Researcher and Brown University grad student Heather Lee is conducted oral history research on some of the better-known and remembered family-owned chinese restaurants once located in downtown Providence. While she is specifically looking for anecdotes about the restaurants listed below, feel free to tell us your stories about any chinese restaurant that you fondly remember.
59 Eddy Street was once Luke’s Restaurant, one of Providence’s early Chinese restaurants. In 1951, Tin Cheung Luke opened Luke’s with his son Henry. Located behind City Hall in the downtown Providence, the restaurant drew customers who worked nearby on the weekdays and out-of-town shoppers on the weekend. Food was cheap – a plate of chow mein was 90 cents and a plate of chow suey was only 5 cents more.
The restaurant occupied two stories. During the 1960s, the Lukes converted the upstairs dining room into a Polynesian themed restaurant called the Luau Hut, which served tropical cocktails and exotic dishes. The Luau Hut was decorated with straw wall covering, bamboo polls and gigantic shell light fixtures. Downstairs the decorations were modest. People ate in formica covered booths.
Salon Marc Harris occupies the old location of Luke’s Restaurant and the Luau Hut.
The longest lived of the Chinese restaurants, the Ming Garden was vital to life in downtown Providence. Open from 1941 to 1986, the restaurant was located at 141-143 Westminster Street, which had entrances on Westminster Street as well as Kennedy Plaza. The building was 2 and a half stories tall and dates to the late 19th century. During the 1950s, the Tows contracted a young architect named Morris Nathanson, who later designed the Johnson & Wales Culinary Arts Museum, to modernize the restaurant’s interior.
The Dunkin’ Donuts next to the CVS occupies the old location of the Ming Garden.
Not much is yet known about Mee Hong. It was located on Westminster Street, in what was recently only a parking lot between the First Federal Bank building and the Providence National Bank, both razed for an eventual One Ten Westminster tower.
Steve K Jan 16 2016 I believe there was a Chinatown in Providence at once time. Mee Hong was the restaurant we always went to when I was young. French bread. Veal Cutlet in brown gravy. I think all their meals came with french fries and cole slaw?
Labann Jan 5 2016 My long list of defunct restaurants includes ones mentioned plus several other area Chinese establishment:
Cathay Garden, Elmwood Ave; Cathay Pearl, Seekonk; Chen’s; Chinese Iron Wok, Benevolent St; Eastern Pearl, Oaklawn Ave; Empress Chinese, Park Ave; Hon Hong’s; Moi Lee. Narragansett; Panda Island, Cowesett Plaza; People Wei, Chapel View; Silver Palace, Reservoir Ave
Ken Faig Dec 29 2015 I remember some of these Chinese restaurants from when I was a student at Brown in 1970-72. I wonder what the Chinese restaurant scene in Providence was like in earlier eras. H. P. Lovecraft and his aunt Lillie Clark had Christmas dinner at a downtown Chinese restaurant in 1929. I wonder which one it might have been. I presume there were Chinese restaurants in Providence even before 1900. I wonder if there was ever a Chinatown (predominant Chinese residence/business area) in Providence.
Beryl Russell Dec 1 2015 I worked at the Ming Garden in the early 80s when I was a student at J&W. Charlie Tow was still alive – I believe he was 94 at the time. He was so funny. One day we were all sitting together shelling pea pods in our uniforms, which were black pants, white shirts and colored vests and he walked by, stopped and asked us if we all wanted a job. I loved the rolls – they had a sweet pork mixture in the middle. Never saw another Chinese Restaurant serve rolls.
Norm Jun 16 2015 Chens (upstairs, across from Shepards) was a wonderful place. Remember distinctly those ‘before school starts’ shopping trips and taking the bus from the stop below the clock after a wonderful meal over at Chens. The Tow family has been Rhode Islands’ own Chinese dynasty for years. Those famous wings can be had at Kings Garden on Rolfe Street in Cranston. This wonderful restaurant was just recently sold by the Tows who retired, but the new owners were wise enough not to tamper with the superb recipes of ‘old fashioned’ style chow mein and combo platters fit for a king!!
