Five years ago, good luck finding a restaurant around here open on Christmas Day.
Today? You’ve got at least six choices. Local restaurant owners say that more diners have asked them to stay open for the holiday, so they are. For diners looking to feast on Mongolian beef, General Tso’s chicken and fried rice on Christmas Eve, they’ve also got you covered.
What’s the back story with feasting on Chinese for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dining? It’s a longtime Jewish tradition gone mainstream.
Feasting on Chinese at Christmas has been adopted widely as more and more decided they want to cook less during the holidays, or at least that’s the theory from local restaurant owners. Those owners say that diners increasingly want to eat out or do take-out for the holidays. And they’re happy to accommodate.
“We have noticed that many of our diners have inquired about both dine-in and delivery for Christmas,” said Christina Park, who co-owns Cheng’s Asian Restaurant, a Chinese-focused restaurant in Lakewood.
“I think that many people in today’s world value time versus a home cooked meal. I’ve noticed through the years that at any restaurant fast food or dine in that families are looking to eat out and enjoy a stress free night rather than spending the day cooking,” Park said. “People are moving on from home cooked traditions and opting for an easier alternative that saves time and also labor.” Incidentally, her restaurant typically would be open, but the family is taking a vacation this Christmas.
Kathy Wang, co-owner of Rose Garden in South Hill, said she’s noticed far more people asking about dining at her restaurant on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so she and husband Jack now open for both days. She described one extended family who dines out together every Christmas and how they’ve adopted Rose Garden as their go-to Chinese restaurant. “It has become their family tradition now,” said Wang.
And it’s not just Christmas when diners are looking for Chinese food for their holiday food tradition. “Yes, a lot of diners ask if we are open during Thanksgiving,” said Linda Choe of Bonney Lake’s New Peking restaurant. Holiday dining, in general, whether it’s Thanksgiving Christmas, Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day, is more popular for diners than ever, she said. Park said Cheng’s had far more Thanksgiving diners than they thought they would get this year.
Here are restaurants open for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dining. While all are open for Christmas Eve, only six are open for Christmas Day dining — Dragon Ball, Ming Palace, Peking Garden, Rose Garden, Yen Ching, Tacoma Szechuan. Make your reservations now if you can.
DRAGON BALL CHINESE RESTAURANT
Where: 15609 Main St. E., Sumner; 253-891-1328, facebook.com/Sumnerdragon
Details: Dragon Ball in downtown Sumner is open for Christmas Eve dining and Christmas Day dining, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. both days. The restaurant recommends making reservations or calling ahead and advises that seating will be limited Christmas Day evening. They already have reservations on the books.
Critic’s picks: This hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant in downtown Sumner has decor straight out of the 1970s and creates outstanding hot-and-sour soup ($5.25), a terrific mai tai ($7) and is at the top of my list for some of the best egg foo young ($7.50 to $9) and General Tso’s chicken ($9) in Pierce County. It’s also a remarkably well priced restaurant with few dishes above $10, and those dishes include rice.
HONG KONG RESTAURANT
Where: 8843 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253-531-2533
Details: Open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Christmas Eve but closed Christmas Day. Parties six or larger should make reservations.
Critic’s picks: Remember those old-style egg rolls dipped in batter, not just wrapped in an egg roll wrapper? This restaurant is the only I know in the area still making egg rolls as a batter-dipped funfest ($2.25). Hong Kong also has the real deal pineapple Polynesian-style sweet-and-sour sauce in lieu of that dayglo orange stuff. Anything with sweet-and-sour sauce is worth ordering ($11.50 to $13.50), as is the pork egg foo young ($10.50). Not only does Hong Kong have the smallest bar in Tacoma (room for six?), it also makes the best Singapore Sling ($6.95) I’ve had in Tacoma. It also has a stuck-in-time dining room straight from the 1970s.
HOUSE OF KEE
Where: 15305 Meridian E., Puyallup, 253-848-4899, houseofkee.com
Details: Open 4-7 p.m. Christmas Eve but closed Christmas Day.
Critic’s picks: The restaurant struggles with the classics. Skip the fried rice ($7.75 to $10.75), sweet-and-sour pork ($12.75), egg foo young ($9.50 to $13.95) and wonton soup ($10.50). The General Tso’s chicken ($13.50) and Mongolian beef ($13.50) are safer bets. Don’t order any cocktails that are too complicated.
Where: 8623 Steilacoom Blvd SW, Lakewood; 253-589-2100, hunangarden.net
Details: Open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Christmas Eve and closed Christmas Day. Reservations recommended for groups four and larger.
Critic’s picks: The sizzling rice soup is a must order ($6.50 to $16.95). I appreciate the broth fueled by sesame oil and that the bowl comes loaded with mushrooms and fresh spinach. Classics are serviceable here, but skip the egg foo young ($9.95 to $12.45) and garlic chicken ($10.75) in favor of house special prawns ($14.95) and General Tso’s chicken ($12.75). Don’t get too fancy with your cocktail order.
