Shop Talk | August 23, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - August 23, 2013

Shop Talk

MING'S TO DOWNSIZE, ADD HOTEL ... Ming's Chinese Cuisine and Bar, Palo Alto's largest and oldest Chinese restaurant, is about to undergo a huge transition. The entire 10,000-square-foot building at 1700 Embarcadero Road will be demolished and replaced with an upscale hotel and smaller restaurant. "We will close Ming's next year, probably in April, right after the Chinese New Year," owner Vicky Ching said. Then the demolition will begin to make way for a new hotel. "We chose extended-stay over a traditional hotel because we're so close to the freeway and we don't have a downtown address, so we were advised that extended-stay would be the best choice for this location. ... We're hoping this type of hotel will appeal to a variety of people, including temporary Stanford faculty and Stanford hospital patients and family," she said. Ching also noted an influx of Asian tourists in this area and said she thinks an extended-stay hotel would be a good option for them. Part of the InterContinental Hotel Group, Staybridge Suites has about 200 hotels and is known for its apartment-style rooms with workstations and furnished kitchens. Building the four-story, 177-room hotel, which will have underground parking, is expected to take 18 months to two years, according to Ching, who is keeping a close eye on sustainability during the construction. "We're looking to repurpose materials as much as possible," she said. "For example, we want to reuse the tiles from the original roof." Along with the hotel, a new Ming's will also be developed (the original Ming's opened in 1956). Preliminary plans call for the restaurant to be about one-third the size of the current one. Although it will be attached to the hotel, it will be independent. "We will have seating for about 150 diners, compared to now, where we have seating for 500," Ching said, adding that the menu will be much smaller and have fusion items. "But we'll still hang on to the old Ming's favorites, like Chinese chicken salad and dim sum dishes." Ching's decision for the major transformation is a direct result of the changing workplace. "Lunch used to be our biggest business, but things are different now. Our restaurant has suffered because so many companies now provide free food to their employees. Look around us. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and so many others all offer lunch in their own facilities. So we needed to adjust for that."

CANTOR MUSEUM STORE TO CLOSE ... The artsy, eclectic museum store in the Cantor Arts Center, located on the campus of Stanford University, closes on Aug. 30 after 23 years in business. The small shop on the museum's first floor, which is affiliated with the Stanford Bookstore, was a popular venue for shoppers looking for an unusual selection of jewelry, glassware, art books, toys and Rodin-inspired gifts. The store sharply discounted most items this month to prepare for the closure. "We hardly have anything left. Everything's been picked through pretty good. But we're still open until the end of the month," said one of the shop's employees.

SOPHIA RESURFACES ... The owner of the former Cafe Sophia, an Afgani restaurant in Palo Alto's Midtown area, is back. Kind of. Sophia Omar, who owned the small restaurant for more than 10 years, has started her own catering business. All proceeds benefit Rebuilding Alliance, a San Mateo nonprofit dedicated to rebuilding war-torn communities. Omar, who was recently named chief operating officer of the group, said: "It gives me the chance to combine my two passions: cooking and people. With catering, I can do something positive," she said. Omar sees herself as somewhat of a diplomat. "Through food I have the ability to connect to people," she said.

Heard a rumor about your favorite store or business moving out, or in, down the block or across town? Daryl Savage will check it out. Email


Posted by danielle, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2013 at 9:04 am

sad news, Ming's is a fine institution & serves much better Chinese food than anything at Facebook or Google. again quality and tradition lose to technology. Palo Alto has lost its soul.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 24, 2013 at 10:57 am

Ming's used to be a great place, but somehow over the years they have rested on their laurels and allowed their standards and services to fall while their prices keep rising. This is true of a lot of Palo Alto restaurants and businesses who seem to be of the opinion that a Palo Alto address gives them a license for high prices and poor performance. Or maybe it's just bad Feng-Shui at that location.

They would not have to switch businesses and tear the place down if they would implement some quality control and not project such a hoity-toity image. Anyway, the result will probably be an improvement.

Posted by resident, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 24, 2013 at 10:58 am

We quit going to Mings for weekday lunches many years ago. They focused too much on limited-selection quick business lunches and ignored the local customers who wanted more a more diverse and authentic Chinese meal. Their weekend selection was tremendously better. Maybe they can go back to serving the locals now that the business customers seem to be abandoning them.

