Wan-Q was a terrific Chinese restaurant located on Pico Boulevard, just east of Robertson, in the building that now houses another terrific Chinese restaurant called Fu’s Palace. Unlike Wan-Q, Fu’s Palace is not a dark place full of tropical decor and little streams and waterfalls that run through the room. I took some of my first dates to Wan-Q because it seemed to be that kind of place, but its main clientele was local Jewish families.
If you were Jewish in the sixties in Los Angeles, it seemed almost mandatory that your family have a favorite Chinese restaurant. In that area, loyalties were divided between Wan-Q and a place a few blocks east on Pico named Kowloon, which is also now long gone. There were other Chinese eateries along that stretch of Pico but somehow, even local newspaper reporters sensed the great Wan-Q/Kowloon rivalry and wrote of it. We were Wan-Q people but once, just to be fair-minded, we dined at Kowloon and confirmed our hunch that it was inferior.
The waiters at Wan-Q were great and they really did fit the Great Chinese Waiter Stereotype of all looking alike…but you could tell them apart by the loud Hawaiian-style shirts they wore. There was one who thought the funniest thing in the world was to ask, when a family ordered something with pork in it, “Are you Joosh?” That was how he pronounced “Jewish.”
Wan-Q was the first place I ever had Chinese Food and to this day, my concept of the right way to prepare certain dishes is rooted in how they were prepared there. As I said, I took dates there. One time, I took a lady named Karen to Wan-Q on our way down to the Music Center downtown to see Art Carney star in a production of Prisoner of Second Avenue. For some reason, we drastically over-ordered. Karen and I stuffed ourselves to capacity and there was still enough food on our table to feed a family of four. The waiter offered to box it all up but we decided it wouldn’t keep in the car ’til after the play. We were sitting there, feeling it was a shame to toss out all that grub when I noticed my parents walking in with my Aunt Dot.
They were seated on the other side of the restaurant and didn’t see us, which was fine with me. My folks and Aunt would thought it was “cute” to see me there with my date…and if you’re 18 and out on a date, the last thing you want is to be cute the way you’re cute to your parents. So we figured out how we could get out of Wan-Q without being spotted but before we left, I told the waiter, “Box all this food up and after we’re gone, give it to the people at that table and ask them to take it home for Mark.” When I got home that night, my mother laughed and said, “If you’re hungry, I could heat up some of your dinner for you!”
It was a sad day when Wan-Q went out of business, not only for my family and for the proprietors of the restaurant but also for whoever owned that building. It proceeded to house a veritable United Nations of different failed restaurants (Mexican, Polynesian, Jamaican, etc.) before finally, after a decade or so, reverting to its birthright as a Chinese eatery. I used to drive by and marvel at how each new tenant adapted some of the exterior decor of the previous resident. The odd roof that’s there now and the split telephone poles nailed to the sides of the building are, I believe, leftovers from when it was a Caribbean-themed eatery called the Sugar Shack. They didn’t make a lot of sense then, either.