Silver Star Restaurant: The Chinese choice of an Italian enclave

March 7, 2023 Andrew Cotto
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BENSONHURST — The conventional strategy among food seekers is to find places favored by locals. This is particularly true in ethnic neighborhoods where the best eateries are often best kept secrets, not promoted on social media or food review sites. For example, when in Chinatown, look for places packed with Chinese people, as opposed to tourists chasing down an Instagram post from an influencer. A glaring exception to this practice, though, can be found at 6221 18th Ave. in Bensonhurst where one peering through the window into the crowded room of Silver Star Restaurant, home of old style Cantonese cuisine for nearly 80 years, may not find a single Chinese person eating there, but don’t worry, the food is so good. 

Peter and Chun Hei Choi, owners of Silver Star Restaurant. Photo: Daniel Paterna

Silver Star Restaurant was opened in 1944 by Peter Chan. Since then, seven generations of his family have owned, operated and worked in the simple environs of booths and tables, among paintings of China and traditional decor. The current owners are Peter and Chun Hei Choi, the former a nephew of the original owner, and the latter the reason the couple made it to New York in the first place. Upon fleeing Mao Zedong’s China post-WWII, the couple attempted to swim many miles of the Pearl River from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. Peter faltered with the destination in sight, but Chun Hei assisted him the rest of the way. Five years later, after running a successful small business in Hong Kong, Peter’s godmother arranged their immigration to New York. This was 1973, and the couple has worked at Silver Star ever since, acquiring ownership late last century, and have a strong relationship with the majority of the regular customers despite the language barrier between Cantonese and Brooklynese.

When Silver Star opened in the middle of the previous century, Bensonhurst was almost entirely populated by Italian immigrants. There were no Italian restaurants, though, as Italian’s ate at home. Silver Star became the place where the Italians went to step out, to enjoy an exotic cuisine and celebrate major life events. A bond between the Chinese restaurant operators and the Italian community grew, and this bond has been passed from generation to generation and exists to this day. So when one looks through the storefront window at Silver Star Restaurant, they don’t see many Chinese people eating; they see many Italian Americans whose families have been eating there for generations. 

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Spare Ribs at Silver Star Restaurant. Photo: Daniel Paterna

Robert Paterna, a sexagenarian, grew up in Bensonhurst. His first-generation father used to come to Silver Star after school to enjoy a three-course snack for 25 cents. Paterna and his family, extended and nuclear, have been regulars their entire lives with weekly visits — and special occasions — that continue to this day. (They were even allowed into the back alley entrance for private, socially-distanced meals during the lockdown). “I’ve been coming here for close to 60 years. A lot of my friends and family are also patrons,” Paterna said. “It’s an institution in the neighborhood and close to everyone’s heart. Most of the customers I know love the chow mien, but there’s no better spare ribs in New York.” 

A hot pan at Silver Star Restuarant. Photo: Daniel Paterna

There’s a block-party sense of community in the room as the patrons, almost entirely familiar with each other, talk across tables or stop on their way past. Ken Zhang has operated Silver Star for the past ten years. He works the floor from table to table, talking amiably for long periods, inquiring about family or reminiscing.

“What Silver Star has that is unique is an appreciation of our neighborhood,” Zheng said. “The overwhelming majority of our patrons are repeat customers from generation to generation. It’s like a family. We keep our prices low even when costs go up. Whatever we have, we try to share and be happy together.”


Andrew Cotto has been eating his way through Brooklyn for 25 years. As an author, the food of our borough has been featured extensively in his novels and journalism. In his new column for the Daily Eagle, Andrew will tell the tales of Brooklyn eateries, from the people behind the food to the communities which they nourish.

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