Find a back issue

‘Burbalicious: What I Ate in Sunnyvale

Lewis Cheng (left); Chicken lo mein (right) photos by Desiree Espada

In conjunction with July’s Best Suburbs issue, I’m traveling to 10 different ‘burbs in the DFW area for a semi-weird cross-city food tour. I’ll be documenting all my finds in these ‘Burbalicious posts that’ll be peppered throughout June and July. If you feel like your suburb deserves a shot at some SideDish love, email me and I’ll ask my Magic 8 ball if I should go. Last time, I went to Irving.

I didn’t think it was the brightest idea when Jason, the Web Editor, suggested that I find an ethnic restaurant in Sunnyvale, the whitest town in North Texas. Mary Dews, a previous counselor for the Dallas Tenants Association in the mid-1980s, filed a lawsuit against the city this year for perpetuating racial segregation and Sunnyvale’s maintenance of its all-white character. Memories of sitting across from skinheads in St. Petersburg’s subways suddenly came to mind when Jason told me to travel to Sunnyvale. It was one of the last suburbs on my list to visit. I dreaded the trip.

I figured it’d make big headlines if someone killed an Asian woman in Sunnyvale (or at least make it onto Frontburner), and Jason would inevitably feel terrible guilt for making me go there. That’s the worse that could happen, right? Yelp led me to a Wai Cafe, a restaurant that serves Chinese food and burgers. Entirely skeptical of this concept, Desiree and I drove 15 miles east of Dallas towards 3839 North Belt Line Road where we found the most fascinating Chinese restaurant I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting… in the whitest town of North Texas.


The alien fortress aka Wai Cafe

As soon as we stepped out of my car, the two of us burst out laughing. Did we arrive at an alien fortress? Did Martians land in Sunnyvale instead of Roswell? A double take revealed that the shiny metal exterior reflecting all the sun’s rays was actually Wai Cafe. Here, in the middle of Sunnyvale next to Town East Golf Cart & Driving Range, was a sit-down Chinese restaurant with a drive-through menu carefully handwritten in red ink. It listed everything from egg rolls to cheeseburgers. “We have to get some of that ice cream sundae,” said Des. “I think I recognize those crackers from the dollar store.”

Cheeseburger wearing a burqa (left); fishy tablecloth (right)
Drive through menu

Inside Wai Cafe we found Lewis Cheng, one of the goofiest men I’ve ever encountered in real life, not just on TV. He’s the Chinese version of Michael Cera – quiet, odd sense of humor, and slightly offbeat in the most endearing way. When Wai Cafe first opened in June 2011, owners Mr. and Mrs. Cheng (that’s what Lewis calls them) hired Chang a month later. He jots down take-out orders, pokes his head through the drive through window, and serves sit-down diners when they’re brave enough to venture into that rectangular tin can. It sounds busy, but Des and I were the only people eating inside the entire two hours we were there.

“I’m sure if a tornado came, this place would be gone,” said my astute photographer as she picked up grains of vegetable fried rice with takeout chopsticks. After glancing at the “Dollas” menu with $1 chicken nuggets and $1 corn dogs, and even after flipping through an entire album of Lewis’ photographic documentation of each menu item, I settled with ma po tofu ($5.39) and chicken lo mein ($5.19). They both tasted more or less as I’d expected for Chinese food in a predominantly white town: very heavy on the soy sauce. Still, it was at least better than Panda Express and just as cheap, too. For a $16 tab and two hours of amusement, this definitely beat a dull steakhouse dinner.

Booths (left); watery honey dew drink (right)

The food is unremarkable at Wai Café, but the experience of sitting inside a foil-covered warehouse eating Chinese food and cheeseburgers is bizarre and surreal. “I kind of feel like I’m on the set of Roseanne,” Desiree muttered under her breath. Our eyes flitted from Two and a Half Men on the old tv set to the colorful tablecloth covered with fish. The A/C was blowing incredibly well, probably because the struggling golfers we spied through the windows sometimes came in to get a bubble tea or fruit drink. Most people order take-out, said Lewis, which explains why he was hugging a phone to his ear the entire time.

Ma po tofu

At Wai Café, Sunnyvale’s citizens can bark through the phone and create the oddest combinations of food. Dinner might consist of broccoli beef with a side of French fries. Or a chicken bacon ranch sandwich with egg drop soup. It’s mix-and-match Chinese and American food at a drive-through/sit-down Chinese and burger restaurant – the kind of place people should add to their bucket lists entitled “Top Ten Things To Do Around Dallas Before I Move Away or Die.” Wai Cafe is where food legends are born. “This place is photo gold,” said Des as she clicked away on her camera. “You have to live it to see it. You just can’t imagine something like this.”

