Most Remote Chinese Restaurants in North America

I wonder if I’ve observed a genuine phenomenon or if I’m falling into a confirmation bias trap. Everywhere I travel, and I meander through extremely rural areas as a matter of preference, I notice Chinese restaurants.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this peculiarity. I posted Not Fusion, CONfusion a couple of years ago. The subject matter differed — I focused on oddly bifurcated business in that instance — although Meh’s Canadian & Chinese Cuisine in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia would certainly qualify as an example of a Chinese restaurant in a rural area. I wrote at the time, "I’m continuously amazed to find Chinese restaurants in even the smallest, most remote and undoubtedly obscure towns that I’ve ever visited." That odd fixation of mine hasn’t dissipated over time.

It came back to life when I was in Guymon, Oklahoma recently.

I noticed a Chinese buffet practically across the street from our hotel. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been too surprised by the Guymon occurrence. It’s the "big city" of the Oklahoma panhandle with nearly 12 thousand residents. About 2.7% of the population (~300 people) self-identified as Asian in the most recent census albeit many of them Burmese not Chinese. Guymon probably fit within the definition of confirmation bias now that I’ve had an opportunity to consider the math. To my credit though, we’d been driving through empty terrain for several hours and the juxtaposition flashed on my conscious brighter than a neon sign.

It’s hard for me to conceive of the cultural isolation that these proprietors must endure in the most extreme examples. I came across one article that highlighted the story of a family of Chinese immigrants with US-born children that settled in Lexington, Nebraska. The ability to own one’s own business and earn a decent living in small town America provided an enticing option to urban problems, so maybe the American Dream makes up for the difference. They seemed to be assimilating just fine.

There are several dimensions one could use to determine the most remote Chinese restaurant in North America. I’m not sure I’ll ever answer the question to my complete satisfaction although I offer a few tantalizing possibilities. Obviously I’ve never been to any of these places and I have no idea if the limited online reviews I could find are even remotely true. I’m also sure theses places represent the most bastardized version of westernized Chinese cuisine imaginable to match the tastes of their clientele, and I’m a sucker for that. I enjoy authentic cuisine too. I try to appreciate the dichotomy separately for what it is, and recognize that they should never be compared.

Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant, Glasgow, Montana

Glasgow has about 3,200 residents with 0.3% of the population (about 10 people) self-identified as Asian. That’s not to say that every one of those residents identify as Chinese of course, a distinction I’ll note similarly for the remainder of the article, although it does provide an indication of the potential population pool.

The Google Street View image led me to wonder if the Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant was still open. Reviews in Yelp dated as recently as 2011 however and Street View dated to 2008. Maybe it simply needed a good coat of paint.

One person said, "This is the most awful restaurant I’ve been to." Another said, it was "One of the best meal[s] I had in Montana." Turning to Urban Spoon, a reviewer noted, "Average is ok in this case — I didn’t get sick after eating here either. This is my first criteria when writing a review for any Eastern Montana restaurant." I learned a couple of things. First, Chinese food in Glasgow, MT is either excellent, terrible or average. Second, the standard of excellence might not be very high in Eastern Montana. I wonder if Weekend Roady would agree?

Golden China Restaurant, Nome, Alaska

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Nome has 3,700 residents with 1.54% of the population (about 55 people) self-identified as Asian. That’s both a larger town and a higher percentage than the previous example. I’m including it on my short list anyway because anything in Nome has to be considered remote by definition.

Golden China Restaurant has some photos on Yelp and a small number reviews on Google+. One said, "The waitress never smiles, she looks mean." There was also a review in Korean which Google translated with the usual mangled results: "Korean pineapple chicken boss recommended. Tang manipulative called look. My Mongolian beef was too salty and sweet taste. Atmosphere clean and good music."

In Nome, be sure to look for the surly waitress and stick with the Korean pineapple chicken boss.

Viking Chinese Restaurant, Viking, Alberta

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Viking has about 1,000 residents. However it’s in Canada and I don’t know enough about the Canadian census to determine demographics. I highlighted this location primarily because I was amused by the possibility of Viking-Chinese fusion cuisine. It’s too bad Viking is the town’s name and not an indicator of culinary style.

I couldn’t find any online reviews. However, strangely enough, two people checked in with foursquare from Viking Chinese. You can do the same if you need to kill some time in Edmonton and want to take a 137 kilometre road trip.

Ying Bin Restaurant, Kenmare, ND

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Is Ying Bin Restaurant the champion of remoteness? Kenmare has 1,000 residents with 0.7% of the population (about 7 people) self-identified as Asian. That’s a tad better (meaning fewer) than Glasgow, MT. Conceivably, just about every person in Kenmare of Chinese heritage could be associated with the Ying Bin Restaurant. I found only one brief review: "Food is superb, when made fresh."

