yen ching in brentwood photo by david kovaluk

Yen Ching in Brentwood is a St. Louis landmark

Americans like to think they know Chinese food. We have our favorite dishes and restaurants; sometimes we have our entire orders dialed in before we even see a menu. And while the best American-Chinese restaurants offer a wide range of excellent dishes, many of those are often adapted from traditional recipes in order to fit our palates. “I like our Sichuan chicken because I personally like spicy dishes,” said Jay Wang, who co-owns Yen Ching with his brother, Jimmy Wang. “To be honest, some of the dishes we have to change up the style to fit local customers because we can’t make it too spicy. It’s not 100% authentic Chinese – we have to slightly change it.” In China, Sichuan chicken dishes occasionally comprise over 90% chiles and 10% or less of chicken, making them – to put it mildly – extremely spicy. For many American diners here in St. Louis, that kind of cooking would be too hardcore.

Fortunately, Yen Ching offers something for everyone. Wang said Yen Ching beef is a customer favorite (as well as one of his), and people love the pot stickers and crab Rangoon. The hot eggplant is a perennial winner. According to a lot of his customers, Yen Ching’s consistency is the reason they’ve been going for so long – many have been dining there since the restaurant opened in 1974.

The menu has barely changed since Wang’s uncle, John Pei, opened the restaurant. “Some of them are his recipes, some are my brother’s,” Wang said. “[John] came from South Korea – he was a chef there. He had a little restaurant. But back then, it was a difficult situation.” When Pei opened Yen Ching in 1974, it was only the second Chinese restaurant in St. Louis, Wang said. Wang and his family moved to St. Louis from China in 1984 when Wang was 17. He started out working in other area Chinese restaurants like Mandarin House and China Garden before bringing his experience to his uncle’s restaurant in 1988. “I’ve worked every position – kitchen, front-of-house,” Wang recounted with a chuckle.

Now, as Pei thinks about retirement, the Wang brothers have taken over running the restaurant, applying their decades of experience to keeping things going. Closing their doors from last spring until October, they got through the pandemic by offering their food to go, which never waned. “Carryout is always,” Wang said. With the dining room open again, Yen Ching’s longtime customers have returned to the spot they’ve come to love. “I think we’ve served over 45 years, so the customers know each other for a very long time,” Wang said. “It’s a family type of restaurant – everybody knows everybody here.”

1012 S. Brentwood Blvd., Richmond Heights, 314.721.7507, Facebook: Yen Ching Restaurant