The Weekly Eater


Food Center offers quick,
tasty, ample Chinese fare

Life can be like one big scary movie. The hero or heroine doesn't always know what's going on, but you, from your comfort zone of velvety cushion and popcorn barrel, always know better, talking to the screen and advising, "I wouldn't go there if I were you!"

Oh, you're so smug.

You face the unknown all the time. Unless you check the back floor every time you enter your car at night. Check every room and under the bed every time you come home. Run errands while making note of every face and license plate you see.

More likely the only times we notice something's amiss in our landscape is when an entire building becomes an empty lot and we're left wondering what the heck was there in the first place.

I've been around enough survivalist and security freaks to appraise my surroundings at night, but all kinds of things are invisible by day, just when you think there's enough light to see everything.

Imagine my surprise when I exited Golden Palace one morning after a dim sum powwow and spotted the Eastern Chinese Food Center.

"When did that open?" I asked my mom.

"That was there long time already!"

"Wha ... How come I never noticed?"

"You blind or what? Tsk."

(Family exchanges are always so wonderful.)

Janet Chan displays Eastern Chinese Food Center's five star rice plate, which has enough duck, pork, chicken, choi sum and rice to feed two people.

Eastern Chinese Food Center is not the kind of place where Chinese moms can comfortably hang out for yum cha. That requires white tablecloths and air-conditioned dining rooms. Although there are hints of a more glorious past in the decorative ceiling tiles and the ornamental pillars just inside the doorway, this space shows every trace of its age as a 19th-century survivor.

Just as the name implies, it 's part market, a place where people stay only long enough to pick up roast duck or roast pork to enjoy for dinner, or a takeout plate of steamed pork hash or spareribs. But if you're tired or hungry after a morning of shopping in Chinatown, you can sit down for a quick lunch of Hong Kong-style noodles, that is, if you don't mind that the sidewalk is a few steps away from your table.

Quick doesn't mean light. For instance, you'll need to practice lifting weights before attempting to walk out with the eatery's special "Five Star Rice Plate." This superb combo is HEAVY, as you might expect from a single plate that features enough to feed two, maybe even three people. There are the five stars -- roast duck, roast pork, char siu, roast chicken and a salted duck egg -- plus choi sum and rice. Ono, and only $5.75. Even if you lost all your money in the stock market, at this price you can still afford lunch.

The wonton noodles in soup will also ensure you won't go hungry. For $3.75, it beats Mini Garden in size, and each pork dumpling has a whole shrimp in its center.

Other dishes are basics such as beef broccoli chow mein ($5), scallop vegetable chow mein ($5) and minute chicken on cake noodle ($5.50), where you're paying for more tender chicken than slivers of bone. This, too, came with choi sum, for a complete meal for two without adding plate after plate. Minute chicken, steamed whole fish and salt pepper pork chops ($5.15) are some of the best items on the menu. You can request omitting the MSG.

I was so excited by this little gem of a restaurant, I forgot where I was and ordered the mushroom chicken on rice ($5.25). I was thinking of a more local-style plate-lunch mushroom chicken with brown gravy, but this is Cantonese through and through, so of course that means a stir-fry of black mushroom caps and slices of celery, carrot and onions.

Chances are you won't be hungry after all this, but it's not too late to walk around the corner to Shung Chong Yuen at 1027 Maunakea St. for moon cakes as the Moon Festival winds down.

Eastern Chinese Food Center

118 N. King St. / 536-4121

Food StarStarStar

Service StarStar1/2

Ambience StarStar

Value StarStarStarStar

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays

Cost: About $12 for two

See some past restaurant reviews in the
Columnists section.

Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

very good, exceeds expectations;
below average.

To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to

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