Kim Ling, proprietor of Ling’s Asian Cuisine, has a difficult time staying away from the restaurant business.
After successfully running China Road in Bellevue for 27 years with her family, Kim decided the time had come to retire. After all, she wanted to enjoy her gardening, walks around the lake, and relaxing while watching movies at home. It sounded like the perfect retirement for Kim and her husband, Justin (who was content with spending his days golfing).
The bliss of retirement lasted for nearly a year before Kim started to feel antsy. “I felt like I wanted something to do. My passion has always been the food business,” she says, adding that after successfully running both China Road in Bellevue and China Inn in Lincoln for so many years, she found herself missing the customers. As for Justin, he was willing to put on the chef apron again and set aside his golf clubs—for now.
When the Lings noticed a Vietnamese restaurant in their neighborhood was up for sale (at 6909 S. 157th St.), they started seriously considering coming out of retirement. “We wanted something that was a good, small size,” Kim says. This place fit the bill. The interior is small yet welcoming—more like a dining room in a home than a bustling restaurant. “I do enjoy a smaller restaurant,” Kim explains. “We spend a lot of time here.”
When they decided to purchase the restaurant, they did it with one caveat: the previous owner had to walk them through the process of how things were done there. The Lings wanted a seamless transition for the existing customers, so while they were absolutely going to put their own spin on the dishes served, they knew that they weren’t going to completely overhaul the menu.
The menu is unusual for an Asian restaurant in the sense that it isn’t jam-packed with items. “Some restaurants have over a hundred items on their menu, but we don’t want to do that,” Kim says.
First-time customers should try the general’s chicken or the lo mein, she says. Return customers love the pad thai (a Thai noodle dish) and the classic Vietnamese selections—including vermicelli rice noodles and pho—legacies from the restaurant previously named “Vietnamese Cuisine” before its sale to the Lings.
After reopening the location, the veteran restaurant owners added a Taiwanese beef noodle soup to the menu, offering a delicious taste of a famous Taiwanese culinary delight. Commenting on the menu, Kim says, “Nothing is too crazy spicy.”
Online ordering for takeout is popular at this restaurant, but those who choose to dine in enjoy the laid-back atmosphere while waiting for homemade dishes that Justin pulls together with fresh ingredients. “He likes to create, and he’s good at it,” Kim says. “He has a passion and always thinks about quality. He has a chef’s attitude and listens to what people say.” As a matter of fact, a running joke among regular customers is to ask Justin, “Hey, what’s different today?” He isn’t afraid to try new things and tweak his recipes a little to better suit his customers’ palates.
Justin started cooking right out of school in Taiwan. He married Kim before she came to the United States in 1981, but he had to wait to join her as he finished up his mandatory two years of military service. They worked for other people for a few years until Kim’s sister, Judy Thomas (who she refers to as “The Leader”), declared the family ready to own their own restaurant. That’s when they all came together and started China Road in 1990. “It was our first time running a family business—there were five of us,” Kim says.
Some of the family has since moved back to Taiwan, and though Kim used to visit her family in Taiwan annually, she doesn’t have the opportunity to visit as often anymore. “I do miss Taiwan,” she says of the island (which governs itself as a sovereign nation but is claimed as a territory of the People’s Republic of China). “It’s my home. But this is my home now, too. I raised two daughters here. Nebraska is perfect for me. The people are nice and there’s a slow pace.”
Her feelings are echoed in the dining area of the restaurant, where Asian décor mingles with “I love the USA” decals on the window. “I love my job and I like to deal with people. I want people to have a good time,” Kim says, adding that Ling’s Asian Cuisine is very much a family-friendly eatery. She loves when customers bring their kids along to enjoy a meal. Sometimes she’ll fashion little umbrellas for the kids to play with while they wait for their food.
She intentionally wants families to feel welcome, not only because the restaurant is located within a neighborhood full of families, but also because she wants everyone who steps through the door to feel at ease and comfortable. “We have lots of regular customers; they’re more like family. I see them more than I see some of my family,” Kim says.
The feeling seems to be mutual. Customers don’t balk at the 8 p.m. closing time. “They understand this takes a lot of energy,” says Kim, who doesn’t appear to be running out of energy anytime soon.
Visit lingsasiancuisine.com for more information.
This article was printed in the November/December 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.