Where else would you go to celebrate the Chinese New Year in Salem other than Kwan's. To make this "Year of the Ox" dinner even more meaningful I discovered that Kwan, himself, is an ox. If you believe in this sort of thing, the Chinese zodiac is a twelve year cycle, each year symbolized by an animal. In researching the "Year of the Ox" I discovered this description on Wikipedia;
The Ox is thought to be the sign of prosperity through fortitude and hard work. The Ox is a power sign, like the Rat, Snake, Dragon, Tiger, and Monkey. They're quite dependable and possess an innate ability to achieve great things. As one might guess, such people are dependable, calm, and modest. Like their animal namesake, the Ox is unswervingly patient, tireless in their work, and capable of enduring any amount of hardship without complaint.
If you've ever met Kwan or heard his life story, you'd know that would describe him pretty well. A Chinese immigrant, Kwan and his wife Bo are living the American dream with their iconic Salem restaurant which opened in 1982
On this night, we ordered the "Year of the Ox" special for 2 which included Hot and Sour Soup, Imperial Fried Rice, Honey Walnut Prawns, Mongolian Beef, Buddha's Vegetable Feast, and for dessert, Sesame Balls for $31.90. The fried rice was cooked in a lotus leaf wrap and was cut open by the server at the table. That was a nice touch making the meal feel special and interesting. Of the entrees, what really stood out was the flavorful Honey Walnut Prawns which left my wife and I scraping the plate for the last of the walnuts and sweet sauce. Correct me if I'm wrong, but unfortunately, I couldn't find this dish on their regular menu. The Mongolian Beef is on the regular menu and that is also an excellent item. Topped with crispy rice noodles, the plate came piled high with marinated beef, onions and bell peppers. For my unsophisticated taste, the Buddha vegetable feast was a bit strange. The flavor of the vegetable assortment was dominated by black mushrooms and there were some items in there I've never seen before. Throughout the dish, were some sort of bean which looked like large garbanzos. Flashbacks went through my mind of the strange sights along the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco. I paused before taking a bite, reminding myself that this is a vegetable entree. The Sesame Balls for dessert were also unusual and a nice sweet bite after a filling dinner.
Overall, Kwan's is still the benchmark for Chinese food in Salem. It's kind of an old school restaurant, reminiscent of the time when customer service was a top priority. A nice touch at the end of the dinner, they bring you a hot, moist wash cloth for cleaning your hands. Kwan himself likes to visit with guests and he's always in the restaurant. Stop by and say hi, tell him you read about his restaurant in Eat Salem.
Review by Salem Man 7/5/07
Kwan's was one of the first places that I ate when I arrived in Salem a few years ago and probably the restaurant I eat at most frequently. Although it's becoming dated, the interior is comfortable and well decorated. The service is great, they always get your order right
with a friendly smile. This is a well run restaurant, even the take out is always consistent. The credit goes to the owner, Kwan, and his wife Bo who are the hardest working people in town. Even working seven days a week, Kwan always takes time to visit your table and ask how you've been. Only once have I not seen him in the restaurant. A couple of years ago, he visited his family in China. The food is generally pretty good, I recommend the won ton soup, sweet and sour chicken and Kwan's special beef. There's usually a special, advertised on the back side of the building, with interesting ingredients like ostrich and emu. Eating at Kwan's is a fun experience including the gift shop with a 14 foot Buddha and unique hand painted Chinese vases. Kwan's Cuisine is located south of downtown Salem at 835 Commercial Street SE.