Dynasty-scale dining | March 16, 2007 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

Eating Out - March 16, 2007

Dynasty-scale dining

Half a century old, Ming's serves distinctive Chinese fare in grand fashion

by Dale F. Bentson

With more than 200 dishes covering nearly every permutation of meat, seafood, vegetables, rice and noodles, Ming's aims to please even the finickiest of appetites. There are so many items to choose from that the menu can take longer to read than a chapter of "Ulysses."

The restaurant itself is large-scale, too; it seats 500 and is open 365 days a year, hosting special gourmet dinners, banquets and holiday extravaganzas.

Ming's opened in Palo Alto in 1956. Originally on El Camino Real across from Stanford University, it was a subsidiary of Johnny Kan's famed Chinatown eatery. Many of the original recipes, such as Ming's beef, Chinese chicken salad and Peking duck, survive to this day.

Since 1967, Ming's has been on Embarcadero Road just east of U.S. 101, where it commands a huge corner. Its contemporary building is divided into two opposing dining rooms along with several smaller rooms for more intimate gatherings. The linen-lined tables have ample space around them, nothing cramped; conversations can be conducted in normal tones.

Vicky Ching, who was a silent partner in the business, bought out her partners in 1991. "I had no restaurant experience when I bought them out. I had to get on a moving train," she said.

Now, she speaks with authority on the sociology of food and the evolution of Chinese food in Silicon Valley. "I have curious eyes and I learned," she said.

There are three chefs in the kitchen: a barbeque chef, a wok chef and a dim sum chef. The situation is reminiscent of old-fashioned trade guilds, according to Ching. Each chef has his own staff to manage. If one of the chefs leaves, he takes his staff with him. Happily, she said, turnover is rare.

Since there was so much to choose from, I stuck to basics and house specialties. All the food was served family-style, heaping portions meant for sharing. Many dishes are assembled tableside, which adds an air of festivity.

Ming's chicken salad ($8.55 half, $16.45 full) is shredded chicken rubbed with mustard, oil and salts and served on a bed of crispy lettuce. The flavorful and crunchy salad is actually "dry" — no additional dressing is used.

The steamed dim sum basket ($10.95) contained four wonderfully pliant steamed buns, each stuffed with slightly different ingredients. The dumplings were sticky-warm when they arrived and nearly melted on the tongue.

Dim sum is a Cantonese phrase that translates approximately to "heart's delight" and means small dishes, morsels, snacks or appetizers. Dim sum is said to have originated in tea houses along the Silk Road.

Five spice calamari ($8.60) was light and crisp. The term "five spice" appears often on Chinese menus. According to Kan's 1963 cookbook "Eight Immortal Flavors," the mélange is a cocoa-colored powder of Chinese star anise, cloves, fennel, anise pepper and cinnamon.

The pot stickers ($5.95) were fat and fresh-tasting. I chose pork, but they were also available with chicken or vegetables. The tempting spring rolls ($5.75) were crisp and hot out of the fryer. The spare ribs ($7.80) weren't as meaty as I had hoped but still tasty.

The Peking duck ($15.95 half, $29.95 full) was succulent and fork-tender, exposing rich, subtle flavors. The crackling skin had a golden brown patina surrounding the fleshy meat. The half order was plenty. The crispy fried chicken ($12 half, $22 whole) was not equal to the shimmering duck but was delicious in its own right.

Ming's beef ($11.95) features tender chunks of spice-rubbed meat. According to Ching, when the original Ming's opened, Americans wanted beef dishes that more resembled steak than the thinly sliced meat Chinese dishes called for. To accommodate, the chef started cutting the meat with broader strokes, the way it is still served.

Five spice chili crab ($24.75) was a detached but not cracked crustacean rubbed with mouthwatering spices then roasted. The combination of sweet, juicy crab and the five-spice medley was scrumptious. The dinner forks were unwieldy in coaxing the meat from the shell, though. Seafood forks would have made the dish more a pleasure and less a chore.

The sweet and tender walnut honey prawns ($15.35) were delightful. There were more wok-tossed prawns and walnuts that I thought possible for a single order, plenty to share with companions.

There are a dozen desserts. Nothing ignited much passion from my always too-full stomach. I tried the mango pudding ($4.50) one evening and wished I hadn't. The pudding was rubbery and floated in a teeth-chatteringly sweet strawberry puree.

Ming's has a full bar, a large assortment of beer and a small, but thoughtful, wine list with most wines available by the glass.

The Ming Dynasty lasted just short of 300 years. I don't know if Ming's restaurant can hold out that long, but the ingredients are there for long life: high-quality food, excellent service, lovely ambiance and dynamic leadership.


1700 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto


Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

Sun. 10:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

Reservations: yes

Website: www.mings.com

Credit cards: yes

Parking: adjacent

Alcohol: full bar

Highchairs: yes

Outdoor dining: no

Take out: yes

Delivery: yes

Noise level: moderate

Bathroom cleanliness: excellent


Posted by Gary Actor, a resident of another community
on Sep 11, 2007 at 9:09 pm

I was directed to the article on Ming's after Google-ing Ming's Beef!

My family and I would always eat the the old location when we were celebrating a special event. Ming's was a family favorite for our (my twin's and mine) birthdays as we would get a birthday cake from a French bakery on Santa Crus Avenue in Menlo Park and bring it with us to Mings where we enjoy Ming's Beef and finish off the evening with a piece of cake, sharing it with our waiters, who would join us in a chorus of "Happy Birthday"

I moved away in the 70's and can still taste the Ming's Beef! I live in Japan now and wonder if anyone has come up with a recipe that is close to the wonderful taste of Ming's Beef?

Thanks for letting me share this memory!

Gary Actor
PSC 485 Box 468
FPO, AP 96321

Posted by Rick and Patti Houston, a resident of another community
on Nov 22, 2007 at 7:09 pm

My husnband and I have wonderful memories of Mings. Not only did we have special family dinners at Mings while growing up, we had our our wedding rehearsal dinner there in 1980. We live in Colorado now and would love the recipe for Mings Beef.

Posted by eMbulgPfMUK, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 29, 2008 at 9:42 am


Posted by Betty Dunworth, a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 7, 2012 at 12:40 pm

With almost no fast food restaurants in our area when I was growing up, when my mother needed a break we got Ming's takeout. Not too many of the fried prawns made it home to the dinner table! For 2 generations my family has been enjoying Ming's wonderful food. Thank you!

P.S. I really "need" your Chinese Chicken Salad recipe. :-)