Tullio David Pitassi, Ph.D. Mar 1 2015 I had the pleasure of meeting officer Luke of the Providence Police Department. He told me that his branch of the LUKE family was related to Keye Luke, the actor from the golden age of Hollywood, and, Charlie Chan’s No.1 son. He assured me the story is true!
Jeff Darman Dec 24 2014 Chinese restaurants in RI served French bread and butter for some reason. Just expected, but once I left RI realized not done elsewhere.
Bill Ewen Dec 19 2014 When I worked at the advertising agency of Horton, Church & Goff, the Ming Garden was the favorite place to go when we would go out for lunch in a group. Ming Wings! Nothing better. I seem to remember the owner’s name being Yat Tow.
Rosemarie Sep 24 2014 On Thursday nights after work I met my mother and sisters downtown and we ate at Chen’s. I always ordered Ipswich fried clams with cole slaw. We also ate at Luke’s from time to time. The chow mein and other Chinese dishes that I ate as a child in Providence had a unique flavor. I don't know what style they were but I NEVER found anything equal to them in my travels.
James Pilkington Aug 17 2014 I remember the Ming Garden in the late fifties. It was more upscale that the other Chinese Restaurants. It had a great bar and i remember the bartenders name was Leo. An excellent bartender who could make some great whiskey sours. i came from Washington Park section and there was a chinese laundry there. I believe that the owner was either Raymond Tow or Raymond Tong. It was right next door to Benson"s Hardware and I went by it everyday on my way to school.
Tyler Smith Jul 14 2014 Mee Hong! The large neon art deco sign was unforgettable. I remember the over sized pickled beets that you would get whether you ordered them or not as a side with your chow mein. The french fries were incredible. They were large, very large. The length of an entire potato. I can't describe how they were cooked--maybe boiled first and then fried, but not left in the fryer too ling. Great soft texture---mmmm.
Debbie Storti Sohegan Feb 17 2014 When I was about eight years old, my grandmother would take my sister and I downtown to go shopping. We would get all dressed up and take the bus on a Saturday. We would shop in the Outlet store with the large wooden tables and go to the Woolworth's luncheonette counter and get sundaes with sugar cone hats made to look like clown faces. However; the best part of the big trip downtown was when she took us to Luke's! How I miss Luke's. I remember the low lighting and the red vinyl booths. I remember feeling like a princess when the waiter would take the silver cover off the pedestal serving dish! I would always order the same thing… veal cutlet with brown gravy. My grandmother and sister always ordered the combination plate… chow mein, fried rice and egg roll. Oh how I miss that veal cutlet and brown gravy! I have tried for years to find something that even came close to that gravy. Please, if anyone has that recipe, please, please, please share! Special memories were made at Luke's with Lori, me and Gram.
Marya Sep 27 2013 I grew up on the East Side in the 60s and 70s. Sundays were the night my mom didn’t cook and every other Sunday we got take out from Luke’s. My dad was from New York and my mom from Los Angeles where good Chinese restaurants were plentiful. They considered Luke’s to be the best, most authentic (New York and California style) Chinese place outside of Boston. Some of my earliest memories are of Luke’s (big fish tank, I think?) and their eggrolls and lobster Cantonese in lobster sauce. They always gave my brother and me the little paper parasols to take home and play with.
Dennis Ratcliffe Sep 26 2013 My family went to Mee Hongs every Sunday growing up. We were waited on by a man named Chen, he was a friend of my Uncle. When I was young I did not like most food but he always brought me Veal cutlet, brown gravy, white rice and French fries. Almond cookie for dessert. As I got older it was shrimp, chicken, chow mein, fried rice and tea.
