A longtime Chinese place on Michigan Avenue just south of the river is closing, and our friend the blogger Ken Zuckerberg (of FOF fame) tweeted this yesterday about it: “This closing isn’t getting much food media attention, but I for one will miss 65 Chinese on Michigan Ave.” Well, that’s a challenge we’ll take. We ate at 65 Chinese long ago when we worked in the area, but we can’t say we thought it was all that special, though not being horrible was a step up for Loop lunch Chinese. On the other hand, we probably haven’t eaten there since we became a Chowhound and learned something about real Chinese food, so what do we know? We asked Zuckerberg to sum up for us why the loss of 65 Chinese mattered in a downtown full of Panda Expresses and Chen Expresses and the like; his reply is below. (Two other locations, on south Canal and west Madison, will remain open.)
Ken Zuckerberg writes:
On a stretch of Michigan Avenue where so many storefronts have turned over in just a couple of years, 65 Chinese was noteworthy for its 22-year run alone. Cheap prices, a unique setting, and food that was better than it had to be also set the place apart.
While the many chains and other eateries in the area use flashy signs and slick interiors to lure customers, 65 was an utter dump, with fluorescent lights shining on worn out, wobbly chairs, ugly, chipped white-tiled floors and ceilings, and white walls 10-years overdue for a paint job. Smart patrons sacrificed decor for bargain, $6 lunches that were big enough that you could store leftovers in the office fridge for the next day.
65 was usually had rapid-enough customer turnover that ordering from the steam table often got you decent, fresh food. But a little known “secret” enabled customers in the know to get better stuff; at 65 you could name any off-menu dish, and if the kitchen had the ingredients on hand, they’d have it out fresh for you in less than 10 minutes. Having spent years in a now-closed Chinatown branch of the restaurant, the 65 staff knew how to make the things that Chinese customers wanted. Silky Mapo Tofu would come out silky and incredibly spicy. Fresh-cooked noodle dishes were always well-charred and had the “wok hay” that’s so elusive at touristy, downtown places.
When I stopped in for lunch today the owner told me that his other locations will remain open, and that an offer he received for the Michigan Ave building was just too lucrative to turn down in light of business that has slowed of late. I’ll miss it.