Sun Wah BBQ, on Broadway in Chicago's Uptown, is one of our favorite restaurants and arguably the best spot anywhere in the Midwest for Chinese BBQ duck dinners. Although we've been there half-a-dozen times, it can be a ride of 45 minutes or so from our home in Oak Park, and that means we haven't gone there as often as we'd like.
On the evening of November 11, Sun Wah arranged to deliver pre-ordered dinners to the parking lot at the corner of Madison and Harlem. The parking lot was jammed; there were a lot of people there (we heard them read out order #104, so there were apparently over 100 orders to fill).
How good is Sun Wah and its marvelous duck? Well, it's been praised by just about every food publication in the city, and it's been featured on Chicago's Best and the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (though Sun Wah is none of those things). In 2018, Sun Wah received recognition as a James Beard American Classic.
In the early Aughts, I did a WBEZ segment with General Manager Kelly Cheng about how the restaurant prepared approximately 1,000 ducks every week, which she says are 60% leaner than many ducks on the market. The preparation process is a little unusual but well within the Chinese culinary tradition: after the duck is cleaned, it's pumped full of air to slightly separate the skin from the meat. The resulting air cushion protects the meat and keeps it moist during cooking, and it also helps create a superbly crisp skin. Before cooking, the ducks are brined to hold in the moist juiciness of the meat.
Since they opened about thirty years ago, Sun Wah has sourced their ducks from Culver Duck Farm in Middlebury, Indiana. The fowl from this farm are free-range, hormone- and nitrate-free, and…magnificent.
Before serving (or delivering), Sun Wah chefs expertly cut the bird into almost uniform pieces to facilitate eating. And oh man, the eating! The skin becomes a deep bronze sheet of crunchy deliciousness and the meat is moist and full of duck flavor, with hints of Five Spice seasoning. Though the ducks are, as Cheng mentioned, comparatively lean, they are still very lush with delicious duck fat.
Of course, for these events, if you're not a fan of duck, you can order from the entire Sun Wah menu, which includes many Chinese restaurant standards as well as some dishes you may not have had before.
Many Chicago restaurants have pivoted to survive the pandemic, offering more pickup, delivery, and other options – like Sun Wah's delivery to our neighborhood – that would likely never have been considered in the past. Because this is a rather new thing, there were logistics hurdles on Wednesday night – the duck started arriving over 40 minutes late – but no one seemed unduly riled by this, and I trust the Sun Wah team will tighten operations if they do more of these in our neighborhood.
Prices at Sun Wah are very reasonable: our large duck, expertly portioned, is listed on the menu at $26. I weighted our order when we got it home, and it came in over five pounds of most delectable duck.
If this first run to the suburbs is successful, they may be doing it again. If you're interested, you can contact the restaurant at 773-769-1254 or check their Facebook page for details about updates about deliveries.
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