Alice Apr 23 2013 I am reading Jennifer 8. Lee’s "Fortune Cookie Chronicles" and I started getting nostalgic about Chinese restaurants in RI our family used to frequent. I have fond, albeit slightly vague, memories of my dad taking me to the "big city," to eat at Ming Garden and visit Bob Tow, with whom he was friends. Even as a kid, I recognized and appreciated the elegant decor and upscale food. I wish I could find some photos of the interior, but there is nothing on the internet. My dad would get a kick out of seeing them, as would I!
Richard Palazzo Feb 18 2013 I ate in every one of these places. I loved them all. When I was a young boy, my mother took me shopping with her and promised if I behaved she would take me to Mee Hong for chow mien. To this day it was my favorite and I have searched for years (I’m 70) to find a place that makes the same recipe with no luck.
Dr. James R. Pannozzi Feb 14 2013 I recall a Chinese restaurant, now a small parking lot, just before the Buck a Book store (or where it was, have not been to Providence in over a decade) next to the Arcade bldg. The restaurant was there forever and we often ate there. The food was excellent but the really endearing feature was that they had the most beautiful relaxing subdued blue cerulean lights in the ceiling. They were recessed and behind a circular projection so you did not see any florescent bulbs, only the reflection of the blue light from the ceiling. It gave the most relaxing atmosphere. I do recall there were Chinese scenes on the walls too. What the name of it was eludes me, I’m going back something like half a century.
Jim Nov 7 2012 I at at Luke’s many times in the early 1980s when I was in my 20s. The food was good, not expensive, and the decor was very fun. The lights were low and I remember the booths were red vinyl. They served bread and butter with the Chinese food, which I have never seen anywhere else. The chicken wings had a very good black sauce. I loved the neon, it lit up that little street. I think they had a special drink menu with a Scorpion Bowl that you could share with friends, but it was expensive. Lots of gay people went there and we always felt comfortable and welcome. The Ming Garden was more upscale than Luke’s. It was more expensive but the linens and furniture were more modern and elegant. It was special to eat upstairs. I can remember going there with my friends and they all ordered their food "no MSG". Providence was a great place in the early 1980s and I have many fond memories of those times.
Myrna “Mimi” Medeiros Sep 19 2012 We used to go to the Ming Garden all the time as children in the 70’s. The owner who I only knew as “Charlie” had a special place in his heart for my grandmother Lorenza Siton. She allowed her daughters (my mother and aunts-Ruth aka Gloria, Lydia, Sonia, Myrna and Margie) to sing there as children to help bring in customers. Anytime we came in Charlie would rush over as fast as his age would allow and give us all hugs and treated us as family. I was extremely upset when I heard he passed away and they closed the Ming Garden. Everytime I go to another city, another State, there is a Ming Garden, but it is never the same.
The Rev. Fr. David B. Rude Apr 29 2012 Luke’s Luau Hut is my all-time favorite restaurant. Haven’t found anything to compare in all my travels. I especially loved the filet mignon in oyster sauce. But I remember the hut being in the basement and the chinese fare on the first floor.
Chad Snell Dec 16 2011 Who was the original owner of Ming Garden? Does these names ring a bell for any of the above restaurants? Sing Yuan or Ding Wong Yuan. They were brothers. I always heard Sing owned a Chinese Restaurant in the 40s in Washington, DC. Please let me know. Thank you!
Wolffie Jun 3 2010 We lived in Richmond Va. but my father was a Jewelry Rep for companies in Cranston. He used to load the car with Ming wings and drive them back 10 hours for all of us. It took weeks for the smell to leave the car and we were always dissapointed when it did. I have never been able to duplicate that recipe and would love someone to share if they have it.
