There are hundreds of incredible eateries in Seattle - some who've recently opened, some who have made it five, ten, fifteen years in a volatile, unforgiving industry - and then there is a different league all together. A league of restaurants who are equal parts restaurant, equal parts history.
Tai Tung Chinese Restaurant, the oldest Chinese restaurant in Seattle, is one in that league.
“My grandfather immigrated from China in the early 1900s because it was difficult to find work there,” said third-generation owner Harry Chan. “His journey started in San Francisco, and eventually he landed in Seattle. Grandpa Quan took a risk, along with others, to be his own boss and Tai Tung was born.”
Since 1935, the Chan family continues to serve authentic Chinese food made with fresh ingredients and plenty of smiles. Chan has served an impressive line-up of famous diners, including Bruce Lee, Anthony Bourdain, and celebrity chef Tom Douglas, to name a few.
“We focus on using fresh ingredients and taking care of customers and employees,” said Chan. “We are blessed that the business has evolved and grown through many generations to where we are today, 85 years later.”
Homey and welcoming, Tai Tung is charming in a retro, comforting sort of way. The staff welcomes customers like family, often by first name, and sends them off with a wave and a smile upon leaving. It’s like a magical journey into the past where diners can leave the current day behind, at least for an hour or so.
“We try to differentiate ourselves by providing a friendly, nostalgic atmosphere, and consistency with our service and food,” said Chan. “There are a lot of good restaurants in Seattle, and we just want people to feel at home when they join us for dinner.”
Chan started cooking and working in the kitchen when he was 20 years old. He honed his culinary skills under the supervision of head chef, Jimmy Toy. Toy worked at Tai Tung for decades and shared his many chef secrets with Chan. Chan’s family also played an instrumental role in inspiring his love of cooking.
“I get my inspiration from older generations like our grandfather and our fathers and mothers who worked tirelessly in the kitchen mastering and perfecting all the things passed down to me, my brother Tommy Quan, and now future generations,” explained Chan. “It was their attention to detail, like how long to heat the wok before putting in the oil, or when to put in the various ingredients, or which dishes to cook dry versus wet, that make a difference in our dishes.”
With decades of experience in the kitchen, there are bound to be funny legends and tales handed down through the generations, and Harry Chan shares one of his favorite stories.
"We had just cleaned a live rock cod and put it in the steamer,” he said. ‘Before we could close the lid, the fish jumped out of the steamer. I will never forget this because it was both the scariest and funniest kitchen incident I have ever encountered.”
While jumping cod may not be something the average diner encounters, for many gastrophiles, food is an experience that is both a science and an art. Meals are meant to savored and appreciated, and Tai Tung is a great place to do both.
“Everyone brings something to the world, and the diversity of Seattle encourages us to grow together faster, smarter and broader,” said Chan. “Tai Tung is a big part of our family, and food is what we provide to many people. It brings me happiness when customers enjoy their food.”
Tai Tung is open for limited seating and to-go orders. To place an order to go, call (206)-622-7372 or (206)-622-7714. They are located at 655 S King Street. Current hours of operation are 11:00 am - 8:00 pm.
Looking to support other diverse local businesses like Tai Tung? Seattle Refined is proud to collaborate with Intentionalist, an online guide that makes it easier for you to find and connect with diverse local businesses owned by women, people of color, veterans, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities.
While the products, services, and/or accommodations in this post were provided without charge, all of the opinions within are those of the author and the Seattle Refined editorial board.