“Then they had a Chinese restaurant that was called Ken Ying Low Chop Suey and everybody went there. That was a treat. Once in a while we’d save up money and say, ‘Let’s go to the Chinese restaurant.’…We’d get a dollar’s worth of food. We’d get char-siu [barbeque pork], get some other things, and rice…” remembers Yosh Unchida, the founder of SJSU judo, who arrived to attend San Jose State in 1940s.
Yosh Uchida, interviewed by Jim Nagareda, Curt Fukuda and Ward Shimizu, May 9, 2006.
The original Ken Ying Low in Heinlenville Chinatown, established in 1887.View of Cleveland Avenue looking north, circa 1910. Buildings from left to right are Sing Chong store, Ken Ying Low Restaurant (the two-story structure with balcony), Kwong Sang Wo meat market, and Ng Shing Gung.
Courtesy of California History Center, De Anza College.
Our restaurant’s historic building dates back to the 1890s when it was a Chinese district association headquarters. It may have started as a single-story building but grew to a two-story building by the time the 1901 Sanborn Map was created. What is known about the building is that it was originally constructed with horizontal board siding that had a V groove between the face of the boards (shiplap), and that this was also the siding used on the front of the building. In 1908 it was used as a Japanese boarding house. Ken Ying Low Restaurant, originally in Heinlenville Chinatown, moved to this site in 1915 and it became the most popular restaurant in Japantown.
This photograph shows the second floor and balcony with original materials and design. It appears to be the oldest photograph that is clear in identifying the building materials and composition.
Historical accounts describe a change in 1915, when a cantilevered balcony was added. A typical style in the Chinese community of Heinlenville which was across N. 6th Street, the balcony is of historic and architectural importance because it was designed and constructed by the Nishiura Brothers. The brothers were trained in Nara, Japan and emigrated to Hawaii and then San Jose where their skill in design and extraordinary craftsmanship in building primarily wood buildings was greatly appreciated in the growing Japanese community. Before constructing the balcony for the Ng family, the Nishiura Brothers had already constructed the Kuwabura Hospital and many homes in the area. At the time they constructed the balcony, which has been reported to replicate one on Mr. Ng’s former restaurant in Heinlenville, the Nishiuras were well known as superior craftsman and builders.This and other additions, such as the barrel-vaulted roof that was popular among the Chinese in San Francisco, added to the character of the building.
As per the authors of San Jose Japantown: A Journey book, Curt Fukuda and Ralph Pearce, Ken Ying Low was the place to go for large celebrations and Chinese banquets. The cooks were legendary in their skills, famous for making fabulous noodles on site, often while neighborhood children watched in awe.
After Ken Ying Low closed its doors in 1974, the building housed a Filipino restaurant for few years.
Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Donegan
In 1977, it became the International Restaurantand later was renamed to Cuban International Restaurant, specializing in Cuban, Brazilian, Puerto Rican, and Mexican dishes. – C. Mid-1980s.
Cuban International Restaurant in 1980s-1990s.
Courtesy of Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group.
View: Prior to the removal of the west wall; showing layers of additions and hap hazard alterations and the structurally deficient cribbing wall.
During the repair work the contractor found severe deterioration and hap-hazard substandard construction to the extent that it the rear portion of the building was demolished while retaining and protecting the front façade. It took new owners over three years to complete restoration. In August of 2016 it reopened as Wenzhou Fish, Noodles & More, a Chinese style restaurant, thus returning the historic use.
Restored KYL building, now Wenzhou Fish, Noodles & More restaurant.