George Joe’s Chinese Village

The story of George Joe’s Chinese Village and Cantonese Village restaurants, which served the San Diego community for over 50 years.

George Joe

A 1954 caricature by Ellie, used by George Joe in advertising.

George Fong Joe (1907-1981) was born in Canton (now known as Guangdong), China. At fifteen, his family sent him to San Diego to work with relatives. After that, he was hired by Baron Long at the U.S. Grant Hotel. Joe was eager to learn everything he could about the business of hospitality. He worked as a busboy, waiter, and fry cook. During Prohibition, Joe became the resident “house boy” and handyman at the San Diego Press Club. The club was known as “the closest thing to a legal speakeasy the city ever saw,” a home away from dry-home to not only the press but local politicians and police not too keen on the Volstead Act.

Joe worked his way up in the San Diego restaurant community, eventually opening his own place downtown. Bright neon heralded your arrival at George Joe’s Chinese Village. The main dining room had a dark interior with octagonal windows.

George Joe's Chinese Village

George Joe’s Chinese Village interior, c1962

Guest Informant hotel magazine ad

…often with self-deprecating copy that only increased his business.

George Joes Chop Chop Zombie ad

Racist ad copy aside, the allure of a potent zombie cocktail garnished with criss-crossed chopsticks still sounds appealing. Newspaper ad, 1960.

For private parties, you could book the Ping Woo Room. The Mah Jong Room bar was headed up by mixologists Edward “Eddie” Joseph Dennison (1908-1968) and Jimmie Joe. They poured well-known exotic drinks and had a line of their own creations. Dennison was reported to have invented many exotic cocktails including the Sim Sex, FBI Fizz, Widow’s Dream, and The Lost Weekend.

Mixologist Eddie Dennison

Mah Jong bar mixologist Eddie Dennison, 1956.

George Joes drink menu

Decreased downtown business due to the development of Mission Valley’s new shopping center and hotels drove Joe to move the restaurant to El Cajon Boulevard, and once again to his largest place in La Mesa.

His El Cajon location was opened with silent partners Virginia Harrison and “zillionaire laundryman” Wong K. Ton. They bought the place from Lebanese restaurateur Antoine Ghosn, who then opened his famous place Antoine’s Sheik on Fifth Avenue!

George Joe’s La Mesa in 1977

Its parking lot was so big he hired local kids to run guests to their cars in an old Chinese rickshaw. Everyone ate at George Joe’s. The go-to Chinese restaurant lasted even after his death, well into the 1990s.

To his peers, George Joe was regarded as a chu sheong. To his patrons, he was the “King of Food,” loved by all.

George Joes sign, 1992

George Joe’s Cantonese Village sign, La Mesa, 1992.


Sailor’s Row (1937–1963)
George Joe’s Chinese Village Cafe
628 Third Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

The Boulevard (1964–1968)
George Joe’s Cantonese Village
2533 El Cajon Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92104

Grossmont Summit (1969–1994)
George Joe’s Cantonese Village
9586 Murray Drive
La Mesa, CA 92041


Citation: Martin S. Lindsay. ‘George Joe’s Chinese Village.’ Classic San Diego: tasty bites from the history of America’s finest city. Web. <>

“house boy,” George Joe’s biographical information comes from newspaper columns by Lew Scarr, San Diego Union, 23 Jan 1964; Frank Rhoades, San Diego Union, 26 Mar 1981; and from Amy Chu, ‘The climb to Gold Mountain: San Diego’s Chinatown,’ San Diego Reader, 8 Apr 1982.

Postcards, John and Jane Adams Postcard Collection, Special Collections and University Archives, SDSU.

“King of food, loved by all,” reads the epitaph on the tombstone of George Joe (1907-1981), Greenwood Cemetery, San Diego, California.

“hired local kids,” comes from email correspondence with Dwight Leung, 2016.

3 thoughts on “George Joe’s Chinese Village

  1. Wow thank you so much for this article! George joe was my great grandpa and i never got to meet him. I heard stories about the restaurant but never seen pictures or know where it was located. My grandparents passed away a while ago but they never talked much about it. My great aunt still has pictures of all the celebrities and politicians that went to that restaurant. This article mean so much to my family and i thank you for that.

  2. I loved this article.This Place was beloved by my family. My mother, father and I went here and then later my mother, brother and I went. after that, I went with my husband In the Eighties and nineties. I remember going probably in the late 1960’s early seventies. I love that there was always parking. I had my bridal shower dinner at this restaurant. anytime we wanted to get food to go we would come over and pick up our favorite dishes. I still remember the 1st time I had peking duck. I remember having a beautiful array of dishes On the cloth covered table. I have been searching for another Chinese restaurant that has those flavors ever since this restaurant closed. I have never found one that has come close. George Joe was truly a master chef. I hope his recipes are archived somewhere. Perhaps someday somebody will use them again.

    I remember that there was always a hostess to seat us and a waitress came quickly To serve us. You couldn’t ask for better service. they took care of you at George Joes.

    I remember that there were plenty of pictures at the front entrance to look at if there was a wait For a table.
    And of course a beautiful Chinese décor.

    I was thrilled to stumble upon this article As I searched for a Chinese restaurant named George Joe’s. I keep hoping that some one will open another one. I am happy to learn about the history of a restaurant that was so much a part of my life. I’m going to share this restaurant article with my son. unfortunately he will not be able to sample the delicious food that George JOE’S delivered. After reading this article and learning about the man who opened the small chain of restaurants I’m convinced that not only was he a master chef he was an astute business man with a brilliant mind. He had the vision of a genius that brought to fruition Those restaurants that not only delivered great food but provided the venue for so many family Traditions. Thank you to George Joe and his family and his partners for giving us his life’s vision which was a great gift.

    With much love,
    the don Cooper family.

  3. The dates you have for the Grossmont Summit location, 1969 to 1994, don’t match my memories. I was born in 1951, and seem to recall visiting George Joe’s at that location with my parents well before I graduated from Crawford High in 1968. Is that possible?

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