FARGO — If you do a Google search for "Chinese restaurants in Fargo-Moorhead," you'll get 25 results. When you search "Asian restaurants in Fargo-Moorhead," you'll get approximately 38.
Fifty years ago, that number would have been exactly zero. That changed in 1970, when a Chinese immigrant named Phil Wong almost single-handedly launched the community's Asian food scene. It was 15 years ago this week that Phil Wong Chinese Food, 623 NP Ave., Fargo, closed its doors.
"Too many Chinese places to go to now, I guess," then-owner Robin Wendt told a Forum reporter on May 7, 2004. "We used to be about the only one."
According to his son, Tom Wong, Phil Wong came to the United States in 1929, eventually settling in Fargo where he found others from his home area of Canton, China.
"My father loved the people here," Tom Wong told The Forum. "My mother (Jean Wong) loved the people here, too. She just didn't love the winters."
After graduating from Fargo Central High School, Phil Wong served in the U.S. Army as a mess sergeant, serving troops for the Battle of the Bulge and the D-Day invasion. When the war ended, he came back to Fargo to work in the restaurant business. He opened two restaurants, The Whip and The Pheasant Cafe, both on Veterans Day in 1947 and 1949, respectively. Tom says it was mostly American food with a few Chinese dishes thrown in.
But by 1970, again on Veterans Day, Phil Wong opened his namesake Chinese restaurant in downtown Fargo. It became an immediate hit. Lines were often long, despite a seating capacity of 275 people in three rooms.
Tom Wong took over the business in 1975 after his mother and father retired to San Francisco. Another son, artist Paul Wong, was responsible for the carvings and ink drawings that adorned the walls of the restaurant.
As Fargo grew and the love of Asian cuisine spread, more than a half-dozen Chinese restaurants opened, many of them started by former Phil Wong's employees. Competition got tougher and the decision was made to close.
Tom Wong eventually started cooking at Nine Dragons and other restaurants in Fargo. Phil Wong died in 1991 in San Francisco and Jean Wong died in 2013.
The building that once housed Phil Wong's has traded hands several times since 2004, but it's now home to PhoD'licious, a Vietnamese restaurant scheduled to open to the general public on Saturday, May 11.