lament from the deep South. “Wah Mee, Rhett Butler?! Why did those damned Yankees have to come to Tara?!”

  • GiantSquid

    I’m sorry, I have to be that obnoxious grammar person. Mary Surratt was hanged not hung. People are hanged, plants are hung. (Insert sophomoric joke about the word ‘hung.’) When talking about death by hanging in the past tense, you use the word ‘hanged.’

    That out of the way, I think someone should open a restaurant named after Butterstick.

  • Mary Surratt was HANGED, Eric, HANGED.

    Her lover, John Wilkes Booth, may have been hung.

  • Woe is me, for having answered the phone before hitting submit…
    Never again! That’s why god invented voicemail.

  • Interesting fact about the Rock and Roll building – in the 1860s it was a boarding house owned by Mary Surrat, and served as the primary meeting place for John Wilkes Booth and the other members of the group that planned to assassinate Lincoln and other high-ranking government officials.

    In fact, Surrat was convicted of aiding the plot after the successful assassination of Lincoln and was hanged (along with three others).

    Good food though.

  • In Denver there’s a pho place called Pho-Na-Tic. That one was new to me.

  • Wok N Roll is da shit

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