For more than two decades, Ruby Chinese was a favorite in Oxford for its authentic Chinese food and friendly owners.
Written and Researched by Leslie Criss and Jennie Lee | Photographs courtesy of the Chien Family
“Growing up owning and operating a Chinese restaurant as a family required a lot of sacrifice — missing out on activities and a social life, especially on weekend nights when we were the busiest. But it also gave us a strong work ethic and brought us closer as a family.” — Tom Chien
When folks in Oxford and beyond recall long-gone local restaurants they loved, Ruby Chinese Restaurant is likely to make their lists. Opened in 1978 on Jackson Avenue by Paul and Ruby Chien, Ruby Chinese was a culinary mainstay for 24 years.
The building had been a ’50s-style café previously, and the Chiens kept the 1950sappliances and bright orange booths. The lunch counter became home to the cashier.
The restaurant was not named for Ruby Chien, according to Tom Chien, Paul’s son, who said the restaurant name translated to “The Grand Red Gem Restaurant.”
Paul was told by the bank he would need $100,000 to open Ruby Chinese, but he opened the restaurant with $10,000. An early ad for Ruby Chinese bore a Chinese dragon, the words “Welcome Rebels” and daily lunch specials from $1.95 to $2.50.
Once a month on Saturday nights, the Chiens opened for Chinese students at Ole Miss to watch Chinese movies.
There were as many favorite menu items as there were customers, but several that are still mentioned include the flaming poo-poo platter, twice-cooked pork fried rice, sizzling rice soup and shredded beef.
Paul was a perfectionist, son Tom said. He used only the best and freshest ingredients, and people noticed. One of those people was writer and political commentator William F. Buckley Jr., who visited Oxford to speak at least twice. After eating at Ruby Chinese on his first visit, he proclaimed the food was as good as any he had eaten in New York City or San Francisco. On his second visit to Oxford, he asked to return to the restaurant.
Ruby Chinese closed in the spring of 2002. Paul died in April 2006.