Where: 8736 S. Hosmer St., Tacoma, 253-548-2419, tacomamingpalace.com
Details: Ming Palace has a slogan I like — “We never close.” The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Critic’s picks: The restaurant is the only dim sum destination in Pierce County, so if the dim sum menu is offered on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, be sure to peruse the offerings ($2.75 to $4.15 for individual items). Dumplings are a solid bet, with well-crimped shumai, har gow and another excellent dumpling filled with cilantro and shrimp. Bao and chicken feet also are must orders. From the Cantonese menu, stick with the basics and don’t miss the honey walnut prawns ($14.95).
Where: 21179 State Route 410 E., Bonney Lake, 253-826-0000, newpeking.biz
Details: Open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Christmas Eve but closed Christmas Day.
Critic’s pick: Stick with chicken here. Heat seekers will find more than half a dozen fiery chicken preparations, including General Tso’s chicken, orange chicken, curry chicken, kung pao chicken, hot pepper chicken and more (all priced $12.95 each).
NORTH CHINA GARDEN
Where: 2303 Sixth Ave., Tacoma; 253-572-5106, northchinagarden.com
Details: Open on Christmas Eve from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. but closed Christmas Day. The restaurant recommends reservations for large parties.
Critic’s picks: My favorite General Tso’s chicken in the county can be found at North China Garden. Big, crunchy pieces are lacquered in a sticky, spicy sauce thick with garlic ($11.95). Don’t miss the handmade dumplings served steamed or fried ($6.75). The restaurant recently broadened its menu to include Chinese favorites not typically seen at Chinese-American restaurants, such as hot pot ($15.50).
Where: 5500 Olympic Dr NW, Gig Harbor; 253-858-2199, pandagardenwa.com
Details: Open regular hours on Christmas Eve until 9 p.m. but closed Christmas Day.
Critic’s picks: Dry sauteed green beans with chili peppers is a good find here ($10.75) and the hot-and-sour soup is serviceable ($7 to $11.45). This restaurant struggles with the basics, such as the sweet-and-sour pork ($10.75) and egg rolls ($5.25). If you order the flaming hot pot, ask for it without the spinach ($12.95). It’s a nice presentation with a pot set atop a flame at your table.
Where: 1201 Valley Ave E., Sumner, 253-891-9900, pekinggardensumner.com
Details: The restaurant normally is closed on Mondays but will be open Christmas Eve for dine-in or take-out. On Christmas Day, the restaurant is open for take-out orders only from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 4:30-6:30 p.m. (no seated dining). Diners should order their food in advance — as early as now.
Critic’s picks: This restaurant makes its almond fried chicken with an exceptionally light-and-crispy breading. It tastes more like a crunchy panko breading than a typical deep-fried battered almond fried chicken ($10.95). Get it. The fried rice carries a robust roasted flavor that pushes it ahead of the competition ($8.50 to $8.95).
ROSE GARDEN CHINESE RESTAURANT
Where: 13105 Meridian E., Puyallup; 253-770-9988, rosegardenfoods.net
Details: Open regular hours, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Critic’s picks: One of my favorite Chinese restaurants in the county, the restaurant does great work with the Chinese-American classics and modernized Chinese. From the old-style menu, don’t miss the Mongolian beef ($12.50), chicken lettuce wraps ($8.95) and honey walnut prawns with cubed fresh mango ($14.95). The restaurant’s secret weapon is its Taste of China menu. Diners will find modernized Chinese with fiery sauces and vegetable-heavy presentations. Get the spicy seasoned chicken with the tongue-numbing peppercorn sauce and dry-fried hot peppers ($12.50), stir-fried garlic baby bok choy ($9.95), the eggplant with a garlic-ginger sauce with a heavy tang ($10.95) and do not miss the slippery wontons swimming in hot chile oil sauce ($7.95). If you don’t see the Taste of China menu tucked into the restaurant’s primary menu, ask for it.
Where: 9601 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood; 253-581-0102, tacomaszechuanchinese.com
Details: Open regular hours, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day serving the usual menu, although no hot pot will be offered. No reservations accepted, first-come/first-served dining only. Take-out orders are OK.
Critic’s picks: The restaurant serves a menu of modernized Chinese with a Szechuan-heavy lineup. The restaurant should be famous for its chong gin chicken, which is likely the fanciest popcorn chicken you’ll ever eat. Fried chicken is coated in a fiery pepper sauce that imparts an unusual tongue-numbing sensation with dry-fried green beans thrown in as a fun bonus. Don’t miss the handmade dumplings in a hot chile oil ($7.95) or the hot pepper lamb ($14.95). Typical Chinese-American dishes range from serviceable to outstanding.
Where: 8765 S. Tacoma Way, Lakewood; 253-582-3400, lakewoodchinesefood.com
Details: Open regular hours until 9 p.m. Christmas Eve and open for dinner at 4:30 p.m. on Christmas Day.
Critic’s picks: The twice-fried pork is the best in the county with slippery, thick pieces of pork belly suspended in a clingy sauce spiked with garlic ($11.95). The moo shu pork tableside presentation is worth a visit just to watch the server assemble the thin pancakes as you watch ($12.50). The hunan fried chicken wings with hot chile sauce and a melange of vegetables are a must order ($11.95).