The Oldest Chinese Restaurant in the U.S. isn’t in San Fransisco. It’s in Butte Montana; A Fascinating History Lesson

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Photo by Theresa Ott

It seems you learn something new every day. “Pekin Noodle Parlor” in Butte, Montana, has been in business for 112 years. Opened by Tam Keong Yee in 1911. It is the oldest continuously running Chinese Restaurant in the U.S.

The Chinese are well known for landing in the West more than a century ago as they were employed via the emerging railroads. However, the first time the concept of “illegal immigrants” came to pass was when the Chinese immigrated to the West to work on railroads and mines. This eventually resulted in the “Lo Mein Loophole” making it so that if the Chinese started restaurant businesses, they could stay without being “illegals.”

The rest is history. “Railroads and mining.” Hence landing in Butte, Montana.

Residents of Butte claim there’s more to the story.

“My father took us there in the ’70s, and we were told the restaurant and the little booths were once a brothel. At the time, everyone knew about the former underground gambling dens (which were discussed in the video) and people were accessing Butte’s underground to collect remnants of anything they could find.”

Others recall a more eclectic background:

“There was also talk that it wasn’t just a brothel but an opium den as well. I was a bit surprised they didn’t say that in the (video) clip.”

and

“I also heard about the brothel/opium den accounts. I also understand there may have been a tunnel connecting it to the cabbage patch. Gambling was on the lower floor, I think.”

It’s not all cloak and dagger stuff. Another well-traveled resident remarked:

“Best noodles I’ve ever had! And I’ve been around the world. Twice! “

So let’s keep small businesses alive. It is still open and is still being kept in the family, with Jerry Tam running the place- the fifth generation of his family to do so. If you’re ever in Butte, stop on into “Pekin Noodle Parlor” for the best Chinese food in the West!




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