Uptown restaurant’s Hong Kong barbecue dubbed an ‘American Classic’ by James Beard Foundation

(Viewer note: The video features scenes from a working restaurant kitchen, including butchering)

CHICAGO — This duck is legendary. Sun Wah's Hong Kong style barbecue and incredibly popular Beijing Duck Feast earned it  recognition as an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation in 2018.

Originally opened in 1986 by Eric and Lynda Cheng, the Uptown staple serves up a variety of comfort food, including roast pork, pork tenderloin and marinated squid, in addition to a three-course Beijing Duck Feast that brings in customers from across the region. The restaurant is now run by their three children, Michael, Kelly, and Laura, who moved Sun Wah to a bigger location in 2008.

Kelly Cheng, who now serves as the restaurant's general manager, said their style of barbecue first gained popularity among blue-collar workers in Beijing and Hong Kong, where her father learned to cook.

"It originally started out as a working-class food because we tend to serve it with rice," she said.  "A lot of blue-collar people would eat it for breakfast or lunch because it kept them filled."

Over 30 years the restaurant gained the most notoriety for its duck, and Kelly Cheng said they go through 900-1,100 birds a week as a result. The Beijing Duck Feast uses every part of the bird, including mouth-watering duck sliced table-side and served with duck sauce and steamed buns, duck fried rice and duck bone soup.

Earning recognition as an America's Classic means a lot for the "second-generation kids" now at the helm of Sun Wah, Kelly Cheng said, as it shows their ethnic cuisine is truly being embraced by the mainstream, not to mention validating decades of effort put in by their family.

"The satisfaction is all of our hard work, and all of the things our dad did prior to us taking over... all of their hard work is paying off," she said.