Restaurant of the Week: The Yangtze

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Yangtze Chinese Restaurant, 126 N. Euclid Ave. (at B), Ontario

Yangtze has been a fixture of downtown Ontario since 1961 and, with the demise of Jong’s and Chung King, it’s the oldest Chinese restaurant in the Inland Valley. Back then, Chinese food was considered exotic; it was one of the few foreign cuisines available in the area, along with Mexican and (oooh) Italian. Now you can get kung pao chicken and a dozen glazed at any number of local donut shops.

Not much has changed at Yangtze except the prices, from what I can gather. Step inside and you feel you’ve stepped back in time. The interior retains the slatted wood walls, the slender hanging lamps, the avocado booths and the 3-D dioramas that radiate a 1960s ambiance. Author Charles Phoenix likes to say that ’60s icons James Bond and Sophia Loren could dine there and not look out of place.

Mr. Gin, the founder, is gone, but Mrs. Gin, one of my favorite people in Ontario, still greets customers and works the cash register. The waitresses have been there for decades. So have some of the customers.

Now, as for the food. I had dinner there once, perhaps six years ago, before an Ontario council meeting. It was, shall we say, not to my taste. I returned a couple of weeks ago for lunch only because Phoenix was in town and suggested we meet there. He told me he hadn’t eaten at Yangtze in decades.

He cleaned his plate, I ate half of my shrimp chow mein. It would not surprise me to learn that the cook had opened a can of Chung King vegetables into a pan, tossed in a few canned shrimp, cornstarch and some MSG, heated it and put it on a plate. To my mind, retro charm can go only so far.

Yet there are those who dote on Yangtze. Generations of locals had their first taste of Chinese food there and its old-school American take on the cuisine still meets their needs. It’s the food they grew up with, cooked the way it’s supposed to taste. Some of the regulars drive from miles away.

Others barely leave. An older gentleman a couple of booths away from us at lunch was eating a steak, and when he left, the waitress cheerfully told him, “See you tonight.”

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  • Scott in R.C.

    I was quite surprised to click on your blog to see “Restaurant of the Week: Yangtze.” From tidbits on some of your previous blogs, I wondered who dragged you into there. When Phoenix mentioned Yangtze, did you roll your eyes while agreeing to go?

    I am also in the group of those who had my first Chinese food at Yangtze, many years ago. At the time, I thought it was good but from what I’ve heard, I don’t expect to be back anytime soon. Retro charm is one thing, but there are plenty of choices in the I.E. to get very good Chinese food. But I’m not ready to try the donut shops’ Chinese cuisine yet.

    [I’ll try almost any food stand but draw the line at $1 Chinese, especially if donuts are involved. Regarding Yangtze, I wasn’t sure whether to risk writing about it but decided that if I could do so respectfully, I might as well (especially since I’m unlikely to be back anytime soon). I love the place anyway and am open to the idea that there may be an amazing item on the menu. — DA]

  • david linck

    You just aren’t ordering the best stuff there. The almond chicken is outta this world. So’s the chop suey. I guess it helps if you grew up thinking their food was the definitive Chinese cuisine. Still love it!!!!

    [I had the chop suey my first visit. — DA]

  • judi

    Your last comment was very respectful.

  • Jim Lee

    Yangtze uses a unique spice called nostalgia. It’s an acquired taste, though.

    [Understood. — DA]

  • Linda Frost

    For me, Yangtze was the new place in town. I grew up on Chung King in Pomona, the only Chinese restaurant in town back then. It was a special treat to go there, especially when we had family visiting, because with every extra person we got one more dish. Like Scott, I have since gone on to eateries with more definitive taste. The last time I ate at Yangtze was in the ’60s, and no bells and whistles went off. Nostalgia does little to titillate the taste buds.

  • M

    Oh boy, I really thought you were going to wow me (as you normally do) with your delightful take on this icon of yesteryear — I was wrong. I know that everybody is entitled to their opinion, but when it comes to Yangtze’s Restaurant… let me just say that, as much as it breaks my heart, I won’t be looking for your blog first thing in the morning any longer. You handled the piece with tact but it came off like you laughed at my mom. Everyone can have a miss every once and a while, but that special spot that Yangtze’s occupies in my memories far outweighs the funny quips you’ve delivered to me these past years. Thanks for the laughs and good luck.

    [Sorry to hear that, M. I debated whether to include Yangtze in the Restaurant of the Week because I knew it would be a sensitive subject. I tried to be tactful and, as you say, apparently succeeded. — DA]