Mexico City’s Chinatown, on Calle Dolores between Calles Independencia and Artículo 123, is all of one block long. I have eaten at several of the street’s restaurants, and the food was … edible. I practically grew up in New York’s Chinatown, so after moving here, missed Chinese food with great longing and nostalgia.
It took years, but I finally found an excellent Chinese restaurant in Mexico City. This is the signpost for Ka Won Seng. It is located at Calle Albino García #362, at the corner of Avenida Santa Anita in the Colonia Viaducto Piedad, not far from the Viaducto metro station.
Here, many of the customers are Chinese, who sit in groups of eight or ten at circular tables with Lazy Susans in the middle, gorging on a corresponding number of dishes. Among my favorites are the roast duck, the Singapore noodles, a spicy hot pot with tofu and eggplant, and the steamed pompano with ginger, scallions and soy sauce.
Unearthing this place is a story of blind luck. One afternoon I was in a taxi, stuck in traffic, and made conversation with the driver. He mentioned in passing that his sister had married a Chinese immigrant. I told him how much I loved Chinese food and how I hadn’t found a restaurant I liked in Mexico City. He suggested I go to Ka Won Seng – or at least I think he did, because he remembered neither the name nor the address of the place. He was only able to give me a vague idea of where it was located. I scoured the neighborhood on foot for an hour or two until I stumbled upon it.
In Mexico City -- as well as other parts of the country -- citizens are more accustomed to having what they think is Chinese food (chop suey and the like) in what are known as cafés de chinos (Chinese cafes). Some of these places date back to the 1920s, and were opened by Chinese who came to Mexico to build the railroads and stayed on. They tend to serve coffee, sweet rolls and enchiladas suizas as well as sloppy versions of ersatz Chinese cuisine. This sign, in the door of Ka Won Seng, warns all who would enter that there are no sweet rolls, coffee, or Mexican food available across its portals.