Hong Kong Inn
435 E. Thompson Blvd.
Hong Kong Inn lives in a special place in my heart. There it was that I, along with several of my scorpion bowl-saturated friends, took the stage with hula dancers, donned grass skirts and thoroughly embarrassed ourselves while having a grand ol’ time over plates of General Tso’s and fried rice.
I never have to be convinced to visit Hong Kong Inn because I know two things: the food will be good and the fun will abound. My latest visit proved these things to be true after all of these years.
Hong Kong Inn is one of the last remaining iconic landmarks of downtown Ventura, off Thompson Boulevard. The straight-out-of-the-1960s billboard is the only real visible piece of the property from California Street, and you have to walk down a small alley to enter. Upon stepping through the doors, the world goes dark and a distinct luau-meets-lounge vibe hits you hard.
There’s a dance(?) floor, a small stage and a bar with a distinctly Tiki vibe. The seating is spread out and the seats are somewhat worn. The feel is funky, unique and very welcoming. This is the type of restaurant that has been slowly disappearing since the late 1990s, and it remains one of just a few of its kind remaining in the county.
On to the food. As a single musician began setting up a keyboard in the corner of the room, we placed our orders. Vegetable egg rolls (two to an order, $2.95). Hong Kong Inn offers all of the familiar favorites: There are crispy walnut shrimp ($14.95), various sizzling plates and moo shu items. Of course, there’s the sweet and sour pork ($9.95) and General Tso’s chicken ($11.50). Side note, check out The documentary In Search for General Tso on Netflix for a history lesson.
In the mood for veggies, however, we ordered the kung pao tofu ($8.95) and spicy eggplant with tofu ($8.95) as well as the vegetable fried rice ($8.95).
Our musical entertainment for the evening began playing for one couple sitting in the middle of the room. It was late afternoon on a Sunday, the crowd was sparse, but our musical talent found a way to include one customer’s wife in the Frank Sinatra ballad “Nancy (With the Laughing Face).”
This called for a few drinks. My partner ordered a scorpion, a classic Polynesian cocktail with which I am all too familiar that can be ordered for one ($8.95) or for two ($15). Four liquors are mixed with fruit and pineapple juice and it comes bright blue. I chose safely with a Tsingtao beer.
Our dishes arrived promptly following delivery of our egg rolls. I’m reminded of the year 1997 when I crunch into my first roll, crisp on the outside and soft in the middle with cooked veggies, watching movies with my family over Chinese takeout. This is a taste that hasn’t changed and is comforting in its own way, served with sweet and sour sauce.
The Kung Pao tofu and spicy eggplant with tofu could have used a lot more adherence to its namesake in that the spiciness was rather nonexistent, which is a shame considering that everything was otherwise very well done. The eggplant, soft and not at all spongy, soaked up the flavorful sauce, while the tofu in both dishes was fried to golden crispness, pairing well with the broccoli, water chestnut and peanuts in the kung pao sauce.
We opted for the fried rice in lieu of the white rice and were pleased to have done so. The rice was the star of the show, able to coincide with either main dish, soaking up the sauce before finding its way onto our spoons and into our hungry mouths.
Our entertainment had spent the previous 10 minutes singing to Nancy with the laughing face. Her husband, perhaps a little intimidated by the mating call of the solo artist, wrapped his arm around her shoulders. A young couple at the bar watched on, giggling, and my partner finished her second scorpion as I swirled the remnants of my beer.
Hong Kong Inn is the place to go to recapture a sense of uncaring whimsy. Oddly enough, nostalgia is ripe while seated at the familiar tables over a plate of crispy eggrolls and fried rice. You won’t find another place like it in Ventura.