A Dash of History: The Nankin Cafe Chow Mein

The Nankin Cafe was a downtown Minneapolis landmark for over 80 years. Founder Walter James opened the Chinese restaurant at 14 South Seventh Street in 1919. The restaurant's popularity soared — customers would come from all over the upper midwest to eat at the Nankin.


In the 1950s, the Nankin moved into a larger space across the street and then relocated to City Center in the 1980s. The 1990s were troublesome for the restaurant — a labor strike and a drug raid where 19 customers and staff were arrested damaged the Nankin’s reputation. Customers that once flocked to the best Chinese restaurant in the Midwest began avoiding the Nankin.

The restaurant was forced to close in 1999. This postcard shows what the first and second level dining rooms looked like in the mid-1920s. A copy of the Nankin's menu from 1926 can be found at the Hennepin County Library Special Collections page on Tumblr. Yum!

Did you know that the Nankin had its own orchestra in the 1920s? Listen to a recording from the restaurant here.


Nankin Chow Mein

1 lb. chow mein meat
1 large bunch celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
8 oz. fresh or canned sliced mushrooms, drained
1 cup water
1 cup cold water
3 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. sugar
1 beef bouillon cube
1 tsp brown sauce (or bead molasses)
1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 can chop suey vegetables, rinsed and drained
hot cooked rice and crisp Chinese noodles (for serving)

Brown meat. Add celery, onion, mushrooms; saute.

Add 1 cup water, cook covered 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.

In a separate cup, mix 1 cup cold water, cornstarch, soy sauce, sugar, bouillon cube. and brown sauce or bead molasses,
Stir, and add to meat and vegetable mixture. Cook uncovered, stirring until thickened.

Add water chestnuts and chop suey vegetables. Simmer about 20 minutes, uncovered.

Serve with rice and crisp Chinese noodles.