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 24, 2013 at 11:15 am

Ming's still has the best dim sum in the area. Can anyone suggest a better place in Palo Alto or Mountain View?

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2013 at 11:57 am

Resting on their laurels, indeed. For a real reflection on how Ming's has been in the past few years, check out the Yelp reviews [portion removed.]

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 24, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Hotel and restaurant, sounds like a sizeable development.

It isn't a residential neighborhood, but I hope that someone keeps a watchful eye on the plans. That area has a nice open feel and anything intrusive to that feel would not be a change for the better.

Posted by Norman, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 24, 2013 at 1:15 pm

The last time I was at Ming's was about ten years ago. The diffident (to put it mildly) waitstaff made it an unpleasant experience. If that stays the same a lot of the 150 seats will go unoccupied.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Like I said, check out the Yelp reviews that denote people getting sick after eating there. There's a reason it only has 2 1/2 stars w/hundreds of reviews.

Silly - have you tried Tai Pan downtown? Or Bamboo Garden or Fu Lam Mum in Mt. View? You might like them.

Good for Sophia! Her new job & the catering both sound like an excellent match. Can't keep a good woman down! Best wishes to her.

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 24, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Thanks, Hmmmmm. Tried Tai Pan and wasn't very impressed. We had to order from a menu rather than pick from carts. The selection was very limited and took forever for our orders to arrive.

Never heard of Bamboo Garden so that's now on our list, thanks. We've been to Fu Lam Mum for dinner several times but never for dim sum so that's now on our list, too.

Do you know if they both do weekday dim sum? At some places, the dim sum is much better on weekends.

Again, thanks!

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 24, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Web Link -- photo 4 of 5 shows a rendering of the new hotel.

Careful working around our high-voltage power line (prominent tower on the corner). We don't want a repeat of the Feb 2010 blackout (same line).

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Silly - I don't know the answers to your questions, sorry. But check the interwebz - you can probably find the answers.

Yes, re Tai Pan - the downside to not having carts is it takes longer. OTOH, things are generally fresher. They're also more expensive than most dim sum. Also, their tea is higher quality jasmine tea, which I appreciate.

Many locals hit up dim sum in Sunnyvale & also north of San Mateo. Some of the most memorable Chinese feasts I've had were at the now-defunct Empress Suites(?) in Burlingame. If you have any interest in Chinese banquet cuisine, this novel is a fun read: Web Link

Posted by Foodie, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 24, 2013 at 6:42 pm

We've been going to Mings for years and have always enjoyed the food (dim sum is our favorite) and the easy parking. The quality is always high. I'm glad it will still be around even though it won't be as big of a restaurant. Palo alto has been lucky to have a place with consistenly good food and high standards. We're not sure what our replacement restaurant will be during the time it rebuilds.

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 24, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Thanks, Hmmmm. We ARE using the interwebz. :-> I thought you were speaking from personal experience about Bamboo Garden and Fu Lam Mum since I value personal recommendations more than the Yelp reviews.

Other places include ABC Seafood in Foster City and Milpitas, all the places on Wolfe Road, etc. Went to one of the Wolfe Road ones with a Chinese friend whose family loves the place and that's how we learned that they save the best for weekends.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 24, 2013 at 7:16 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 24, 2013 at 7:55 pm

I've been to both of them, Silly. I just don't have the details that you want. Dim sum on weekends is a lot of fun! I think that we just have to be willing to travel a bit to find the good stuff that isn't overpriced.

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 24, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Thanks, Hmmmmmm. I'll explore your 2 recommendations further.

I'll still miss Ming's for weekday dim sum, especially when a friend who used to live here drives down from Napa a few times a year for her doctor/dentist appointments and we need a place with parking. Ming's became our default choice since lunch-time parking's so horrendous on Cal Ave, University Ave., in Town & Country, near Welsh Road and in downtown Los Altos so she doesn't have to waste another 30 minutes looking for parking.

