Ping’s got its start with the traditional Chinese meals Amy Tran’s family prepared for a Minnesotan friend nearly 30 years ago.
“He offered us dinner, but he didn’t know how to make Chinese food,” Tran said. “But he loved us to come to his house (and) have a nice dinner.”
The meals they made included some of the tastiest examples of Cantonese cooking, including shrimp lo mein, pot stickers, fried rice, egg rolls and — the high point of the meal — Peking duck. It impressed Tran’s Minnesotan friend enough that he proposed to purchase a location on Nicollet Avenue, fund the start-up restaurant and let Tran’s family run it.
The ownership of the restaurant has changed over time, but for 25 years it’s been the Tran family running the show. Tran’s brother-in-law purchased the restaurant several years after it opened, and she and her husband, Bruce, purchased the restaurant from him just over a decade ago.
“[Bruce] takes care of the quality in the kitchen,” Amy Tran said. “I take care of the customers out here.”
Sauces are a key element in many of Ping’s dishes, and those recipes are guarded secrets. Tran’s husband is the only one in the Ping’s kitchen who makes the sauces, and never in front of the other cooks, she said.
One of the restaurant’s defining characteristics is its pink décor, a decorating scheme that begins at the landmark pink awning and is carried through to the pink napkins and pink menus. Tran she said she liked the way Ping’s and pink sounded similar. Asked how they kept a restaurant going for a quarter-century, Tran said there was only one thing more important than good food.
“The first thing is customer service,” she said. “We try to keep customers happy and make sure they walk out of here with a smile.”
Cuisine: Szechuan-, Cantonese-, Mandarin- and Hunan-style Chinese
Price range: Appetizers $5.25–$15.95; entrees $8.95–$35.95; lunch buffet (11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. Mon–Fri) $7.75
Hours: 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Monday–Thursday, 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Friday, 12 p.m.–11 p.m. Saturday, 12 p.m.–9 p.m. Sunday
Address: 1401 Nicollet Ave. S.
Ping’s landmark pink awning is the only clue an unfamiliar diner needs to guess the restaurant’s specialty.
Ping’s duck logo was chosen because house-made Peking duck for two is the star dish on the menu.
“[At] most restaurants you order the duck … 24 hours ahead,” owner Amy Tran said. “For us, you walk in, you want to order Peking duck, we have it.”
After roasting, the duck is boned and its meat shredded before it’s brought to the table. Ping’s kitchen crew arranges the meat on a large platter and covers it with the crispy duck skin.
Peking duck is traditionally eaten with a side of small pancakes.
“You wrap it up like a Chinese burrito with the onion, with the hoisin sauce, and then it comes with Ping’s fried rice on the side,” Tran said.
What does Eat Street mean to you?
Amy Tran said Ping’s location on Eat Street did little to benefit her business, which includes a core of loyal local customers as well as a lot of traffic from Downtown.
“Before [Eat Street] there was nobody down that way,” Tran said, referring to the restaurants further south on Nicollet. “Business was much better than now. Now, like 20 years later, there’s so much competition.”