Those are my candidates for the most remote Chinese restaurants in North America. Can the 12MC audience do better? — double bonus points if you’ve actually eaten there. Triple points if you’re the restaurateur.

14 Replies to “Most Remote Chinese Restaurants in North America”

  1. The ethnicity numbers from the 2006 Canadian Census show a grand total of 0 Chinese people in Viking (keeping in mind that demographic figures are rounded to the nearest five to protect anonymity). Ethnicity numbers for the 2011 census haven’t been released yet (and unfortunately won’t be reliable this time around due to politics), but the 2011 linguistic data released show no native Chinese speakers in Viking.

    The Captain’s Table Dining Room is a Chinese restaurant in Iqaluit, Nunavut. 0.9% of the population (55 out of 6,085) was reported to be of Chinese descent in 2006. Inuvik, NWT has a restaurant called China Express. 0.3% of the 2006 population of 3,430 were listed as Chinese. Considering both the physical remoteness of the locations and the small Chinese populations, those may be your winners.

  2. For the American interior many of the Chinese restaurants are a legacy of Chinese navvies / coolies working on the railroads staying behind…

  3. I don’t think I can give you any better qualified locations than that one in Glasgow you’ve pointed out. One of my favorite Chinese places (and one that routinely received high praise from locals) was the Dragon Palace in Laurel, MT (pop. almost 7,000) about 17 miles outside of Downtown Billings. In fact, if you were in Laurel it seemed like the only place really worth eating at. It looks like Google Streetview went back out there this year already and the place is still standing – if I recall there are a few non-Asian people that have worked there, at least as far as the wait staff goes (usually local high schoolers).

    Outside of Montana, one that has always stuck out to me was the Mekong Restaurant in Fort Frances, Ontario (just across the border from International Falls, MN). Maybe it’s the ugly light-blue exterior of the little boxy building that houses the restaurant, or the Canadian maple leaf on the sign, which is the most obvious sign of national pride in town outside of the border station. It’s so small and seemingly out of place, but I’ve heard the food is good.

  4. I’ve also had the same thoughts on Chinese restaurants. I’ve eaten at one on a Cherokee reservation in North Carolina. Everything else was closed for some reason. It was dreadful.

    Sometimes in my travels I’ll enter a new-to-me town and look around and go “….There it is.” when I see the inevitable local Chinese joint.

  5. I live in Bozeman, Montana, and had occasion to dine at the Hong Kong Restaurant in Glasgow a few years ago … my conclusion after eating there was that the place must order MSG by the semi-truck load.

    The town of Columbus, Montana (population 1,893) reportedly has not one but two Chinese restaurants — The Peking Garden and the Grand Fortune. That would work out to one Chinese eatery per 946.5 people. I haven’t tried either one, though.

    How about a nominee leading under slightly-different criteria? I’m thinking of the China Garden in Belle Fourche, South Dakota (population 5,594). Since Belle Fourche is only about 20 miles from the geographical center of the United States, it’s the clear winner if you change your definition of “remote” just a bit. And my dinner there was actually good!

        1. This may be worth pursuing more…I’ll be driving back to Montana for a trip next week and may take the “southern” route through South Dakota if weather allows. I’d be up for dinner at this Belle Fourche eatery, if Mark shares the Pepto…

  6. I’ve heard many say say that the majority of Chinese restaurants in the US are run by and employed Vietnamese, not Chinese. Maybe a quick look at those numbers could corroborate as well…

  7. If you’re traveling in a strange city and find yourself in a sketchy-looking area, check out the nearest Chinese takeout restaurant. You shouldn’t have to look far to find one. If there is a bulletproof Plexiglas barrier above the counter, get out of the neighborhood immediately.

  8. I live very close to Monterey Park, CA, which may well be the most Chinese city in America. (It depends on how you count these things. San Francisco probably wins that competition by a different metric.) So when I’m traveling far from where I’d expect a large immigrant population, I tend to play the “How authentic do you think that place is?” game with my wife when we see the odd Chinese restaurant in some tiny town. We rarely actually eat at these places, but we give them imaginary points for having cliches like Jade, Palace or Dragon in their names, or advertising that they’ve got such non-Chinese specialties such as Pad Thai or sushi on the menu. Don’t get me wrong, fusion can be a good thing. Pandering to a clientele that apparently can’t tell Asian cuisines apart, not so much.

  9. Entirely unrelatedly, Glasgow, Montana is also the site of Glasgow International Airport (code GGW).

    Not to be confused with plain Glasgow Airport, code GLA (in the much larger city of Glasgow, Scotland), which is indeed international (unlike the Montana one, which doesn’t even have any interstate flights) but doesn’t get called that officially.

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