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Number One Chinese Restaurant

3.06  ·  Rating details ·  3,384 ratings  ·  663 reviews
The popular Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland has been serving devoted regulars for decades, but behind the staff's professional smiles simmer tensions, heartaches and grudges from decades of bustling restaurant life.

Owner Jimmy Han has ambitions for a new high-end fusion place, hoping to eclipse his late father's homely establishment. Jimmy's older brother, Johnny
Hardcover, 290 pages
Published June 19th 2018 by Henry Holt and Co.
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3.06  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,384 ratings  ·  663 reviews

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Larry H
May 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Growing up in the New Jersey suburbs in the mid-1980s, my family ate dinner out nearly every Sunday evening, and more often than not, we ate Chinese food, as did many other families in my town. (I used to joke that there were classmates I saw more regularly at the Chinese restaurant than I did in high school!)

While there were several different Chinese restaurants in our area, and everyone had a favorite, we frequently ate at one particular restaurant, whose owners my parents had known for a num
Everything about Number One Chinese Restaurant is just aggressively mediocre. I say 'aggressively' because you're confronted with this mediocrity on practically every page; the prose is simultaneously lifeless and overwritten, the characters are poorly drawn caricatures, the plot meanders, and this book just never manages to hit any of the emotional beats that it strives for. It's basically an emotionally hollow melodrama.

Not to fully absolve Lillian Li of all of these issues, but I do believe t
Mar 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: china, 2019-read
Nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2019
Many immigrants become entrepreneurs or workers in the service industry, and this book contemplates what this version of the "American Dream" can mean: Li's debut centers on the brothers Jimmy and Johnny, the sons of Chinese immigrants, who, after the death of their father, inherit his Chinese restaurant and have very different ideas regarding the future of their business. The decisions they take do not only have consequences for themselves, but al
Tori (InToriLex)
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it

Actual Rating 3.5
Content Warning: Cancer, Alcoholism, Mental Illness, Organized Crime
A refreshing view into the lives of people through their association with The Beijing Duck House and the people who run it. The book switches between three main point of views, Jimmy Han the owner of The Beijing Duck House, Nan the manager of the restaurant and Ah-Jack an aging waiter who is struggling to support his sick wife. The author does a great job of creating realistic characters that aren't clearly
Kevin Hu
I received this book from NetGalley and was excited to dive into a fiction that dealt with themes surrounding the Chinese restaurant life. I personally grew up as a product of this very niche subculture. I think that Li does some things well here. She illuminates the generational barrier that disallows a conventionally intimate relationship between 1st gen parents, who toil endlessly to pave the way for their progeny, and the 2nd gen children who yearns for the existence of some kind of a relati ...more
This is the first time while reading the longlist of this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction that I am baffled by the inclusion of a book. While I have been struggling with many of the books, I could always see how the books would work for a different reader and see the purposeful way in which the books were structured and narrated. I did enjoy reading this book but I also found it distinctly average (my friend Rachel called it “aggressively mediocre” in her wonderful review, a phrase so perfect a ...more
Jessica Woodbury
Jun 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: authors-of-color
I didn't know much about this book before I started, but the little I knew ended up giving me a totally wrong impression. Yes, there's a lot in this book about family, the family you make, and the complicated lives of immigrants. But to me this is a book about dysfunctional families and insurance fraud, not quite what I expected.

