Tong King Garden

Update, Reader Email

I can't wait to hear what you thought of dinner and how many readers came by. We saw a couple groups with someone wearing a hat and felt very James Bondish.......My husband and I met several members of our family there tonight (10 total), a couple who had been before and several who had not. Everyone enjoyed their choices and said they would be back. I took photos of two combination plates, sorry I don't remember the numbers. Hopefully there will be enough interest in a monthly dinner night out, we really enjoyed it.

It can be scary trying a new restaurant in this town, especially one along a dark street on the outskirts of downtown. The exterior of Tong King Garden is worn, evidenced by the fading sign and crumbling stucco walls. But, locals know better than to judge a book by it's cover. Tong King serves fresh Cantonese and Mandarin cuisine Monday through Saturday. The dining room is modest and clean, a comfortable atmosphere for casual dining. My white glove test for restaurants is to inspect silverware and condiments as well as condition of the menu. The menu looked to be new, the utensils didn't even have hard water marks and the condiments were full. All of this is a good sign.
They were inspected by Marion County on Feb 26, 2008 and scored an 82. Most of the deductions were for soiled handles in the kitchen and worn out floors. The food here is why locals have kept this place in business for 24 years. There's 146 items on the menu with lunch specials between $4.50 and $5.50. In fact you can even get a hamburger with fries for $3.75. This night we started with a bowl of Won Ton Soup. This classic Chinese soup was filled with fresh vegetables and tasty broth. For dinner we ordered Kung Pao Chicken, $7.95, Vegetables Deluxe, $6.78, and the Tong King Special Fried Noodles with chicken, $7.50. Again, the vegetables were notably fresh and cooked nicely leaving them crisp to the bite, the broccoli especially. I was more than satisfied with the quality of the other two items as well. Both seemed fresh with large portions of chicken. I wish that I had ordered the Kung Pao spicy but it was flavorful none the less. Nice meal and prompt service. The owner waited on our table and had no trouble getting our order quickly. I would say that the food here is as good as or better than Panda Express and the prices are very reasonable. I'm comparing it to PE only because it's a chain that seems to be sprouting up all over Salem. If you want to support local businesses give Tong King a try.
This was the second Eat Salem night, the first one in town. I picked this place because I thought it might be fun to venture outside the box of typical Salem dining. It has always gotten good reviews on this blog and others despite it's outside appearance. As a gesture to show that you read the Eat Salem blog we asked that someone at your table wear a hat. Including our table, I counted four tables with hats. One of those tables had ten customers. Not bad, I'm glad to see that there are some people out there willing to take a chance. If Tong King isn't your cup of tea, there will be more Eat Salem nights in the future. I'll take suggestions via email.

(503) 585-9932
989 12th St Se, Salem


Anonymous said...

"I would say that the food here is as good as or better than Panda Express..."

I certainly hope it was better than Panda Express.

Salem Man said...

I just ate the leftovers and I'll agree better than PE.

Anonymous said...

OMG panda express is NASTY
Tong King beats them by a LANDSLIDE

Anonymous said...

How clean was the bathroom? That's also a good indication of a restaurant's overall cleanliness.

Anonymous said...

Tong King is better than Panda Express?! Heck, Tong King is better than Kwan's for basic dishes. Panda Express isn't even in the same sport, let alone the league.

Their Vegetables Deluxe and Buddha's Feast are excellent vegetarian dishes. I've been going there off and on for twenty years and I don't think I have ever been served an overcooked vegetable.

Also, don't miss their lemon chicken.

DancingMooney said...

Eeeek! We weren't able to make it, but it looks amazing! Hope you'll do something like this again in the near future...

Salem Man said...

We will be doing this again soon. As for the Tong King bathrooms, I have to say they were pretty deplorable. That whole hallway in the back is scary. The whole place could use a makeover.

Anonymous said...

We didn't make it there for the dinner, but we eat here all the time. In fact just yesterday, we had lunch there. As usual, excellent.

This is not a place that you are going to see a bunch of upgrades. These people have worked their rears off cooking and serving in their little cafe. It is a family place.

I have a feeling when they get too old, or someone passes, that this place will just close down. Sorry to say that, but I think that's just the facts. We have been dining here for over 20 years, and it is just a few people that make this place tick. And they all work hard, and long at what they do.

