The James Beard Foundation Announces The 2018 America's Classics
  • Jan. 24, 2018 12:00 pm EST

The James Beard Foundation has announced this year's additions to its list of America's Classics. These celebrated restaurants are "regional establishments, often family-owned, that are cherished for their quality food, local character, and lasting appeal," according to the foundation.

This year, those regional establishments included five spots from across the country ranging from a Vietnamese bakery in Louisiana to a tamale shop in Washington state. Many have been taken over by the second generation, which continues their family's traditions.

There's Boston's Galleria Umberto, a pizza shop founded in 1974 that's open only as long as the pizza lasts. Los Hernandez in Yakima County, Washington, has served chicken, pork and the seasonal asparagus tamales since 1990. Tucson-based El Guero Canelo serves up Sonoran hot dogs in four locations. At New Orleans' Dong Phuong Bakery, nosh on a banh mi or the bread with a perfectly crisp crust that can be found around town for a po' boy.

Finally, Eric and Lynda Cheng opened Chicago's Sun Wah BBQ in 1987 and have served the same Hong Kong-style barbecue dishes for the last 30 years. Three of the family's four children have taken over the restaurant's day-to-day operations.

"Most changes come from change in customer tastes and from us discovering 'better' ways to make what we make," says Kelly Cheng, one of the founder's four children and now the shop's general manager.

Her brother, Michael, has taken after his father and taken lead on the barbecue, and her sister Laura went to culinary school and manages the menu and sourcing ingredients.

Although the menu hasn't changed much over the ensuing decades, there have been other shifts. In 2008, the restaurant moved to a 241-seat location a few blocks away from the original storefront. And, Kelly says, there's been a shift in what the guests are ordering.

"They have a higher level of interest and thirst for knowledge about our culture and or food," she wrote in an email. "They also come with a more open and adventurous mind and are more likely to try more things."

The recipe for their successful restaurant hasn't changed in three decades, and Kelly can't see being named as of America's Classics altering the menu either. If anything, her family welcomes the larger stage to share their food and culture.

"Receiving this award may open us to more opportunities to educate more diners about our food, our family, and our culture," she wrote. "The more fellow Americans learn about their fellow Americans, the more united our country can be. Knowledge and education are the basic foundations for a better society and to break down barriers, whatever they may be. Food is a great starting point because everyone has to eat."

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