Silver-medal dining at Tong Fong Low
Longtime Oroville staple serves up classic Cantonese and Szechuan dishesHenri experiences the highs of Tong Fong Low
Tong Fong Low Restaurant2051 Robinson St.
Oroville, CA 95965
Though sports have never been Henri’s cup of Oolong, he has always found the Olympics mildly interesting, mostly for cultural and geopolitical reasons, and some of the events are actually quite riveting, mostly for the outfits. This year, I particularly enjoyed the men’s synchronized diving; Colette was glued to all of Michael Phelps’ events, as well as the videos, bios and analysis.
“Size 14 feet!” she said, shaking her head and leaning forward on the couch. “Wow!”
Naturally, we were also rooting for l’equipe Français, whose members took home a respectable 40 medals—in some very civil events, including fencing, archery and rowing.
We also enjoyed what Colette called an “in-front-of-the-scenes view” of the “new” China. And though both of us take issue with some of China’s policies and, of course, its human-rights record, it was fascinating to learn how the country is changing. Still feeling rather Sino-philic the other day, we drove over to Oroville for dinner at Tong Fong Low, which we had heard served the best Chinese food in Butte County—and which last year the Chico News & Review editors awarded Best Ethnic Restaurant in Oroville.
Tong Fong Low has been serving Chinese food in Oroville since 1912—the current owners are only the second—and its fans are legion and loyal. We arrived on an early Sunday evening, and while most of Oroville seemed shut down, Tong Fong Low was bustling—tables full of people who seemed to know not only each other but the help, and customers coming and going for take-out.
The restaurant serves mostly Cantonese food, the most common Chinese food in the U.S., as it tends to be less exotic and spicy than other Chinese cuisines, although a section of the menu is given over to Szechuan dishes. (The menu also includes chop suey, which Snopes.com calls “purely American,” most likely originating with 1860s-era California railway workers.) Most dishes run $6-$9, and complete dinners cost $10-$12 per person.
The décor, too, is, well, international, with traditional Chinese art and lighting and classic American Formica and Naugahyde, as well as a counter with eight barstools, looking like something out of the Old West. All in all, though, very comfortable and family-friendly.
Everything looked delicious, but we settled on the soup of the day ($1.50), the Special Appetizer (barbecued pork, egg rolls, fried prawns, wontons with cream cheese and crab meat, and paper-wrapped chicken, $9), chow fun, broccoli beef and Szechuan chicken.
The appetizer plate was good, especially the egg rolls, but the highlight was definitely the Szechuan chicken, a large, piping-hot plate of tender chicken, peanuts, bamboo shoots, bell peppers, onions, water chestnuts, snow peas and green beans. Divine. The soup of the day—chicken broth, pieces of chicken, eggs, noodles and a packet of Saltines on the side—was also good, especially with a tablespoon of soy sauce.
The broccoli beef was OK, the vegetables nicely garlicky, the beef and its sauce a bit heavy. The only disappointment was the chow fun—cabbage, snow peas, water chestnuts, celery, onions and bamboo shoots (all quite good) served over wide, heavy noodles that were stuck together as though cooked without being stirred.
As we finished, we got to talking with a couple of delightful ladies at the next table, who raved about the food. Said one, “The trick is to know what to order.”
We asked for details.
“The egg foo young! To die for! The wonton soup. Gotta get the wonton soup.” They also stressed that the chow mein is “the best,” and that next time we try the iron-plate chicken. “Honey, it come out sizzlin‘!”
Totally stuffed, we boxed up our leftovers, and I joked that our timing was just about perfect: a half-hour drive home, a half-hour to go out and rent a movie. We’d be hungry by the time the opening credits rolled. She suggested that next time we try Chinese-German food: “An hour later,” she said, “you’re hungry for power.”