In contrast to just about every neighborhood in the greater Boston area, Chinatown has so far been virtually immune from the constant openings and closings that are hallmarks of other neighborhoods. Despite the fact both commercial and residential rent has skyrocketed over the past five years, little has changed in the restaurant culture. You won’t find a food hall or a tap room scene on Kneeland St, and that’s hopefully not going to change anytime soon. Most long-running favorites (and you know perfectly well that to name any names names is a capital offense) have remained standing for decades for a very good reason; they’re your favorites, you know exactly where they are, you know exactly what you’re going to order and you know perfectly well they won’t shutter unless the owners die or… well, let’s just not get into it.
Which is why you should be shedding a tear for the closing of New Dong Khanh.
“We would like to officially announce that after 32 years, we will be closing our doors. Our last day will be August 4th,” the restaurant shared during a recent Facebook post. “The rumors you have been hearing are true. It is bittersweet but we are very thankful knowing we have served generations after generations the wonderful food our parents started 32 years ago in a small tight cramp[ed] space and a kitchen that barely fit 3 people inside.”
While Chinatown has played host to a sizable Vietnamese community for decades, New Dong Khanh may very well lay claim to being the first Vietnamese restaurant in the neighborhood. Keeping in mind that Vietnamese immigrants and refugees didn’t start arriving in Boston until the late 1970s, it may be fair to say it was one of the first in the city altogether. Never mind the fact that you can still hear first-timers pronouncing ‘pho’ as ‘foe’ (and yes, I’ve also done it); in 1987, American palates still viewed orange beef as exotic.
But New Dong Khanh wasn’t, and isn’t, just pho. Not by a long shot. The banh cuon meat rolls. The chao tom. The pork chops served just about any style imaginable. Couldn’t pronounce it? You ordered it anyways. Because, as contrived, mawkish and tawdry as this may sound, you literally tasted the care, affection and devotion that Tam Luu put into every single dish—even if you haven’t eaten there in over four years. And while you might feel that way about your own preferred Chinatown haunts, but that devotion was as palpable and unmistakable a presence as the smell of lemongrass; or realizing you only have twenty minutes until they close.
“The business expanded over the decades, but the love behind the food never changed, the post continued. “All the wonderful food our customers enjoyed are all created by one woman; our mom, the heart and soul of the restaurant. Many of you recognize this small but big in stature woman who walks around with her loud voice, but sharing her gracious smile and the stories behind the food she so love seeing her customers enjoy. It was a hard decision, but it was the right time.”
But is it really so hard to say goodbye to yesterday?
“Lastly, I want to share that this is not the end, but just the beginning. We will be back soon. Follow us on Facebook or Instagram @NewDongKhanh. We hope you will continue to support us. See you for now.”
We hope so, New Dong Khanh. We truly do.
New Dong Khanh is located at 83 Harrison Ave in Boston and is open daily from 9:00 am - 10:30 pm. For more information, visit newdongkhanh.com