The lush landscape of greenery cultivated on the front patio of Hong Kong Café reflects the freshness created within its doors. Inside the small, cottage style building, located just beyond downtown on U.S. Highway 1, colorful hand painted murals surround a family operation where chef Ivy Lee, her husband and co-owner Howard Lee, and their daughter Emily Lee transform homegrown produce and family recipes into authentic Cantonese-style Chinese cuisine.
The restaurant distinguishes itself by providing a rich menu of Cantonese style recipes that have not been Americanized, and in the fresh produce that goes into their creation. Much of the produce and herbs that go into the restaurant’s dishes are grown on the family’s property, where Howard Lee says they maintain more than 30 plants, including citrus trees, papaya trees, dragon fruit trees, mangos, cactus, Carolina reaper and ghost peppers, herbs and roses.
Hong Kong Café serves Dim Sum all day, a meal style where multiple small plates of bite sized dishes are served, and carries Chinese beer and wine as well as a wide selection of bubble teas and hot teas. Reflecting Ivy Lee’s own vegetarian diet, the menu also has a wide selection of meat-free options. The family also sells dried wild gator meat, as well as containers of homemade Herbal Kim Chi Salad, homemade sauces, and two varieties of homemade hot teas, Japanese Honeysuckle Green Tea and Wild Mulberry Green Tea, grown and dried from their own plants.
Originally from Hong Kong, Ivy Lee learned to cook much of what she serves at a young age and, as an adult, has operated successful restaurants alongside her family in Nicaragua and Austin, Texas before coming to the oldest city. Out in the community, the family has participated in Taste of St. Augustine for two years, and regularly sells at the Old City Farmers Market. Hong Kong Café would like to note that they are open on Christmas Day, however, due to high anticipated volume, reservations are appreciated.
Q&A WITH OWNER HOWARD LEE
How would you describe the restaurant’s atmosphere?
It’s very family oriented.
What is your food philosophy?
We will not compete with the main street. We will give the customers authentic Chinese, Cantonese cooking. We use classic, authentic cooking, not the main street Americanized cooking.
What type of cuisine do you specialize in?
This is authentic Cantonse. Cantonese style [of Chinese cuisine] is the only one that offers authentic Dim Sum.
What is your signature dish?
Because our menu is so unique, every single one is different and special. We are proud of being the only Chinese restaurant selling wild gator meat. We have eight ways of cooking it, and nobody else does that.
What would you recommend for a first timer?
It depends on if you like seafood, if you like meat, if you like spicy or not. Those are the questions that we try to understand for the first timer so that we can suggest to them which way to go. If you like spicy, we offer you different options, if you like crispy spicy or not crispy spicy. Everything is good.
Price Range: $-$$$
Location: 4660 US Highway 1, St Augustine
Hours: Mon-Fri. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m, Sat. 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. , Sun. Closed