Honoring Ronald Cheng’s Legacy of Chinese Food in Austin

The man behind Chinatown is a pillar of Austin’s restaurant community

By Hannah J. Phillips
Photograph by Mackenzie Smith Kelley
Chinatown: Ronald Cheng
Ronald Cheng at his flagship Chinatown location in North Austin.

Compiling a cover story on chefs shaping Asian cuisine in Austin, we would be remiss not to mention Ronald Cheng, whose family has owned restaurants in the city for over 50 years. Cheng grew up helping his mother and aunt in the kitchen of their restaurant, Sisters, which they started in 1970 on Burnet Road. As Austin’s first immigrant-owned Chinese restaurant, Sisters inspired both Cheng’s cooking and his entrepreneurial mindset. Opening his first Chinatown location in Westlake in 1983, he added a flagship location off MoPac in 1987—likely making it the longest continually operated Chinese restaurant in the city.

Chinatown went on to add multiple locations over the next four decades, but Cheng’s legacy is bigger than the brand’s longevity. In the early days of the pandemic, the Chinatown team donated over 1,500 meals to those in need, partnering with nonprofits like Keep Austin Fed, the Salvation Army and the Austin EMS Association to serve people suffering from homelessness, job loss and food insecurity.

As we celebrate the future of Asian food in Austin, we also want to honor the enormous and ongoing impact of the Cheng family in our community.

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Read More From the Food Issue | May 2021

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