Whether you’re fretting about where to take that cutie you’ve been crushing on in chem for a casual coffee date or looking for a romantic anniversary dinner locale, we’ve got all the details here. We hope you enjoy reading about these date destinations as much as we enjoy writing about them, and that you’ll give some of them a taste.
So, in the spirit of this selection: mànmàn chī!
Restaurant: Sun Wah BBQ
Address: 5039 N. Broadway St., Chicago
Hours: Sun-Wed 9 a.m. – 9 p.m., Fri-Sat 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. (closed Thursday)
Getting there: a five-minute walk from the Argyle station on the Red Line
Occupying a retrofitted, urban-modern space in Chicago’s multicultural Argyle neighborhood, Sun Wah BBQ offers a unique and authentic Chinese food experience. The influences of other Asian cultures are evident, which only serves to add depth to Sun Wah’s menu. Ultimately, we appreciate that Sun Wah straddles a diverse spectrum without losing itself in the process.
The first thing you should know about Sun Wah is that it has the ideal amount of bang for your buck. Sarah and I had three family style dishes for less than $20. Most entrées cost between four and six dollars, with some of the more expensive ones priced around $10. I chose the Barbecue Combination, a trio of meats (beef, pork and duck) served with greens and a hard-boiled egg on a bed of steamed rice. The beef was rich and hearty, but fairly standard. I enjoyed the pork and duck much more — both had the sweet classic flavor of Asian barbecue. The real treat was the skin of the meat, which was crispy and saturated with flavor. My only complaint about this dish was the hard-boiled egg, which had a dubiously green yoke. I think this coloration was due to the cooking style, but I decided to play it safe. I also ordered Young Chow Fried Rice, traditional rice with a kitchen/sink mixture of meats and vegetables fried in. It was not fried to the point that it was excessively filling — the mix of ingredients made for an overall delicious, surprising flavor.Photo courtesy of author.
Sun Wah’s staff is nothing if not efficient. We were served by a rotating wait staff that checked on us frequently and topped off our drinks – I don’t think our glasses ever reached the halfway point. Our food made it to the table very quickly. However, it did seem a bit impersonal: the staff was so professional, they bordered on apathetic and were extremely quiet. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but it did strike me as odd.
I love Sun Wah’s space, which seems to have been a brick-walled warehouse or business in its past life. Now, it is a warm space with a modern aesthetic. Minimalist tables with simple, Asian art decorations fill the room — the larger ones are fitted with glass lazy Susans to ease the sharing process of family style Chinese meals. The wooden beam ceiling is cut with a few skylights that give the room a spacious feel. I may be a fan of kitsch, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a nice modernist space as well.
Date Factor (3/5)
Due to the large portion sizes (Sarah and I each took a full box of tasty leftovers home) and inherently messy nature of the food, I’d recommend this spot for experienced couples over first-daters. However, if you and your sweetheart are comfortable with getting a little down and dirty with your meal, Sun Wah is the place for you. I think Sun Wah would also be well suited to double dates and groups of friends — that way, you could get a good variety of food and share the enjoyment.
As much as I enjoy Asian food in general, I often find Chinese food to be bland and full of unidentifiable meats. These two traits made me somewhat less than thrilled to venture out to Sun Wah. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food, but it did not drastically exceed my expectations. For my entrée, I ordered the Beef and Vegetables with Pan-Fried Egg Noodles. All of the meat in this dish is very obviously beef, much to my relief, and is accompanied by a vegetable medley of baby corn, zucchini, carrots and mushrooms. The non-noodle components of this dish are tossed in an impressively flavorful and savory beef sauce and rest on a massive bed of egg noodles. The noodles were pretty good, but I occasionally came across an unexpected crunch while chowing down. A gratuitous pot of hot black tea is provided with every order, and this was the highlight of my dining experience. I find most teas to be overpoweringly sweet, but Sun Wah’s tea strikes the refreshing balance between sweet and bitter. Be sure to drink a cup of this complimentary hot tea before you head back out into the cold Chicago breeze.
The wait staff at Sun Wah is perfectly capable and efficient, but I did not find them to be very friendly. While we were served quickly and diligently, none of the various waiters and busboys that stopped by to fill our glasses or deliver our food actually checked on us. Sun Wah’s service operates like a sterile machine. If personality is something you look for in your wait staff, don’t expect much from Sun Wah.
Sun Wah is located in a renovated warehouse, complete with exposed ceiling ducts and concrete floors. This sleek and modern space is a wonderful atmosphere for a restaurant, but it is not nearly as reflective of its rich cultural traditions as I expected. For a restaurant located in an Asian neighborhood, Sun Wah itself is surprisingly devoid of the typical Asian vibe. Without the food, this space could easily have been mistaken for a fusion or modern American food restaurant. The storefront, however, has enough Asian flare to compensate for Sun Wah’s interior. Look for the roasting poultry and take-out meat market as you enter the restaurant.
Date Factor (3.5/5)
This eatery is a fun place to take your well-established significant other for a taste of the Far East. Because no knives are provided with the silverware and chopsticks place settings, eating Sun Wah’s cuisine can easily become a bit graceless. I would strongly recommend sharing a platter with your sweetie or being prepared to eat leftovers for several days to follow. Sun Wah’s reasonable prices, large portions and casual atmosphere make this the ideal place for a double or group date.
Sun Wah is a fun destination in an interesting neighborhood. We recommend pairing your meal with a trip to the Asian market around the corner or into one of the knick-knack shops around the L station. While not for the faint of heart or those early in their relationship, Sun Wah provides the adventurous (and their sometimes wary dates) with a culinary carnival. Whether you’re ordering a roasted duck that is sliced tableside or sticking with the classic fried rice, Sun Wah is sure to entertain your tastebuds while the surrounding neighborhood entertains your eyes.