I connected with Li's writing right away, I liked her style and her voice. What I liked most about the novel was the descriptions, the moments, the backstories, all the
I wanted this to be so much more than it was. I was very excited about it. And then I was let down spectacularly.
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
This novel is a feast to me in many respects. First, it is full of psychological dramas in multiple main characters, not only about the conflicts in their minds as they act, but also including sketches of the psychological development in their lives. These owners and workers of the Chinese restaurant confess and tell their life stories, in addition to the restaurant scene as seen from a narrator. As a bonus a work scene of cooks of a non-Chinese restaurant is also depicted briefly but vividly. T ...more
☆Dani☆ ☆Touch My Spine Book Reviews☆
I liked this book but don't think this would be a story that I would read again. I like the cover and I like the characters but don't like how none of the characters really understand each other.and I feel there is too much going on at once. I worked at a Chinese Restaurant for years and I still felt that it was lacking something. The book was likable enough and I do feel that some will enjoy this very much so they could learn how things work in different cultures and the different communication ...more
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
It took me such a long time to finish this book! There was nothing terribly wrong with it, but it was not memorable. My biggest issue is that there are too many characters in the book and most of them were underdeveloped so that they came across as caricature or stereotypes. The story mainly centers around a family that owns a Chinese restaurant that succumbs to fire. Unfortunately, the authors tries a little too hard to jazz it up instead of dealing with the intricate family dynamics more deftl ...more
Kasa Cotugno
Although restaurants provide centerpieces of the novel, there are other invitations for potential life changing confrontations framed by the food, and the way in which that food is prepared and offered gives scenes immediacy as well as normalization of what could be explosive situations. This is true of almost every culture. Discordant exchanges are either enhanced or softened by the sharing of a meal, and Lillian Li slyly incorporates such practices throughout this deceptively light toned novel ...more
David Yoon
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
You've got Jimmy Han, resenting the small and windowless Chinese restaurant his father once ran.
Jimmy's partnered with a hustling real estate agent to sell his mother's home and open a fancier fusion joint downtown. But his mother thinks otherwise and his not-quite-Uncle Pang is making moves of his own that involve the son of one of Jimmy's long standing waitresses of 30 years who is trying to unravel the nature of her relationship with her aged, and also married, co-worker whose wife is struggl
Mar 19, 2019 rated it liked it


The narrative revolves around the Han family and friends, and the relationships that exist all under the roof of the family restaurant. The restaurant almost seems to take on a life of its own. A universe where all the characters dwell and face their personal problems. The problem for me, however, was that I never developed a connection with any of the myriad of characters that present themselves. Apart from one character, who only makes intermit
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
if you've read "tiger mom", "everything i never told you", and "crazy rich asians", THIS is the next book you HAVE to read

Love how you see asian immigrants vs. their children born in america (both contained in the umbrella term "asian american" despite being so different)

Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
Thank you NetGalley for a digital advanced copy. Sadly, I did not like this book at all. I had considered DNF at 25 percent in but persisted. There was nothing about the main family to like at all. I don’t mind flawed characters, but I need to also like the characters and I did not. There were two secondary characters Nan and Jack, and Nan’s son that I had some empathy for their story. But all these characters were just sad and some of them mean. And there didn’t seem to be any resolution for mo ...more
3.5 Stars

It’s taken me a while to write this review because although I thought the book was well written and perceptive, it was also painful to read.

Characters struggle with addiction, toxic family members, ungrateful children and unrequited love. It’s hard to get through so many misunderstandings, unspoken emotions, and unfulfilled dreams.

The strong point with this one is it’s well drawn characters and their true to life emotional reactions.

Although I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I would
Chris W
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
interesting analysis of the many roles of food and sharing meals together
pushes the concept of what constitutes a "family" - definitely not your stereotypical or boring "love you no matter what" kind of family you see so often in american literature
enjoyed seeing the dramatic business side of the industry, not just the food, as well

fantastic read! consumed it in one sitting; couldn't stop myself
Feb 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, family, netgalley
Agitated. That’s how I felt reading Number One Chinese Restaurant. I felt agitated and unsettled throughout the entire book. The characters agitated me on almost every page, as they argued with and annoyed each other on a constant basis.

This is the story of a Chinese family, the Hans, and the restaurant dynasty they’ve struggled to maintain for several decades. Alongside the Hans are their employees, friends, and business acquaintances, some of whom they’ve known since childhood.

Jimmy Han, the
Sherwood Smith
Bobby Han’s The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, has a dwindling core of dedicated customers. It was once a place where presidents and celebrities dined, but Bobby's death left the restaurant caught between his two sons, Johnny the manager, and ambitious Jimmy.

