In the age of DoorDashing and Favoring in meals, getting your hands on great Chinese food has never been easier. But in order to get a spread from Houston’s oldest Chinese restaurant, and arguably one of the best in the city, you’ll need to head to China Garden downtown.
The family-owned restaurant dates back to 1969, when husband-and-wife team David and Marian Jue originally opened it as store called Chinese Food Products—a resource they thought would be useful for the growing East Asian community in Houston. After only a year, they transitioned the business into a full-service restaurant named China Garden.
David had some previous experience in hospitality after opening two Chinese restaurants in Bossier City, La., between 1956 and 1962, and the Beachcomber nightclub in Shreveport in 1964. The couple hoped to find success doing the same when they moved to Houston in 1968. China Garden originally opened just north of downtown, at 1119 Jackson Street, in a former paint store. It moved 10 years later to 1602 Leeland Street, where it currently stands today.
An early mention in the Houston Chronicle in 1971 announced China Garden as a new restaurant making its debut serving Chinese-American food for lunch and dinner, seven days a week. A follow-up story published in January 1974, ahead of the Chinese New Year, prominently featured a recipe for beef and broccoli, with an accompanying photo of David in chef’s garb slicing beef with a Chinese cleaver. The same story hinted at how the China Garden team took pride in creating dishes using quality ingredients, noting that the “exceptional beef and asparagus was only available during fresh asparagus season.”