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 25, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Tbanks, Hmm, for recommending "The Last Chinese Chef" by Nicole Mones. I love that book as a great way of understanding the historic and cultural underpinnings of Chinese cuisine. Her other 2 novels are good, too.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 25, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Silly, how great that you've read it! It really helped me understand the deeper role that food plays in Chinese culture & even the role of American style Chinese food. She is a good novelist.

I was lucky enough to have a roommate who was a visiting scholar from Oxford. He was Chinese & his parents were both chefs. He made such amazing feasts that friends asked to be invited to dinner. It was fun cooking for him, too & introducing him to various types of cuisine.

I actually thought of you this morning when I drove past some Chinese restaurants :-)

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 25, 2013 at 7:28 pm

How lucky to have a roommate like that!

And did you stop for dim sum at any of the restaurants you passed? :->

She has one favorite restaurant in San Francisco, a small pricey prix-fixe place called Jai Yun. I've never been but it sounds intriguing. Wish she'd update the food lovers section of Web Link more often and that she'd write another novel!

Posted by Whoa!, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 26, 2013 at 7:01 am

I am freakin' drooling here! if I follow all your wonderful suggestions, I will weigh 300 pounds by next week!

Posted by Palo Altan, a resident of South of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2013 at 10:20 am

I'm glad the plan to reopen in a smaller place. Palo Alto restaurants have big challenges because of property values. So often a good restaurant will experience a huge rent increase by greedy landlords and be forced to close. If they seem to be phoning it in, it's often because their situation has become impossible to sustain. You can't rest on your laurels in Palo Alto. Ming's seems to have a different story, but let's hope we end up with a leaner Ming's with high standards and great Dim Sum!

Posted by Becky Sanders, a resident of Ventura
on Aug 26, 2013 at 10:30 am

Being an intense Ming's fan myself, I and a few others are putting together some kind of video story telling retrospective on Ming's. Do you have a favorite Ming's experience or memory? Send it my way: Please included your contact information so we can follow up. Thanks PAW for putting this article together!

Posted by TimH, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 26, 2013 at 10:43 am

Ming's may be another beloved Palo Alto institution, but it's long been "less than the sum of its parts" since leaving El Camino and going out its current location. Dim Sum is good, but that's also not tremendously difficult to produce. I know dozens of people who share stories of disappointment with Ming's lunch, dinner and banquet food, and I've personally experienced some plain awful fare from this restaurant. I can't blame Google, FB or LinkedIn for wanting to keep their people close to work (it's not about the food).

It's a good plan to downsize the restaurant operation to perhaps return quality to the menu, but a new concern is with the extended-stay hotel. The "Staybridge" chain mentioned is NOT an upscale operation, and does not suggest that the restaurant will need to raise its game. It's possible that we will hear about the "new Ming's buffet" in 1-2 years; don't laugh that one off! I hope to be incorrect on this one, but expect the new hotel/eatery to once again be somewhat underwhelming.

Posted by John Galt, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 26, 2013 at 10:59 am

Chef Chu's, Chef Chu's, Chef Chu's !!!!

Posted by local, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 26, 2013 at 11:11 am

We are really going to miss Ming's. I am going to miss the staff, too, some of them have been there for years and years.

One thing I realized a few years ago is that DINNER is really good there, probably because they have such fresh ingredients because of all the business they do at lunch. Maybe they've had a drop off as this article says, but as a diner I can't tell-- the entire place is still packed to the gills even behind the bar on Mother's Day. I really appreciate how low-key and relaxed it is to have all that space, a rare luxury in this area. We just had dim sum with family in Monterey Park and it was a zoo. The food wasn't so much better than it was worth the uncomfortable dining experience, in fact some things we felt Ming's does as well or better.

I sure wish they were moving the whole operation somewhere else in the meantime!!!!!!!

I have eaten at all the good dim sum places locally, and I find none are the be all and end all, they all do some things better than others, and it's just a matter of finding them. I find TaiPan has the most delicious variety of veggie dim sum (rare to find), but it's just so darned expensive.

I realize it's not traditional, but Ming's mochi bunnies with the custard are a favorite we can't get anywhere else and will really miss!

This has got to be a profitable operation -- I just can't imagine why they won't move somewhere in the meantime!!