Meimei Tsang Jan 5 2010 My dad and uncle worked at the Ming Garden before they purchased Luke’s Restaurant back in ’78 with another partner. It’s was kind of strange because we were living in Oakland, CA at the time. We got shuttled back. And all I could remember was the talk of blizzard of ’78 and that I was clueless about. We all worked at the restaurant including my cousins except my little brother and mom. Funny, two of my cousins met their respective spouses at Luke’s. Luke’s Restaurant was actually located on the first floor and the Laua Hut was down below. Carrying those trays down a flight of stairs that got somewhat greasy was not fun. I’m sure my dad has some interesting stories. I remember him making real duck sauce before the introduction of the bland plastic duck packets.
liz Aug 2 2009 My mom and I used to go to MeeHong’s for lunch when we went “downtown” in later years when I was a teenager my girlfriends and I would take the bus downtown and always have lunch there. The chop suey/chow mein mix that came in a silver covered dish was better than any I’ve ever had before or since. I have not found one restaurant that makes it even close to the delicious way Mee Hong’s did. Wish I could find some now, I’ve been looking for years. I miss Mee Hong’s, what a nice memory.
bev schneider Jun 25 2009 Sometimes my parents, but usually just my mother, took me to Mee Hong Restaurant in Providence – from my early childhood until I left RI at the age of 19 to move to DC. My father approved of Mee Hong as opposed to some of the other Chinese restaurants in RI (ie, Hon Hongs, Luke’s, etc.) because he was of the belief that Mee Hong did not use pork in its Chop Suey or Chow Mein (basically the only two items most of us were allowed to order). So, my entire family would go there on special occasions for Sunday dinners, always accompanied by bread, butter, and “Cole Slaw, Peas or Beets?” (this was the oft-repeated refrain of every waiter in the place). And my mother and I frequented the restaurant for Saturday luncheons before shopping downtown. I became totally turned off to Chop Suey AND Chow Mein (who knew the difference) after an episode of having been given a Chop Suey (or Chow Mein) sandwich. I have never been able to eat soggy bread – and that was the soggiest bread I had ever eaten. The rest of my family, however, loved the soggy sandwiches. Two bites of the sandwich and I spent the rest of the afternoon – well, I don’t want to go into the details, but you may feel free to use your imagination. That was the end of Chinese food eating for me, but not the end of Chinese restaurants. I came to adore Mee Hong’s batter fried fish and chips – also served with bread, butter and “Cole Slaw, Peas or Beets” (I always got the cole slaw). The fish was nearly tripled in size after having been batter dipped and deep fried and I couldn’t get enough of it (actually I could never finish it). I was chastised both by my father, and an Aunt who also took me to Mee Hong on occasion, for eating a non-Chinese dish in a Chinese restaurant. Fast foward about ten years, and in Washington, DC a date wanted to take me out for Chinese food. I could only remember Chop Suey and Chow Mein and wanted to decline. I was convinced to give it a try and was delighted to learn about the glories of chinese spare ribs, shrimp toast, mu shu chicken (never pork!), and some szchuan and hunan delights. I became a fan, once again, of Chinese cuisine. But I am very sad to learn, upon returning to my native State of RI, that Mee Hong, Hon Hong, Port Arthur, Luke’s and Ming Garden have disappeared from the tapestry of downtown Providence.
Larry Jun 22 2009 I remember the Tows buy cars from my family and getting Mings Wings. I just came across a coin good for purchases at the Persimmon Market. I also seem to remember activities in the lower levels of the building.
Family Tree Researcher May 15 2009 I’m told that my father’s sister and also their cousin sang with a band at the Port Arthur. In the 1940’s, it was a very “hot” and popular place to go in Providence if you were young and out on the town. My aunt also sang with Vaughn Monroe’s band but I don’t know whether he ever played at the Port Arthur.
Ed Iannuccilli May 13 2009 The Hon Hong Restaurant was our favorite. At the end of my Mom’s Saturday shopping “down town,” she would always stop at Hon Hong for chicken chow mein, our regular Saturday evening meal. I had the good fortune of being with my Mom on many of those Saturdays, and though I was not a fan of Chinese food then (I ate the noodles), I remember the smells that accompanied us on our ride home on the bus to Wealth Avenue. It was all part of the busy Saturday afternoon experience in the vibrant city of those times.