Jimmy wants to open an upscale Asian fusion restaurant where he'd never again have to serve those repulsive old Chinese dishes. But to make the dream come true, he has to look outside the law to a family connection “fixer”—withou
Gumble's Yard
Apr 22, 2019 rated it liked it
I read this book due to its shortlisting for the 2019 Women’s Prize – and its one which I feel fits into the Women’s Prize tradition of having Book Club friendly books on the longlist as a way to draw in those same readers to the more experimental books which often go on to form the shortlist, and sometimes the winners.

This is a character driven novel, exploring the lives of a small group of characters associated with a fictional Maryland based restaurant “The Beijing Duck House”. The restauran
Jaclyn Crupi
I’m feeling slightly too underwhelmed to write a review of this sadly. It wasn’t for me and I found myself feeling bored which I never feel with fiction and I’m not sure where this went so wrong for me.
May 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Thanks to Henry Holt & Company and NetGalley for this advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review. Its general description is amply available on GoodReads, on Amazon and elsewhere.

I truly enjoyed this book. Initially, I had some reservations that it would be another immigrant tale populated by immigrants fumbling along to achieve “the” American dream. Instead, it’s about dreams and hopes and how they change you by having them.

The story quickly drew me into the lives of a Chinese r
Janelle • She Reads with Cats
Many thanks to Henry Holt for providing my free copy of NUMBER ONE CHINESE RESTAURANT by Lillian Li - all opinions are my own.

I’m not going to lie...the cover totally got me on this one. And oh my goodness, THE FOOD. I immediately ate tons of Chinese food after finishing this book. Set in Rockville, Maryland in the Washington DC area, the Beijing Duck House was made famous by Jimmy’s late father, Bobby Han, but Jimmy hasn’t been too interested in running the restaurant as he has own ambitions -
Jul 07, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.

This book read like a Chinese serial. All the drama and soap opera-esque antics set within a Chinese family restaurant in the US, complete with a Godfather-like peripheral figure no one likes but everyone fears. Amidst all this is a more nuanced depiction of what it means to be a family, a dynasty, to be immigrants, and the stories we tell the world about ourselves. I liked how it showed the different ways one can be Chinese American/American Chinese across the generations. I tend to e
Fey Fan
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
beautiful moments of poetry so well inserted into each chapter I found myself re-reading entire paragraphs over and over just to make sure I fully-appreciated the full effect of Lillian Li's words; no idea how she manages to be so subtle yet so powerful, but she does it well

the multi-faceted storyline also has plenty to be enjoyed for the more casual readers as well!
Dec 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Delightful book. Characters that make you want to read the next page. So much going on, but exactly how you'd like to spend an afternoon reading.

Thank you to Henry, Holt and Company, NetGalley and author for the chance to read this book. While I got the book for free, it had no bearing on the rating I gave it.
Kate ☀️ Olson
I was given an opportunity to read an early copy of this title with the agreement that I would hold my full review until publication date. With that being said, I highly recommend this to the following types of readers:

1) Fans of family/domestic fiction
2) Fans of foodie fiction
3) Fans of books about the immigrant experience in America
4) Readers looking to expand their cultural experiences
Meonicorn (The Bookish Land)
A book with more than 10 characters but none was likable...
Lorrea - WhatChaReadin'?
2.5 stars
The Han's own The Duck House restaurant in Rockville, Maryland. The Duck House is a Chinese restaurant that has been a staple in the community for decades. Most of the employees have worked there since the beginning. Jimmy Han is not happy running his father's restaurant, though. He's ready to step out on his own, so when a fire destroys The Duck House, he sees his as a perfect opportunity to go through with his plan. But, will the cause of the fire, prevent Jimmy from doing what he wan
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Lillian Li is a graduate from the University of Michigan's Helen Zell Writers' Program, where she received her MFA in fiction. Her first novel is forthcoming from Henry Holt (Macmillan) in 2018. Her work has appeared in Granta, Guernica, Glimmer Train, and Jezebel. She writes for the Michigan Quarterly Review. Currently, she lives in Ann Arbor, teaching at the University of Michigan, and slinging ...more
“They were all friends, if one defined friendship as the natural occurrence between people who, after colliding for decades, have finally eroded enough to fit together.” 1 likes
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