According to the U.S. Census, Chinese communities accounted for nearly 10 percent of the then-territory of Montana’s population in 1870. Those figures have since dwindled, but a brick building in the town of Butte’s shrunken Chinatown neighborhood hides a landmark of the nation’s Asian immigration history.
Pekin Noodle Parlor, the oldest continuously-operating Chinese restaurant in the United States, is unassuming, its flickering neon sign above the door a feeble indicator of its cultural significance. A narrow flight of stairs leads up to the vintage interiors of the Parlor, whose distinctive orange booths (with matching orange curtains) are individual cubicles offering a truly intimate meal. When the food arrives, it is rolled into the booths in trolleys.
An active Chinatown bustled in Butte in the late 19th century, with Chinese immigrants pouring in, many of them lured by the promise of the Gold Rush. In 1911, Hum Yow and Tam Kwong Yee opened the Pekin Noodle Parlor to feed this growing community. The Tam family has owned and operated the Parlor ever since. It’s currently run by Danny Wong (whose Chinese name is Ding Kuen Tam), who bought it from his great-uncle in the 1950s.
The Pekin Noodle Parlor serves Chinese-American staples such as chop suey, but also standard American sandwiches and steak. The Pekin building itself also has a colorful history. In its early years, its ground floor was a gambling hall and then an herbal medicine dispensary. Sensationalist local lore adds brothel to the mix, but some say that rumor stems from people simply misinterpreting the purpose of the restaurant’s private, curtained booths.
Know Before You Go
The restaurant is closed on Monday and Tuesday. It's open from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, and open from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.