Liza Bartlett Apr 13 2009 Once again this afternoon I have set out to attempt to replicate the infamous Ming Wings... Nothing!... has ever been the same as the finger sucking delight of dining at Ming Garden in my childhood. I remember Charlie making his rounds every evening, always with a grapefruit in hand, stopping at each table to smile and ask how everyting was... unless of course he saw empty plates in which case he would just say, “ok, you finsh, you go!”... So, once again... I will try to recreate the taste, the smell, the texture... but if anyone out there might have the recipe, I would be eternally grateful to you for sharing it...
Donna Apr 12 2009 I, too, remember Port Arthur. When I was young we used to meet my Dad after work to go there. They had a band and a dance floor and the owner seemed to know my folks. I think the man’s name was Tow and I also think his son may have owned a resturant in Washington Park. The “good ole’ days” before the world got goofy and most people were friendly.
jean(andersen)finnegan Mar 30 2009 i grew up in south providence off of eddy street while i remember these restraurants i remember most the old port arthur restraurant downtown it used to be upstairs i don’t remember street i think weybosset they also had a fine dance band my mom used to take us there for chow mein does any one remember it it was family owned and they had anoter place in woosocket r.i thanks
Dean Mar 2 2009 Man, I’d forgotten all about the Luau Hut at Luke’s! After a couple of their exotic drinks there one night, my vegetarian friend threw away 5 years of dietary control and inhaled a plate of spareribs, which made him sick for days. No one ever has quite matched the Ming Garden Chicken Wings. And, yeah, Young China. My father introduced me to the chow mein sandwich there. It cost about a dollar. I believe my mother told me before she passed that it had finally closed in the early 2000s.
Cheryl Tow-Keogh Feb 10 2009 Both of my grandfathers were owners of the Mee Hong Restaurant. There are several Aunts and Uncles in R.I. still who can give you stories and photos of the restaurant.
Cliff Jan 28 2009 The restaurant across from the Majestic (Trinity) was called Hon Hong. My parents and I always ate there when we went “down city” on a saturday in the 50s &60s.
Raul Correa Jan 26 2009 My grandfather was a dishwasher, my father and 2 uncles were bartenders and my Mom was a waitress at the Ming Garden. And none of them were Chinese. As a kid, the name Tow might as well have been Kennedy or Yaztremski. I moved away 23 years ago but until a few minutes ago, had assumed that it would never close. If Young China, the family’s place to eat (Chow Main Sandwich!) has closed as well I’d rather not know.
kenn speiser Jan 6 2009 Bob Tow ran the restaurant after his father died, and introduced Dim Sum to Providence before anyone who was not Chinese in the state even knew what it was. He served it in the 2nd floor Persimmon Room on Sundays. Bob Tow was also the creator of “Ming Wings” that he sold through the IGA which is now The Eastside Marketplace off of Pitman St, in Providence. The Ming Garden’s chicken wings were such a hit at the restaurant he started wholesaling them to local markets packaged in those Chinese Take-Out cartons with the wire handles. If I remember correctly he closed the restaurant, sold the building to his brother and moved to China sometime in the early 1990s. Bob is alive and well living in Guangzhou, China.
Ann Paniccia Dec 18 2008 When I was about 8 or 10 my friend Nancy and I would take the bus from Olneyville and go downtown to the library to do book reports. When we were done we would go to the Chinese Restaurant across from the Majestic Theatre for lunch. I think the name was Hong Kong. We would split an order because this was 1964 and we didn’t have enough money for 2 dinners. Great memories.
Sarah Dec 12 2008 I can put you in touch with my dad. He was Charlie Tow’s lawyer, and we were well supplied with Ming Garden takeout in the 1970s and 1980s. I bet my dad would love to chat with you.
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