This Unassuming Downtown Gem Has Served Up Authentic Szechuan Cuisine Since the 1970s

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Yum Yum Chinese Restaurant sits between abandoned storefronts at 909 Race Street, looking as unassuming and empty as the vacant spaces surrounding it. While their hours are listed as 6-9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, they are regarded more as a suggestion rather than a rule; don’t expect to be served right away if you show up at 6 o’clock sharp. Unlike their hours, the cash-only payment is non-negotiable. Yum Yum serves spicy and flavorful Sichuan (or Szechuan) style Chinese food and can accommodate lesser-seasoned palates by giving diners the option to choose the spice level of their dish on a scale of 0-10.

After opening in 1975, the décor, staff and menus (with inflation-adjusted prices penciled in) have remained the same. The two-person staff is married couple Tom and Mei Li who immigrated from Taiwan to Cincinnati sometime in the 1960s. Tom singlehandedly runs the floor, taking orders, topping off water glasses, making helpful suggestions and bussing tables throughout the dinner service. Meanwhile, Mei stays behind the scenes, doling out cups of hot and sour soup as well as steamy piles of egg noodles for Tom to pick up and deliver to the dining room.

Food-wise, Yum Yum Mein, Sichuan Pepper Steak and Ding Dong Chicken are still crowd favorites, and the prix fixe dinners haven’t gone out of style just yet. Dessert is, as expected, a fortune cookie for each guest, and after-dinner coffee will run you 40 cents, if you can spare it.

Guests don’t come for quick service and Americanized Chinese food; they come for Mei’s cooking and Tom’s kind, attentive tableside manner. Together, The Li’s have remained relentlessly authentic for almost 45 years.

(Excerpted from a feature by Sami Stewart)

| Photos by Hailey Bollinger