5 Amazing Places To Feed Your Sichuan Food Obsession
The latest food trend everyone can't get enough of has been the once hard-to-find Sichuan cuisine. With an influx of money pouring in from mainland China, especially in the San Gabriel Valley, the once abundant Cantonese and Taiwanese eateries have been pushed out and replaced by trendier Sichuan ones. The Sichuan takeover isn't just limited to the San Gabriel Valley, the trend has been going mainstream as seen in Westfield malls with popular Chinese chains such as Meizhou Dongpo in Westfield Century City and Hai Di Lao in the Westfield Arcadia Mall. Most recently in Temple City, Chuan’s, a higher-end fine dining Sichuan chain clad with live opera face-changing performances has joined the growing movement in Los Angeles.
As you can see in the video above, Sichuan food is an experience for the senses. The cuisine has an incredible complexity of flavors that make you want to douse the burning in your stomach and grab another bite at the same time. But it’s not just about the burn. Each bite may have a bit of sour and sweet tanginess, a dose of saltiness, followed by a hit of tongue-numbing ‘ma la’ flavor if you pay close attention. Traditional Chinese cuisine is actually not spicy, with the exception of Sichuan cuisine. Sichuan cuisine’s most distinguishing characteristic is its tongue-numbing spice made possible by the use copious amounts of chili peppers and peppercorns, among a long list of other spices. (Sichuan peppercorn is actually not a pepper, but part of the citrus family.)
True Sichuan food is not just simply food drowned in red chili oil. Every dish has a complexity of flavors jammed packed in each bite as Sichuan cooking has 20+ different types of flavor profiles and is considered one of the most intricate gastronomies in China. Given the recent popularity of Sichuan food, here's our list of 5 great Sichuan restaurants with one must-order dish.
Tea smoking is a very traditional and unique style that hails from Sichuan and is frequently used on beef, fish, and duck. Tea Smoked Ribs, however is a dish that Szechuan Impression created themselves by using traditional tea smoking methods with their own spin. The succulent ribs are marinated for two to three days in a mixture of 17 different fresh herbs and spices, rubbed down with ginger, garlic, scallions, and Sichuan peppercorns to name a few and then tea smoked with dry heat using green tea leaves from Sichuan. The Sichuan green tea and other ingredients create a flavored smoke that imparts its flavor to the ribs. Instead of becoming tough, the tea smoking technique results in meat so tender it falls off the bone with a gentle tug. The Chinese name of the dish roughly translates to 7-mile crispy ribs is appropriate given that you are supposed to be able to smell the aroma of the ribs from 7 miles away.
Szechwan Impression is located at 1900 West Valley Boulevard in Alhambra, (626) 283-4622.
Zigong Rabbit is a classic Sichuan dish that is not readily available at many other Sichuan eateries in Los Angeles. Zigong is a city in Sichuan known for their abundance of rabbit. Novice spice eaters should stay away from this dish as it is extremely spicy. The fresh rabbit meat is cut into cubes marinated with the bones intact and then stir-fried along with dry red peppers and served cold on a bed of chili peppers chunks and peppercorn. If you are able to get past the burning spice, the sweet and numbing flavors will eventually kick in. Fang’s uses fresh rabbit meat that they get fresh every morning from a ranch.
Fang’s Kitchen is located at 306 North Garfield Avenue in Monterey Park, (626) 988-5219.
CUI HUA LOU
You can never go wrong with Sichuan-style cumin skewers. Although cumin is not a spice many would associate with Chinese cooking, it has been a mainstay in Sichuan cuisine for centuries—most likely a consequence of the trade silk routes from the West. Cui Hua Lou is a tiny 13-seat hole in the wall known for their spicy, authentic Sichuan dishes. The must order finger-food are the skewers. You can choose from an array of meats and vegetables that can be placed on skewers, seasoned with cumin, then grilled and brought to you tableside. The Chinese-style kabobs are marinated with cumin powder, the mainstay of Sichuan-style seasoning, along with peppercorn and a combination of other powdered spices, giving the skewers a “ma la” spicy, numbing, and citrusy taste. Skewer grilling rids the meat of excess fat. The most enjoyable skewers are the lamb, chicken gizzards, mushrooms, and chicken hearts. Each skewer is only $1, and it is buy 10, get one free.
Cui Hua Lou is located at 920 East Garvey Avenue in Monterey Park, (626) 288-2218.
Tea Flavored Duck is a traditional Sichuan dish frequently eaten at dinner banquets that requires ample preparation time. The House Special Tea Flavored Duck at Chengdu Taste takes seven whole days to make. The duck is first marinated in a blend of pepper, ginger, garlic, salt, and Chinese wine. After it is marinated, the duck is blanched in hot water so that its skin is tightened to ensure that the skin will be extra crispy upon frying. The duck is then smoked over black tea leaves and twigs for 15 minutes, steamed, and finally deep-fried in vegetable oil. The result is a crispy duck skin with smoky, tender tea-flavored meat. Tea smoking is a smoking technique that originated in Sichuan, China that was used to originally preserve food. Today, tea smoking is used to add a distinct smoky flavor to meat. Given the wide range of flavors of tea, tea smoking infuses unique flavors into various meats. In Sichuan, China, tea-smoked duck is one of the most celebrated dishes. The dish is eaten alongside soft white buns called gebao.
Chengdu Taste is located at 828 West Valley Boulevard in Alhambra, (626) 588-2284 and at 8526 Valley Boulevard in Rosemead, (626) 899-8886.
Water Boiled Fish, along with Tea Flavored Duck are possibly the most famous Sichuan dishes. Shui Zhu Yu, which literally translates to “water-cooked fish,” is made of white fish filet slices poached in a stew infused with dried chilies, Sichuan peppercorns and chili bean sauce layered over vegetables like napa cabbage and bean sprouts. The boiled vegetables are placed at the bottom of the dish along with the fish fillets. Then, the broth layered on and topped with minced dried chili, garlic, dried chili, and Sichuan peppercorn. 'Shui Zhu' is one of the most famous Sichuan cooking styles. Expect each bite to be very spicy and filled with a numbing sensation followed with a citrusy aftertaste thanks to the liberal usage of the Sichuan peppercorn.
Spicy Home is located at 1635 South Azusa Avenue in Hacienda Heights, (626) 636-1128.