Food & Wine
Pekin Café and Lounge
Photograph by Blair Boehm
By Blair Boehm
Butte, MT is nestled just along the Continental Divide and may not be the first place one thinks of when wanting to dine on Chinese food. The Pekin Café and Lounge challenges this fallacy though with food as rich as its history. The café is just over 100 years old and serves a terrific cup of noodles with ample entrees and appetizers.
According to literature at the restaurant, the Pekin was started in 1909 as a gaming parlor and grocery store. Two years later it began to serve noodles and develop its own dishes in the Chinese American style. The family of the original operators still owns the establishment and the quality is top notch. This is according to the literature.
According to various sources in the Butte area however, the café was also a house of “ill repute” for a portion of time specializing in the many vices of a mining town situated in the West. This all adds to the experience though as one is ushered in and to their own enclosed booth for the duration of the meal. The salmon colored cubicles seat four and privacy is ensured through a light curtain that’s drawn during the meal.
The ambience adds to the fun as one is left to guess and share stories of what might have transpired in your own booth many decades ago! The guessing is further aided by the full bar with featured drinks and a modest beer selection. On my particular visit I was treated to BBQ pork with hot mustard and sesame seeds to go with my libations. The mustard stole the show for me as I continued to eat while my sinuses burned and burned.
The menu consists of many typical Chinese American dishes from chop suey to chow mein. All of the entrees can be served with rice or noodles and the portions are generous. I was told by my host that the only way to eat Pekin was with the noodles and if this is incorrect then the rice must be amazing!
The experience of dining at the Pekin is equally as great as the food. The servers race along the narrow corridor outside of one’s booth with what appear to be airplane carts. They are surprisingly attentive when one considers that they cannot see their customer or the table without drawing the curtain. We had our meal served family style and tried many dishes from Szechuan beef to ginger shrimp.
I would recommend the Pekin Café and Lounge for anyone visiting the Butte area. The magnificent food aside, it is another business steeped in history in a city that has more than their fair share.
Blair Boehm is a recent graduate of Iowa State University where he received a Masters degree in Public Administration and a bachelors degree in Political Science. He was born and raised in Ankeny, Iowa and has worked as (among other things) a bartender, legal intern and research/teaching assistant for Dr. Politics.