Springfield may not make it into the headlines often, but it is famous for one thing both nationally and globally: Cashew Chicken—Springfield style.
At Leong’s Asian Diner, on West Republic, the legacy continues as Springfield’s original cashew chicken is served daily, and the tradition lives on. Most Springfieldians embrace the Leong story as a Springfield classic, heralding it as one of those “American dream” tales we all love.
In 1940 David Leong, who passed away in July 2020 at the age of 99, emigrated from Guangdong, China. He served in World War II, and afterwards cooked his way through Philadelphia, New Orleans, Pensacola, and finally made one last move to Springfield, where, little did he know, he’d strike gold. Leong worked the kitchen at a couple of different supper clubs after arriving in Springfield. One of them, The Grove, was where Leong started serving Chinese-inspired dishes, and began to experiment with the dish that would become cashew chicken.
Deciding to open his own restaurant was the next step, and in 1963 Leong’s Tea House was born. The 350-seat white tablecloth restaurant, did exceedingly well, serving cashew chicken and Leong’s famous egg rolls. With the success of the Tea House, other restaurants followed suit, trying to hold their own while the taste took off around the city for Leong’s creation.
The Tea House was more than a 30-year success. It ensured that cashew chicken became a staple in Springfield cuisine. Cashew chicken is a mix of here and there, of two cultures. At its base is the American Midwestern and Southern affinity for fried chicken, but infused with Chinese flavors. The chicken is served on a bed of fried rice with Chinese oyster sauce and cashews.
Today there are more than 70 Chinese restaurants in a town of 157,000, serving cashew chicken. It’s the norm, it’s a staple, and one Leong is at it again.
From 1997 to 2010, Springfield went without a Leong-owned restaurant. Locals missed their original Chinese restaurateurs. In 2010, Leong’s Asian Diner opened its doors, and since then, the restaurant has experienced great success!
The “diner” stars Leong’s son, Chef Wing Yee, and features lunch, dinner, and take-out menus offering the regulars: cashew chicken, along with it’s variants; sweet and sour chicken, and general chicken. There are other Chinese dishes as well, but the menu also has other items to please the masses, including: Caesar salad, Angus beef and Swiss sandwiches, fries, mac and cheese, and even pizza for the kids. A full service bar is available, with a four-page wine and beer list, including seven different kinds of sake. All the offerings any great restaurant could need, making business boom — Leong style.
Leong’s Asian Diner is located at 1540 W. Republic Street and is open from 11 am-10 pm Mon- Sat, and 11 am-8 pm Sun. To check on other events at Leong’s Asian Diner, visit their website at leongsasiandiner.com, or call 887-7500.
Make sure to complete your Springfield experience with tradition, at Leong’s Asian Diner.