The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, is not only a beloved go-to setting for hunger pangs and celebrations; it is its own world, inhabited by waiters and kitchen staff who have been fighting, loving, and aging within its walls for decades. When disaster strikes, this working family’s controlled chaos is set loose, forcing each character to confront the conflicts that fast-paced restaurant life has kept at bay.
Owner Jimmy Han hopes to leave his late father’s homespun establishment for a fancier one. Jimmy’s older brother, Johnny, and Johnny’s daughter, Annie, ache to return to a time before a father’s absence and a teenager’s silence pushed them apart. Nan and Ah-Jack, longtime Duck House employees, are tempted to turn their thirty-year friendship into something else, even as Nan’s son, Pat, struggles to stay out of trouble. And when Pat and Annie, caught in a mix of youthful lust and boredom, find themselves in a dangerous game that implicates them in the Duck House tragedy, their families must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice to help their children.
Number One Chinese Restaurant looks beyond red tablecloths and silkscreen murals to share an unforgettable story about youth and aging, parents and children, and all the ways that our families destroy us while also keeping us grounded and alive.
"So expertly does first-time novelist Lillian Li conjure the Beijing Duck House, a gaudy, tatterdemalion restaurant in Rockville, Md., that readers of Number One Chinese Restaurant can almost taste its signature dish and feel the heat of its woks . . . By turns darkly funny and heartbreaking."—The Wall Street Journal
"A deliciously comic debut novel about secrets, scandal, and the patriotism at the heart of the hustle."—O, The Oprah Magazine
"Li shines in portraying lives shaped by work in this service industry . . . [rewarding] readers with a compelling family story about love, work, and what it means to serve."—USA Today
“Li takes us into the world of restaurants that many Americans frequent, but don’t understand. The Beijing Duck House . . . is a neighborhood staple, but the labor of the owner, staff, and cooks is invisible. Li brings that world to life, giving readers a glimpse into what it takes to keep establishments running and serving soul-stirring food.”—Bitch Media
“[Number One Chinese Restaurant] is a lot of things . . . a multigenerational immigration story, an insider look at the often grueling life of the career server or line cook, a romance, a coming-of-age (at any age).”—Buzzfeed
"A smart combination of Chinese-American life, service industry travails, and the ups and downs of belonging to a family."—Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“A darkly comic novel about complicated families—those created by blood and those forged through circumstance. With wit and heart, Li explores a Chinese-American community torn between ambition and loyalty as each character strives for a world bigger than the restaurant that has bound them together.”—Brit Bennett, New York Times bestselling author of The Mothers
“If a Chinese restaurant can be seen as a kind of cultural performance, Lillian Li takes us behind the scenes to offer a richly engrossing story of overlapping intrigues—commercial, generational, and romantic. She conjures the 'eco-system' of this workplace with insider acuity and renders her bustling, hustling clan of waiters, hostesses, cooks, and managers with brilliant feeling. Number One Chinese Restaurant is a vibrant, memorable debut.”—Peter Ho Davies, author of The Fortunes
Reviews from Goodreads
The waiters were singing “Happy Birthday” in Chinese. All fifteen of them had crowded around the party table, clapping their hands. Not a single one could find the tune. A neighboring table turned in their chairs to look....