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7 Hong Kong restaurants with historic legacies

By Jericho Li 8 February 2022 | Last Updated 30 June 2022

Header image courtesy of Golden Phoenix Restaurant (via Foodpanda)

Hong Kong is a food paradise bursting with gastronomic exuberance, where diners think about their next delicious meal while tucking into their current one. Our vibrant dining scene is constantly evolving. New restaurants pop up even during the pandemic, while others are disappearing quickly and suddenly—including some of our favourite decades-old establishments. As nostalgia reigns, thankfully, we are able to immerse ourselves in these age-old landmarks, rooted in Hong Kong’s food and beverage landscape for well over half a century. Each one of them is a precious culinary and cultural heritage with historic legacies, and we hope they will be around for as long as they can.

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Sun Hing Restaurant (新興食家)

Sun Hing is more than just an old-fashioned dim sum parlour. Be quick to snatch up available seats amongst the communal tables and watch as cooks in the open kitchen wrap char siu bao (叉燒包; barbecued pork buns) at lightning speed and hear as servers call out fresh arrivals of bamboo baskets filled with handmade dim sum.

Opened in 1973 by Chui Hoi in Wang Tau Hom—a now-defunct public housing estate in Lok Fu—the 49-year-old restaurant is probably the only eatery that opens daily at 3 am. It’s a time-honoured go-to for the elderly who get up early to go yum cha (飲茶; “drink tea”) as well as a popular spot for night owls who love wallet-friendly nibbles.

Hong Kong’s notoriously high rent meant that Sun Hing’s survival was not an easy ride. It eventually relocated to its current location in Kennedy Town about 30 years ago, and the restaurant has been taken over by the owner’s son, who keeps it under operation with a couple of other shareholders and dim sum chefs. Nevertheless, the respectable 91-year-old founder is still helping out at the restaurant as much as he can, welcoming patrons eager for a bite of the restaurant’s famous salted egg lava buns and other dim sum dishes.

Sun Hing Restaurant, Shop C, G/F, 8 Smithfield Road, Kennedy Town | (+852) 2816 0616

Photo: Janis Lee

Cheung Heung Tea Restaurant (祥香茶餐廳)

Inside this half-century-old, two-storey cha chaan teng (茶餐廳; Hong Kong-style diner) in Kennedy Town, a nostalgic mood prevails. Opened in 1967 and acquired by Rico Chow and his father 11 years later, this no-frills café has formed a special bond with the local community not only through its delicately crafted milk tea and fresh-from-the-oven Cantonese pastries, but they also win customers’ hearts through delightful service.

Chow and his family are firm believers that employees are equally as valuable as customers, and some of their long-term staff members have been working at this well-loved cha chaan teng for over 30 years. Many of Cheung Heung’s stalwarts are second- or even third-generation patrons who keep visiting on a regular basis, cracking jokes with Chow’s team while munching on the restaurant’s highly sought-after cocktail buns with lotus seed paste.

Cheung Heung Tea Restaurant, 107 Belcher’s Street, Kennedy Town | (+852) 2855 7911

Photo: Jericho Li

Golden Phoenix Restaurant (金鳳大餐廳)

Don’t frown at the minced garlic sitting on top of a sizzling iron plate of steak—many patrons would happily pay an extra $2 for it when they flock to this iconic “soy sauce Western” restaurant for a unique steakhouse experience.

Fondly regarded as the “King of Steaks,” Uncle Lam was on a mission to make Western cuisine affordable for grassroots communities when he opened his first restaurant in 1969 in Prince Edward. Lam merged his culinary experience at a five-star hotel with Cantonese cooking techniques, serving up tender steaks smothered in an unadulterated, flavoursome gravy to cater to Hongkongers’ palates. Back in the 1990s, he even hosted his own “talk show” at the restaurant, charming diners with his great sense of humour while sharing secrets for cooking steaks.

Golden Phoenix does not sacrifice the quality of ingredients for its reasonably priced offerings. Popular dishes, such as the US sirloin or T-bone steaks, are applauded by returning and new customers. Golden Phoenix now has several branches across the city where Hongkongers can delight in Canto-Western fusion food.

