Craving tradition

Century-old Oroville landmark brings its flavor to Chico

The Tong Fong Low Special: a stir fry of veggies, beef, pork, shrimp and the most amazing chicken.

The Tong Fong Low Special: a stir fry of veggies, beef, pork, shrimp and the most amazing chicken.

Photo By Matt Siracusa

Tong Fong Low
2072 E. 20th St., Ste. 100 898-1388 Open daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Tong Fong Low

2072 E. 20th St.
Chico, CA 95926

(530) 898-1388

Chinese food is one of those international cuisines that’s become a comfort for me. I can still remember the nights growing up when my parents decided to get takeout from our favorite Chinese restaurant, a little hole in the wall in the St. Louis suburbs. Despite my best efforts, all pot stickers, crab Rangoon, fried rice and the like has yet to live up to those childhood memories. If it doesn’t make me pause and say, “Mmmm,” it’s not up to snuff.

Tong Fong Low, likewise, carries with it some expectations. Opened in Oroville almost 100 years ago—it’ll be celebrating the centennial in 2012 and already has T-shirts for the occasion for sale—the local Chinese-food staple has a legacy of satisfying diners. A few years ago, a second location opened up in Chico on busy East 20th Street. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t make it over there until recently. They may have set a new bar.

My husband and I ventured over to the newer Tong Fong Low a few weeks ago with a craving for good, no-nonsense Chinese food. We’ve been long loyal to a different Chinese restaurant in town, and I felt a twinge of unfaithfulness when I sat at the small counter and browsed the menu for a to-go order.

Not craving anything in particular, I decided I’d go with the place’s namesake, the Tong Fong Low Special ($9.95), which is a stir-fried mixture of pork, beef, chicken, shrimp and veggies. My husband, Josh, chose the No. 3 special plate ($8.50)—fried prawns, sweet and sour pork, egg foo young, barbecued pork fried rice and barbecued pork chow mein. We also ordered an appetizer of cream cheese crab wontons ($4.75).

Looking around the well-lit dining room, we saw patrons who seemed engrossed in their meals and conversations. This is clearly a place where people go to enjoy their food. The dining room is comfortable but simple, the staff nice and efficient. We received our food within minutes, exactly as ordered, and headed home for dinner and a movie.

Unpacking the impressive amount of food, my anticipation grew. I’d heard such good things about this restaurant—I wanted it all to be true. And certainly the aroma was a good sign! I first dove into the cream cheese crab wontons. The freshly fried wontons were filled with a perfect combination of cream cheese and crab. And though the sweet-and-sour sauce was a bit runny, it was a nice complement. This meal was starting off on the right foot, for sure.

My generous portion of stir-fried everything was beckoning. I took my first bite of chicken and there it was … pause, “Mmmm.” I don’t know how to put it any other way. The chicken was pure perfection. Tender, moist, flavorful—you name it, they got it right. The beef and shrimp were similarly good (though they still don’t compare to the chicken). The only part of the meal I didn’t care much for was the pork. But I blame that mostly on the fact that I don’t care much for pork. Josh, on the other hand, whose meal was mostly pork, loved everything. He did let me steal one of his fried prawns, which looked strangely like onion rings, and wow—the batter was so light and fluffy, the prawns almost melting in my mouth.

I returned for another takeout venture a week later, and this time I opted for a chicken dish. (The chicken was that good!) I ordered the Green Bean Chicken ($8.95) and was blown away yet again by the perfection of the meat. The green beans weren’t a second-thought, though—they were cooked to that just-right point where they give you that little crunch and still taste super fresh.

I think I’ve found my new go-to restaurant for whenever that Chinese-food craving hits.