Posted by Eva, a resident of Ventura
on Aug 26, 2013 at 11:12 am

I agree with John. Chef Chus quality has remained excellent over the years. It came in #3 in the U.S. on a CNN Travel Site last year. I'm sure that there is a lot of debate over that list, but still impressive to see a local restaurant make the top of the list.

Web Link

I know Mings is a tradition and will be missed by some though.

Posted by resident, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 26, 2013 at 11:22 am

Chef Chus is good, especially if you focus on the authentic dishes instead of the "fusion" dishes. However, that is a very different cuisine from Mings. Comparing the 2 is like comparing a French restaurant to an Italian restaurant.

Posted by chris burford, a resident of another community
on Aug 26, 2013 at 11:23 am

Remember Ming's best when Dan Lee, who was a great Stanford Football supporter ran the was one of the best in those days 50's, 60's, 70's!

Posted by E.S., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2013 at 11:34 am

Sophia, congratulations on your new venture. I wish you all the best!

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 26, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Silly, sadly, didn't stop for dim sum yesterday :-( Jai Yun sounds delish. I've never been there. Nowadays, we mostly avoid SF restaurants as a destination because there's so much good stuff. Yes, I know that Mones made good money, so maybe she's waiting for a good story to formulate.

A friend from Tahoe loves to have Asian food when she's in the area & loves Tai Pan. She has type 1 diabetes & Tai Pan's veggie options work well for her - but as someone else mentioned here, it's expensive.

I hope that you & your friend can find a comparable place next spring after Ming's closes. It's location & parking are great! I have friend who's a federal agent who loved meeting other local feds there because it's such a big place, they could easily have private conversations over meals.

It was great to have him for a roommate for awhile! It was funny - suddenly, so many of his friends from Oxford would be passing through town, needing a place to stay. I accrued quite the collection of partially used gin bottles as a result! They were all fun & they loved being near the coast & ski areas.

I'd take him to Asian markets & he'd make fabulous Chinese food, then I'd return the favor w/Italian food or simple but delicious dishes w/very fresh local ingredients. We had a lot of Stanford friends on our street back then, & we'd have Sunday potluck teas that ran the gamut from a traditional Brit tea to a late lunch w/a selection of Chinese teas that he tracked down. He also hadn't tried that many other Asian foods, so my then--boyfriend & I took him to Viet, Korean, Malaysian, Japanese & Chinese Muslim restaurants.

It's fun going to dim sum in Millbrae/San Bruno area. If you want names of good places, I can ask my friends who live in that area. Lots of it does depend on what you like - seafood vs veggie, noodles vs. dumplings, etc.

Wow, all of these great comments is making me crave some claypot basil beef from Chef Chu's :-)

Posted by Gail, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 26, 2013 at 12:32 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 26, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Hmm, thanks for that specific Chef Chu;s recommendation. We haven't been there in years since we made the mistake of ordering the wrong things which were ok but a bit boring.

One thing that makes it difficult to judge Chinese restaurants is the difference between lunch where there's a limited lunch menu of often-boring specials and dinner where they shine with their specialties,

Hunan Homes, for example, is known for their dinner seafood specialties but if you judged them by lunch, you'd write them off. Their dim sum is VERY heavily seafood, a bit too much for our tastes where we need pork.

We also love Hunan Gardens and Da Sichuan Bistro. Both of those are very accommodating.

Da Sichuan's clientele is 90% Asian at dinner and on our second visit the waitress realized we were interested in learning more so she showed me how I was eating the soup wrong for which I was forever grateful. It was a daikon radish soup with pork belly and a smoked chili condiment. I started to out the smoked chili sauce INTO the soup and she rushed over to show me that it was supposed to be used as a dipping sauce for the pork, not dumped into the broth.

Posted by Sebastian, a resident of Stanford
on Aug 26, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Some gripes on this thread dwell on Ming's prices but the cost of housing, especially home prices, in this region has been behind general cost escalation. What wait-folks and even assistant chefs make gets eaten up by housing expenses, leaving less and less for "discriminatory" spending. How many such employees can afford to eat at restaurants in this area? Now, as the 49ers, Google, and Facebook close in on this area, Ming's will fit the new regime nicely, with prices that the new market will bear, while offering added hotel space. Housing costs will continue to rise and take the local cost of living along with them while Ming's survives.

