Sichuan food is definitely not for the faint of heart. The food is characterized by tongue-numbing dishes and truckloads of chile peppers. Dishes come out soaked in blood red chile oil and bright green chopped scallions are thrown on for garnish. It all looks very festive.
The cuisine is one of the eight great Chinese cooking-styles, an honor bestowed only if the region's food is complex and steeped with history. In fact, Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, became the first Asian city to be listed as a "City of Gastronomy" by the United Nations in 2011 – an honor only granted to places with strong culinary practices.
A Sichuan meal will have you torn between reaching for a glass of milk or another bite. It's all very addicting. Here are four places in Los Angeles County to get your fix:
Chef Tony Xu moved to Los Angeles in 2005 and after multiple Chinese restaurant stints, including one with Panda Restaurant Group, he decided to try his luck and open a restaurant dedicated to the gastronomical treasures of his hometown, Chengdu. We're thankful he did because Chengdu Taste is now San Gabriel Valley's hottest new restaurant. Tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, imported straight from Hanyuan County in Sichuan, are the main ingredient and are used generously. Go for the water-boiled fish, drenched in a vat of chile oil, and the toothpick beef, seasoned with toasted bread crumbs and cumin flakes. They also have a specials menu in rotation. Ask for the lion fish – a crunchy whole fish that has been glazed with a sweet and sour sauce.
828 W Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 588-2284.
Located in a stripmall in Rowland Heights, Shu Feng Garden is another shrine to Chengdu cuisine. There's a cold steel table where you can pick out pig ears, tofu noodles, and seaweed strips before plunging into the main courses: thin slices of pork belly glistening with chile oil, peppercorn-heavy fish and noodles. Their dan dan mian, slick chewy noodles with ground pork and chile oil, is one of the best in the greater Los Angeles area. Lunch specials average out to be under $10, assuring you won't break the bank.
18459 Colima Rd., Rowland Heights, (626) 839-7589.
If you have to order only one thing from Chung King, order the water-boiled fish. Swimming in a deep vat of chile oil, the boneless white fish is sliced into accessible, flaky pieces. The accoutrements are simple: more chile sauce on top, a bed of bean sprouts and cabbage on the bottom and a heaping of cilantro on top. The dish has its origins in Chongqing (the city the restaurant is named after). They also have fantastic chicken cubes. It's akin to fried chicken, but boneless, cut into bite-sized pieces and sautéed with a bucket of chilies.
1000 S San Gabriel Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 286-0298.
Lucky Noodle King
While they have all the Sichuan basics in rotation, Lucky Noodle King is really a dan dan noodle specialist. The composition is fundamentally a medley of ground pork, garlic, crushed peanuts and pickled vegetables over noodles. The ground pork, embedded with chile flakes, sits on top like Bolognese sauce. Give it a good mix until it's thoroughly coated with the creamy sesame paste. If you're a diehard spice lover, note that the heat level can be amped up. Just ask.
534 E Valley Blvd # 10; San Gabriel, (626) 573-5668, www.luckynoodleking.com.