Ho Sum Bistro is officially open. The good word arrives after more than a year of silence; in June 2016 a devastating fire shut the place down.
Before its unexpected closure, Ho Sum Bistro had something of a cult following. Diners came for the Ho Sum Chicken Salad (and famed dressing) and left completely happy. Scour the restaurant’s Instagram page, which hasn’t been updated since August 2016, and you’ll find words of unflagging devotion, expressed passionately in all caps.
“PLEASE LET ME COME IN THERE AND HELP YOU AT LEAST START MAKING SALADS AND SELL THEM ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD,” wrote one hungry fan.
Before this week, Ho Sum Bistro had been mostly quiet about an official reopen date. A letter on the restaurant’s website from Owner Ed O’Neill explained construction was entangled in a web of regulatory goop.
“City building permits, as well as health department and costal commission clearances take much of the process of reopening out of our hands,” he wrote. “All we can do is be patient.”
But patience proved tricky for Balboa Peninsula residents, who counted Ho Sum Bistro among their favorite spots to eat. For more than two decades, it was a staple of casual, family-friendly Newport Beach dining, a fixture along Newport Blvd. serving California-Asian cuisine. In Cantonese its name—Ho Sum—means “a good heart, healthy as well as kind.”
Before Ho Sum Bistro, there was no such thing as Asian-fusion in Newport Beach. The place is credited with being a pioneer of the genre, and when it closed, similar to the reaction following Cassidy’s Bar and Grill month-long shutdown in the summer of 2016, Balboa Peninsula residents mourned the loss of an iconic local spot.
And now, Ho Sum Bistro is open once again. (If you’re wondering, as you read this article what you’ll order when you go there, view the menu here.)
The news of its opening broke in rumors and blog posts; SaveNewport.com reported the potential for a soft opening this weekend and diners jumped on the chance to add the revered Chinese Chicken Salad to their weekend agendas. (If you search the restaurant online, which once revealed a CLOSED result, you’ll now find that Google says it’s open today from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. So let the are-they-aren’t-they gossip begin … )
On Thursday night, a small group gathered by Ho Sum Bistro’s locked door, a large Great Dane in tow. A few others loitered at its entrance, perhaps hoping the presence of this crowd meant the restaurant would open sooner than Monday. But the stools in the restaurant were piled on tables, even if the lights were finally on.
The inside of Ho Sum Bistro looks completely refreshed and new. Impressionistic ocean photos hang on the walls, brand-new stools line a second-floor balcony and a light-colored bar wraps around one side of the tall and narrow space.
The exterior received an apparent remodel, too. Its floor-to-ceiling widows that open to Newport Blvd., a retro ode to the 1987 establishment, look brand-new, polished and clear. The neon “Ho Sum Bistro” sign appears unchanged.
“Don’t bark, it’ll be OK,” said one woman after a few more joined their crew to wait at the entrance, just in case. The dog barked, she pet him and laughed to her friends, “See? Everyone wants Ho Sum.”