If dinner is scary to you, the lunch. I always think their lunch is better than the dinners!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, definitely a longtime family business, with the same people working there for decades. The only face I recall seeing there other than the folks who work there now was the daughter of one of the other employees. (Owners?) I think she went off to college some years back.

When it's gone, I'm going to miss it very much.

As for the quality of the restrooms... you go there to eat right? :-)

bob said...

I had lunch there today. The good reviews must be based on the low price. If you judge it on the quality of the food, it would rate as horrible. Bad flavors, sticky tables, dirty all around. It was disgusting.

Dsperin said...

I finally ate there last night for the first time. I recently moved near by and it caught my eye right away. I was scared for the longest time, but finally decided to take the plunge... and I'm NOT sorry!

I ordered the Sceshwan Beef (medium) and it was delicious! It wasn't as spicy as I would have liked, but I'll just order it hot next time. It was so flavorful! My man ordered combination 8 and he said that it was really good. The fried shrimp was really good as well. The egg flower soup tasted just like any other, however, but I didn't really expect it to tast differently.

Next time I crave Chinese food, I'm skipping Kwans (they always dissapoint me) and coming here. The prices and flavors are better.

~ jen said...

This is our family's top choice for Chinese food in Salem. We always order the sticky, spicy and sweet version of Szechuan Beef and we LOVE #93 Noodle Salad. You must try these.

As my kids get older, we find we have to order two each of these entree's or we adults go hungry. But, that is to be expected with three teens in the house.

Anonymous said...

Okay folks, take it from a 30 plus year (on again / off again due to military) Salem resident.

If you're from out of town, the outside is SCARY as hell if you have absolutely no wits about you.

Next, the families (yes, notice the plural), are the owner operators and take GREAT PRIDE in their food and presentation.

About the physical place - get over it. The focus may not be bright and shiny - it's not their style. Look at their CONSISTENT and IN-ARGUABLE Health Scores.

In short, there are few Salem icons left due to the growth of the City - this is one of them. And, it was once CHAD's directly across the street! Another icon gone.

Be sure to check out Court Street Dairy Lunch and White's if you're visiting! Along with Casey's. Oh, AND Busick Court. A few remaining icons.

Anonymous said...

Superior food to Kwan's.

Tong King was under the radar for us forever, but the food is quite good. I like the simplicity of the place too. Staff was very pleasant and the service was above average.

Kwan's is stuffy and has a tense feel (maybe the owner watching everyone on the security cameras?). Tong King is our new place.

Anonymous said...

I drove by today, and it looks like the building is being renovated. Now the outside will be as nice as the food is inside.

Anonymous said...

20+ years eating here and sir all I can say is wow, complete disagreement, with hundreds to back me.

Anonymous said...

Tong King Garden has delicious food and great service. Those little ladies running the place have treated me with the utmost respect every time I have gone in.
As for your recommendation on other local gems, I completely agree! My fiancee and I go to White's at least once a month and Busick Court whenever possible. Casey's has fantastic ballpark dogs and is very inexpensive.

Unknown said...

apparently the place has new owners and has changed the menu the cold pork noodle salad is no longer available. the lady was definitely not that enthusiastic about serving us at 3:30 in the afternoon apparently we had interrupted her lunch which she was eating at a table next to the register. She did get up from the table until we asked for a menu as we were getting takeout. I havent been there since 2010 and I wish I had gone before the new owners took over. the outside looks a bit nicer they now have a bar and video poker. The old menu is gone and we were repeatedly told new owner new cook. Now the old owners communication was sometimes complicated but they were always polite and welcoming.That has apparently changed I am going to try again during a dinner time to see if this was just a fluke. When you go to any restaurant and your not greeted and then treated as if your an inconvenience makes me wonder about the food. Once we found out that the dish we were after the noodle salad was no longer available we decided to go elsewhere. In closing I really hope that this was just an uncommon occurrence and I will give them another chance. My big question though is why keep the name if your not going to keep the menu they even still have the positive restaurant reviews on the wall which now strike me as misleading. Now this outing did lead to us trying to find an alternative which turned out to be "big blue thai barbecue" which was very very much worth let down of tong king. I will mourn the passing of the tong king cold pork noodle salad.