While crowds and media massed in Old Town for the official unveiling of the resurrected Hung Far Low sign, the actual Hung Far Low restaurant was almost empty. The Cantonese-style Chinese restaurant resided in Old Town from 1928 all the way to 2005, when its owners moved out to the unofficial new Chinatown, 82nd Avenue.

The real Hung Far Low is a squat building surrounded by an asphalt parking lot. Its sign is inglorious, overshadowed by Canton Grill's racist neon wonder across the street. Canton is one of two Chinese restaurants I can see from Hung Far's door, along with two tiny Asian markets.

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Neil Chan, 28, the manager of Hung Far Low, greets me from behind the counter lined with a golden Buddha and hand-waving cat. He recommends the fried shrimp and I take his advice—I figure he should know what's good on the menu since his father was Hung Far's cook for about 20 years before he finally bought the place.

Neil Chan
  • Neil Chan
Chan says sales at Hung Far Low have held stable despite the recession and there's a crowd of regulars that still come in despite the move out east. "I don't consider Chinatown a real Chinatown right now," he says. "Everybody moved out." But Chan doesn't seem bitter at all about the urban renewed Old Town attracting crowds with the symbol of a Chinese landmark that's no longer there. Articles about the sign are taped to the wall and Chan says he hopes to make it down to the grand unveiling a little later. "I think it's awesome that they're putting it back up. It needs to be up there," he says.

Chan shouts something in Cantonese for his mom, who's waiting table. Though born and raised in Portland, he can still fluently speak the language of his parents. He credits the fluency to watching lots of Chinese movies and says he's going to make sure his new baby daughter grows up speaking Chinese, too.

While waiting for the shrimp, I dart across Division to one of the Asian markets, which has little English inside but a charming seafood mural on the outside. I buy a can of crab chips the size of my head for $2 and run back over in time to pick up my neatly-wrapped meal.