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Kowloon Restaurant in Saugus - Over Sixty Years and Going Strong!

Long, long ago - not before dinosaurs roamed the earth, mind you, but a full decade before I was born! - there was a restaurant called the Mandarin House which opened on August 22, 1950 on the Newburyport Turnpike in Saugus, Massachusetts. The Mandarin House was located in a converted ice cream parlor with a dining room that could hold 40 to 50 customers who dined off a menu which featured a few dozen Chinese and American dishes.

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In 1958 - the same year that I came into the world - the Mandarin House was bought by Madeline and Bill Wong - the second generation of the family to own the business who changed the name to Kowloon Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge and began to grow the business in ways that their parents - the first generation owners - probably never could have imagined!

Over the next 50+ years, the family added five additions to the original building increasing the capacity of diners from 50 to 1,200 customers and turning the structure into something that makes you say "Wow!" when you see it as you're driving on Route One. The current Kowloon Restaurant is pagoda-shaped, huge, and the front entrance is guarded by a 15-foot Tiki carving. Why it and the parking lot are so big, I couldn't even begin to get it all in the picture so I gave up trying!

Exterior of Kowloon in Saugus, MA

After walking through the front entrance, there are quite a few choices of where in the restaurant one might wish to dine or you can just walk in rather confused at the enormity of it all and you'll be led to a table!

Main Entrance

 There's the Tiki Lagoon which contains an actual lagoon!

The Tiki Lagoon

The Volcano Bay Room is composed entirely of half of a schooner complete with sails and rigging!  

Boat Rigging in the Volcano Bay Room

Additionally there is the Mandarin Room, the Thai Grille which contains an open kitchen where diners can watch the chefs create delicious Thai specialties, the 50 to 500-seat Luau Room which is available for special events and also serves as the restaurant's comedy lounge, and the Hong Kong Lounge where patrons can enjoy Polynesian-inspired drinks while watching special events on the big screen TV. 

Table Setting

In addition to the building itself, the menu has grown from a 50/50 mix of Chinese and American dishes to nearly 300 items including Polynesian, Cantonese, Szechuan, Thai, Japanese, and sushi which are prepared in four separate kitchens each specializing in their respective cuisines. Kowloon's head chef, Amorn, is credited with being the first chef to introduce Thai Cuisine in the Boston area and has been the recipient of many "Best of Boston" awards over the years. (If you'd like to try making Chef Amorn's Pad Thai, you can find the recipe on Kowloon's website under the Recipes/Reviews tab and then scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the page for the link.)

On my recent visit to Kowloon with two of my cousins, after looking through the extensive menu (which I neglected to get a photo of - der!) we decided to order a Peninsula Pu Pu Platter that came with Beef Teriyaki, Egg Roll, Spare Ribs, Chicken Wings, Fried Shrimp, Pork Strips and Crispy Wontons ($25.60) along with a side of Roast Pork Fried Rice ($7.95) and Fried Chicken Fingers ($8.95)

Peninsula Pu Pu Platter
Crab Rangoons and Chicken Fingers
Pork Fried Rice

As tempted as I was to order one of their delicious-sounding Polynesian drinks that came in a glass that you could keep or a hand-carved coconut monkey mug, I was the driver for the day so it didn't seem quite right to be sipping on a Coconut Mist or Mai Thai or something similar no matter how kitschy and cool the mug might be! Instead I went with a Diet Pepsi and water.  Sigh ...

A rather full plate!

As for the food, it was - in my humble opinion - a'ight but nothing to get too excited about.  The Spare Ribs were good and meaty, the Pork Fried Rice was quite tasty, and the rest of it was pretty much your basic Pu Pu Platter - fun while the flame is burning and then just food after that.  Not that there's anything wrong with that - a Pu Pu Platter is something that you rely on to be the same regardless of where you order it, right? That said, there was most definitely lots of it and even with three of us eating (and none of us ever being accused of being light eaters!), we took home two big take-out boxes of leftovers (which were quite tasty the next day!)

I give high marks to our server who was very prompt in taking our order and bringing it out and he even offered to refill our water glasses though not our soda which I find a bit disconcerting as at $1.95 a glass it's always nice to get at least one refill on something that you know the restaurant is making money off of hand-over-fist. Again, just my humble opinion but an important one!

In spite of the lack of soda refills though, the Wong Family is obviously doing something right serving over 20,000 people a week more than 1,000 Pu Pu Platters, 2,500 orders of fried rice and 750 orders of chicken fingers - not to mention everything else!  The popular North Shore restaurant was voted "New England's Best” Chinese restaurant by WHDH-TV and also achieved the status of "gourmet greatness" by the Phantom Gourmet. In November of 2001, William and Madeline Wong were inducted into the Hospitality Hall of Fame by the Massachusetts Restaurant Association and now the third generation of the family continues to strive to make Kowloon one of the premiere multi-concept dining establishments in the United States.

Exterior Shot at Night

Should you find yourself north of Boston and want to visit one of the country's largest Tiki restaurants yourself, Kowloon is located at 978 Broadway (Route One North) in Saugus and is open seven days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. They accept cash, Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express but don't take checks so plan accordingly.  If you want to keep on top of things, you can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter - something else I bet the first generation Wongs never thought of when they opened the Mandarin House all those years ago!

As for me, should I ever stop in at Kowloon again - which is a good possibility as I seem to like that part of the country  - I think I'd like to skip the fried appetizers and be a bit more adventurous and perhaps try something different - not to mention have someone else do the driving so I can order a drink and take home the mug! After all, man does not live on Chicken Fingers alone!

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