Knockout Noodles: Sun Wah BBQ

Knockout Noodles

Reviews of noodle dishes.


[Photographs: Roger Kamholz]

Back in December, Over 21 Club scribe Dennis Lee ate the "glorious" Peking Duck at Sun Wah BBQ, illustrating why this Uptown mainstay has been packing crowds of fans into its gymnasium-sized dining room since '86. These folks know their way around waterfowl—according to Eater, Sun Wah BBQ serves a staggering 800 to 1,000 ducks weekly—not to mention the full stable of usual barnyard suspects.

So it was with a conflicted heart that I made my (wildly overdue) inaugural visit to Sun Wah BBQ recently with the express intent to eat noodles. Would it be laughably misguided of me to finally hit up such a well-known haven of grilled meats and subsist solely on its slurpables? Turns out, it's not the crippling dilemma I thought it'd be: plenty of dishes marry noodles with Sun Wah's sure-enough glorious barbecue.

A prime example of a successful meat-noodle mashup: the roast duck shrimp dumpling noodle soup ($6.50). The name pretty much sums up the ingredients, apart from a few bok choy leaves that add color and some purely ceremonial nutritional value. A generous helping of thickly sliced, skin-on, and bone-in roast duck took up a sizable chunk of real estate in this deep, well-stocked bowl. The duck was expertly prepared, with juicy meat and deeply flavorful skin. The three or four shrimp dumplings—chopped mushrooms and shrimp swaddled in translucently thin dough—were likewise meaty and texturally interesting, if a touch bland. The elastic, wire-thin egg noodles, like the mild broth, were delicate and light; the pair of components together provided a welcome buoyancy to the hefty one-two ballast of duck and dumpling.


To sample Sun Wah's "dry" noodles, I opted for the Singapore mai fun ($6.50), a stir-fried rice-noodle dish tossed with whole peeled shrimp, pork, egg, and a grab bag of crispy vegetables (bean sprouts, white and green onion, etc.). Unlike saucy noodle dishes like lo mein, these taut, springy mai fun were—to borrow a New World barbecue term—"dry-rubbed" in a fragrant and deliciously complex spice mix that betrayed hints of curry powder, star anise, cumin, and other aromatic baking spices. For a dish driven largely by noodles and seasoning, it was surprisingly good.

I ultimately learned the real dilemma facing the adventurous diner at Sun Wah BBQ: One's finite gastric proportions are bound to collide with the restaurant's encyclopedic, double-sided tome of a menu. A single meal there barely makes a dent in the mountain of offerings. With so much yet to try—including a deep bench of lo mein—I'm sure I'll be back to Sun Wah soon.

Sun Wah BBQ

5039 North Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640 (map)