Golden Phoenix Restaurant, G/F, Kam Fung Building, 102 Lai Chi Kok Road, Prince Edward | (+852) 2393 6054

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Photo: Jericho Li

Tsang Kee Chiuchow Kueh (曾記粿品)

The Hakka diaspora in Hong Kong is no stranger to this gem hidden in a corner of the Queen Street Cooked Food Market, which has been around for over 50 years since Mrs Tsang first opened it. It is likely Hong Kong’s OG of handmade traditional kueh, a soft and glutinous rice cake originating from Chiuchow.

Emerging from the nicknamed “Chiuchow snack alley” in Sheung Wan—a street that is no longer in existence—this eminent food stall offers delectable varieties of kueh made fresh daily with both savoury and sweet fillings, such as Chinese chives, taro, radish and green bean. When Chiuchow people gather here and share the spirit of ga gi nang (家己人; “our own people”), Tsang Kee also satisfies their cravings for other staples, such as char kway teow (stir-fried flat rice noodles), sponge cucumber and shrimp omelette, and baby oyster congee.

Tsang Kee Chiuchow Kueh, Shop 8, Food Market, 1 Queen’s Road, Sheung Wan | (+852) 2540 6854

Photo: Jericho Li

Ser Wong Fun (蛇王芬)

As one of Hong Kong’s oldest gastronomic treasures, this 127-year-old establishment relocated to Hong Kong from Guangzhou in 1941 and is currently run by fourth-generation descendants. Notable for snake soup and proudly serving an extensive menu of 178 traditional Cantonese dishes, owner Gigi Ng has been relentlessly safeguarding her family restaurant’s century-old legacy and cherished recipes. At the same time, she does not let this centennial brand remain stagnant. Under her stewardship, Ser Wong Fun pivots to attract a wider range of customers by inventing plant-based options, hosting pop-up partnerships, and even expanding to Sha Tin with a new restaurant aiming to make old-fashioned Cantonese cuisine more appealing to the younger generation.

Ser Wong Fun, G/F, 30 Cochrane Street, Central | (+852) 3579 5954

Islam Food (清真牛肉館)

Kowloon City might be known to Hongkongers as Little Thailand, but many would also tell you that Islam Food is a landmark of this neighbourhood. This halal-certified Muslim-Chinese restaurant draws a hungry crowd queuing up for its famous pan-fried, juice-packed beef buns. Mutton curry is also another star dish welcomed by many patrons. As a matter of fact, founder Mr Ma learnt to make traditional Pakistani curry back in the 1930s while he was working at Police Station Number Seven in Sheung Wan alongside other Muslim police officers. The Kowloon Walled City is long gone, but this local institution brimming with abiding history still stands strong.

Islam Food, G/F, 33–35 Tak Ku Ling Road, Kowloon City | (+852) 2382 1882

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Photo: Jericho Li

Joy Hing Roasted Meat (再興燒臘飯店)

Keeping it no-frills and no-nonsense for more than a century, accolades and Michelin Bib Gourmand distinctions are bestowed upon Joy Hing since its roots were planted in Hong Kong in the early 1900s—and even adventurous eater Anthony Bourdain was a huge fan of its roasted goose and barbecued pork. Situated in the heart of Wan Chai, the Cantonese-style rotisserie is helmed by fourth-generation owners and is perpetually packed with patrons eager for its popular “Three Treasures” rice platter—a combination of char siu, ginger scallion chicken, and roasted duck. The humble restaurant continues to vibe with locals through quality roasted meats and dirt-cheap prices.

Joy Hing Roasted Meat, Block C, G/F, 265–267 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai | (+852) 2519 6639

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Jericho Li

Contributor

A self-proclaimed “chief eating officer” and wine aficionado, Jericho is a hodophile with an adventurous soul. Wanderlust has led her to different parts of Asia and North America. She is passionate about exploring amazing eateries and believes one of the best ways to connect with people and discover interesting life stories is by sharing a delicious spread of food. When she is not binge-watching Netflix in her PJs, you’ll find her visiting art shows and exhibits, reading books, playing vinyl records at home, or taking an easy sunset hike.

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