Kowloon in Saugus, Massachusetts, is both a restaurant and roadside attraction. Its giant A-frame, pagodas and Ku tiki entice hungry motorists from route 1 north of Boston, and its fellow conspicuous neighbors include the Leaning Tower of Pizza and the huge neon cactus sign of the Hilltop Steak House.
The Wong family started Kowloon as a small Chinese restaurant in the 1950s, and later expanded it into this behemoth that seats up to 1,200 people (twice as many as Bob Chinn’s Crab House). Patriarch William Wong was inspired to give it a Polynesian-esque feel after traveling to Hawaii during the mid-century craze for the South Seas.
The restaurant is divided up into various themed rooms, like the Thai Grille with a beachscape mural and the Tiki Lagoon with thatched huts against the walls and a not-very-tiki-looking statue looking over the central fountain.
There seemed to be a different hostess for each dining room, and they can be quite assertive about seating, so you might want to already have an idea where you want to eat. I insisted upon the Volcano Bay Room. I loved the lifeboats hanging overhead, ship’s rigging, nautical lanterns, and especially the illusion of the erupting volcano.
The drinks aren’t of the highest caliber compared to some of the best tiki bars, but I award bonus points for customized glassware. They had several cocktails “for two” that arrive in a souvenir glass and I chose the Mai Tai ($16.95). It should go without saying that this isn’t a purist recipe.
Kowloon has a very extensive menu offering Cantonese, Szechuan and Thai food, plus sushi. Each cuisine is prepared in its own kitchen. One of their signatures is the Saugus Wings ($8.75), which are covered in a sweet, garlicky sauce that’s pretty addictive. For appetizers we also ordered the boneless pork spareribs ($8.50) and crab rangoon ($6.25), but these were the favorite.
The Flaming Ambrosia ($14.95) is another famous dish. This retro-style delicacy consists of half of a pineapple filled with sweet and sour chicken (or shrimp) and set on fire!
We rounded out our feast with still more sweet and sour chicken ($9.50, which we would have skipped if I’d realized it was basically the same as the Flaming Ambrosia), General Gau chicken ($11.75, fried chicken with spicy ginger sauce), pork lo mein ($8.75), and beef fried rice ($7.75).
We also ordered the kung pao chicken ($10.95) and beef and mushroom chow yoke ($12.25); the latter I would definitely get again. The portions were quite large and between seven (and a half) of us we still had leftovers for days, though there wasn’t any General Gau chicken left so that must have been pretty decent too.
A display case near the entrance had a bunch of souvenir mugs for sale, both generic ones and signature mugs produced by Tiki Farm. I picked up these first two here — the fogcutter and the mug recreating the tiki found on their vintage mugs. The stock was running pretty low though at the time, so I hope they’ve gotten some more.
Tiki spots are few and far between in Massachusetts — even more so now with the recent closing of Pago-Pago in Milford — and this is one of the best and most beloved. Nowadays, you can get a carefully made tiki-inspired drink at bars like Drink in Boston, but I think you have to give old-school places like the Kowloon their due.
Saugus, MA 01906