Our unfinished goods (top); homemade signs (bottom left); the set of Roseanne (bottom right)

14 comments on “‘Burbalicious: What I Ate in Sunnyvale

  1. This on the Sunnyvale side of Beltline, Rd. But of course Sunnyvale residents would never claim this has their own. They love to blame Mesquite for anything below their “white” standards.

  2. How different from the other Sunnyvale! This one has the Indian, Chinese, American, Persian, Thai … everything here. But can’t beat neighboring Cupertino – they have the “Bitter Sweet” cafe

    is.gd/GrRPwW

  3. Im a resident of Sunnyvale and I have 2 kids that go to Sunnyvale 1 in middle school and 1 in elementary. I am soo tired of hearing you all call this TOWN (were not big enough to be a city, please do your research) the whitest city (again research). We are very diverse. You all should come to 1 football game and see how diverse our TOWN is, I think you all would be quite surpised. Maybe you all are the racist since yall hsve deemed us the “whitest city” (again research)

  4. What a fun review! I often see places like this and wonder……I will definitely drive from Lake Highlands to check to experience Wai Cafe, and hope others will, too.

  5. Carri – I couldn’t agree with you more! What a disservice to a great town.

    Ms. Shih did you look outside the door of the Wai Cafe at the line of golfers at the driving range? You walked right past them to get in to the restaurant. .. if you bothered to look, what would you see? Black, white, asian, Indian… every race is represented.. playing a so-called “white” sport. You need to go visit the schools as well. D Magazines repeated use of one persons agenda to paint an entire community as racist is despicable. I invite you to come to my street. There are 6 homes. 2 white, 2 indian, and 2 latino.

    Let me do your basic journalistic research for you. Go to the US Census website and put in Sunnyvale TX. Here is a link: http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=DEC_10_DP_DPDP1&prodType=table

    What would you find if you bothered to do the most basic research? 31% of Sunnyvale is non-white!

    I encourage you, and your entire publication to eliminate this ridiculous label. I am not white. This community has welcomed me and my family with open arms and I have wonderful friendships with my neighbors and community.

    Finally, can you tell me the racial demographics for the readership of D Magazine? Would you dare? I want you to publish that piece of information. We will likely find that D Magazine is the Whitest Magazine in Texas!

  6. Melissa, I see you are spouting the same unintelligent tripe that Jason wrote awhile back on Sunnyvale. The only reason I can see for his revenge on Sunnyvale is the time he was in town hall. I just happened to be there when Jason caused a scene. I think it had to do with a speeding ticket or something he did in Sunnyvale. I really don’t know, but he does have a vendetta against Sunnyvale for some reason. When he talked to Lee Adams, who was once a residence of Sunnyvale, he found his chance to belittle Sunnyvale.
    Read the other comments melissa and you will see that Sunnyvale is not “The Whitest Town in N. Texas.”

  7. Carol Shih, Since Jason challenged you to find an ethnic restaurant in Sunnyvale, I thought I might help you out a bit…In addition to the subject of your article,”Wai Cafe” owned and operated by an Asian family. Also located in Sunnyvale: A Mexican food restaurant, “Tino’s” located on Collins Rd., owned and operated by a Latino gentlemen who lives in Sunnyvale. A Steak House, “The Bull’s Pen” located on Hwy 80, owned by the same Latino Sunnyvale resident. An Italian food Restaurant, “Guillanna’s”, located on S. Collins, owned by a Italian gentleman, not a SV resident.. A restaurant specializing in Home Cooking, “Vincents”, located on BeltLine Rd, owned by a fine African American Family. A BBQ restaurant ,”Shorty’s”, located on Hwy 80, owned by a couple who live in Sunnyvale. A seafood restaurant ,”Catfish Cove”, located on Beltline Rd.. Sunnyvale also has a Subway, which is owned by local SV resident and State Rep., Cindy Burkett. This too is located on S. Collins. SV also has a donut shop owned by an Asian family, located on S. Collins. Perhaps had you or Jason done your homework, you would have seen that Sunnyvale and her citizens are VERY diversified. Our places of business and our restaurants are owned and operated by people of many ethnicities.Our homes and schools are equally as diversified. So rather than listening to a disgruntled ex- resident, or to a group looking to make money off sueing municipalities, try checking the facts for yourself. That is if your really are interested is writing a truthful story rather than sensationalizing a story to perpetuate lies. Either way, Sunnyvale will survive with or without your patronage.

  8. Melissa, I apologize for using your name. It was meant for Accurate. Accurate has not shown any intelligence.

  9. Pingback: ‘Burbalicious: What I Ate in Mansfield | SideDish

  10. Pingback: ‘Burbalicious: What I Ate in Mansfield | Daniel Martin