Tony Hu is known as the mayor of Chinatown in Chicago, where he oversees nearly 20 restaurants. Lao Sze Chuan, his first restaurant in Las Vegas, opens at the Palms on September 12 in the opulent space formerly occupied by Little Buddha.
Why expand to Las Vegas? Las Vegas is a world-commerce city. Everyone loves Las Vegas, not only Americans but the whole world. Many Italian chefs have their restaurants here. I wanted to bring cuisine to Las Vegas that is missing here.
Is this your first restaurant outside Chicago? It’s my second. The first is in Connecticut. The New York Times named it one of the 10 best Chinese restaurants in Connecticut. I like that!
Are you nervous about opening Lao Sze Chuan in Las Vegas? I’m pretty confident. I have a lot of confidence in the team here. I’ve spent a lot of time at the Palms, and I like the team. People are very nice, friendly and knowledgeable—that is very important to me. They appreciate the different types of Chinese cuisine. I did a lot of research [in] Chinatown to get a feel for the market.
How did you get your title of the mayor of Chinatown in Chicago? I have eight restaurants in Chinatown in Chicago and more than 10 citywide and in the suburbs. It’s very important for me to promote Chinese culture and help the community and students. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said to me, “I’m the mayor of Chicago, but you’re the mayor of Chinatown.”
What’s your secret to success? I don’t think I’m successful yet—not until all my projects are done well. I want people to learn from my restaurants how wonderful real Chinese cuisine is.
You’re known for spicy dishes. Why do you love spicy food? I grew up with spicy food where I was born in China, Szechuan. Spice is good for the house, and it keeps the skin soft and beautiful. It helps you digest and keeps you healthy.
How often do you travel to China for inspiration for your restaurants and recipes? Very often, about every two months, to refresh my ideas. I dine out all the time to find new recipes and popular items. Cuisine is always changing, and you have to study every day.
What are your favorite Chinese dishes? I dine out for nearly every meal to learn more, but it depends on my mood. If I want spices, it’s Szechuan; light dishes, then dim sum and Cantonese. If I want something sweeter, it’s Shanghai style; for crazy spices, Hunan; and a hot pot for a lot of friends. All of these Chinese cuisines are featured here at Lao Sze Chuan. In my research of Las Vegas, the Palms and Chinatown, I found that locals, especially Chinese customers, want more items while tourists eat and go.
What do you like to do for fun in Vegas? See the shows. I’ve seen a lot of them. I like the singers, Celine Dion at Caesars Palace, Britney Spears at Planet Hollywood, and my friends with the Panda! show.
After all these years, what do you like most about running restaurants? I like making friends. I deal with a lot of people, and I meet a lot of people. I like to learn from their lives. This is my dream job, and I’m ready to share it with Las Vegas at the Palms.