Posted by monkeybananaramadam, a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 26, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Seating for 500 is WAY too much. It'll probably be better quality as soon as they cut it down to 150 diners.

Posted by had my office downtown for years, a resident of University South
on Aug 26, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Doesn't anyone have any regard for history? Ming's has been around for years... there's a reason for that. Sure, maybe food quality and service is not always up to everyone's high standards but how many restaurants can boast a 50 year history. Out with the old; in with the new formulaic Asian cuisine you can order "your way" alpha-numerically and Chinese restaurants with initials in their name. This is definitely not my cup of Oolong tea.

Missing Ming's already.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 26, 2013 at 5:33 pm

50-year history? That's about how long I've been a patron of the Golden Arches.

"We will close Ming's next year, probably in April, right after the Chinese New Year."

Isn't Chinese New Year in January?

Posted by Harold R., a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 26, 2013 at 7:37 pm

I'm 57...started dinning with Mom and Dad at original Mings...visited for dozens of great newer facility as a point..

Became way slow..way $$ and clearly not worth the effort.. when I visit the folks in PA...I do the cooking..even the dishes..

Too, too bad...

project sounds a bit..out of balance for today's Palo Alto! I do hope some locals with "pull" take a good look at this project..


Posted by mac, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 26, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Unfortunately there hasn't been any really good, authentic and reasonably priced dim sum in Palo Alto since the old Hong Kong Flower Lounge on Waverley closed. This is the space now occupied by Taipan, charging higher prices for less authentic food. Likewise the Yucca de Lac in Stanford. Ming's was never as good as HKFL for Hong Kong food. At HKFL the queues of Asian and American diners alike would speak for the quality and value for money, despite having far more seats than Taipan. So now we drive to Millbrae if we want dim sum instead, since HKFL was forced out due to what appeared to be excessive rent demands.

Posted by Spicy food, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 26, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Hot hot original spicy Sichuan Chinese food opened in MP on El Caminal block away from other side of Safeway! It is my hometown tastes!

Posted by The Digestinator, a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 27, 2013 at 6:41 am

Farewell to the B-/C+ grade cuisine and gigantic empty parking lot. Sounds like improvement is on the way though. Hoping the new restaurant will make big waves and not just be a smaller version of what it does now. Good luck! I'm looking forward to seeing/visiting the new place.

Posted by Wu Tan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 28, 2013 at 7:25 am

Good riddance to Ming's, long past prime. [Portion removed.] There are better, clean places to go.

Posted by local, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 28, 2013 at 11:17 pm

I enjoy Mings, and find the things they do well (not everything, but the ones they do) are as good or better than anything around.

The location once housing Su Hongs has been vacant ever since they left it... hint, hint. Wouldn't it be better to move the operation than to cease altogether and pick up again after two years? (Again, hint, hint...)

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 29, 2013 at 12:38 am

I thought the plan was to turn the Su Hong location into high density housing.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 30, 2013 at 11:27 am

Silly - if you're still reading this thread - I'm sorry that I didn't post sooner.

I don't go to Chef Chu's frequently, but some of their dishes are excellent. It's a huge menu, so it can be hit or miss. Did you ever watch the Check Please episode about them? It's a good one!

Yes, the lunch - dinner thing can be very confusing! It's hard to trust all Yelp reviews, but I think it's helpful when dishes are named as faves over & over or if a newpaper has reviewed & recommended certain dishes.

Hunan Gardens - I was just going to ask if you like them. I have a friend who drives some distance for some of their seafood & their duck. I've never had a bad meal there, but my DH isn't that much into seafood, so we don't go often.

Da Sichuan Bistro - how nice that they were so helpful! I'll remember them. Sometimes Chinese food seems to beckon us due to convenience of location, but I think it's worth it to stretch our wings a bit. I recall when I had the Chinese roomie how much fun it was to take him to so many different places, ending w/a lovely meal somewhere unusual. For me, that's when the otherwise boring strip malls of Milpitas & the South Bay became much more exotic & enticing :-)

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