Sam Wo leaves pilot light lit

Sam Wo restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of those places with a character that can’t be easily described or duplicated. Once you walk in through the kitchen, you know you are in for a unique dining experience.

Yet after 100 years on Washington Street, the restaurant has been shut down for health code violations.

One customer, Miguel C., fondly remembered his meals at the restaurant on Yelp:

“The food was better than average. And it was consistent. But you didn’t come to Sam Wo for cuisine or fancy dining. This was the original ‘dive’ Chinese restaurant.”

The key word here is “dive.” Health violations included employees not washing their hands and contaminating food, rodent feces in the kitchen, and improper food storage. All part of the charm.

Despite closing this weekend, though, Sam Wo may not be finished yet. Owner David Ho will have an opportunity to plead his case before The City’s Department of Public Health on Tuesday. If he can present a plan for how he plans to bring his restaurant up to code, he may be able to reopen it.

Ho’s daughter Julie was overcome with emotion when she told the Chron:

“This restaurant is my life. We’re definitely closing for the weekend, but beyond that nothing is definite.”

Still, upgrades could be costly. Eileen Shields, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health Department, recognized the challenge:

“My understanding is that a lot of the violations require a large infusion of money to fix. They’re major fixes — everything from venting to plumbing to electrical all need to be upgraded.”

But even Shields is optimistic:

“San Francisco is a city where nothing goes down easy. I’m hoping for the best and that the neighbors and supporters rally.”

If all else fails, maybe customers could just agree to sign waivers, removing liability from Sam Wo and declaring that they’re ready to die to eat some good Chinese.