Joe's Noodle House -- Sichuan
Well, I've now been four times in the last several weeks, and have only begun to scratch the surface of the enormous menu, along with the dozens of "off-menu" specials.
This is not the (tepid, lacklustre) Joe's that many folks remember from years past -- apparently there are new owners (last two years or so?) and quite obviously a new kitchen staff. The focus is on sichuan cusine --and it seems to my uneducated palate to be fairly authentic (that is to say, it doesn't resemble what passes for "szechuan" food at the mine run of chinese restaurants).
I don't have much to compare it to except for one recent (delicious) meal at the vaunted, Chowhound favorite Grand Sichuan Int'l in Manhattan, but having said that, I'm inclined to say that this is the most interesting, most consistently eye-opening chinese food that I've had in this area in some time, and almost a match for GSI. A quite amazing array of different tastes, textures, preparations. I've loved just about everything I've had.
For what it's worth, the place has been fairly crowded when I've been there -- usually late in the lunch hour on the weekends -- and I don't recall seeing any non-Chinese clientele other than my own party. Of course, I don't subscribe to the myth that the best chinese restaurants are necessarily those with the most chinese customers, but in this case I think it's an indication that something worthwhile, or notable, at least, is going on at Joe's.
Is there anyone out there more knowledgeable than I about sichuan food who can confirm my suspicions that this is a real find? Are there any other worthwhile sichuan restaurants in the area to which it can be compared? I've heard a couple of stirrings about Peking Village in Fairfax (apparently the name is a misnomer) -- anyone been?
I think Joe's would be a great place for a Chowhound event -- hey, if enough hounds showed up, perhaps we could even check out, say, 5% of the menu.
Oh, by the way, you'd be hard-pressed to spend more than about $15 per person, unless you're planning to take quite a bit of food home.
Just found the place--in Rockville, right? If so, then I have found their menu on line (http://www.joesnoodlehouse.com/menu.html) and it looks very promising! Their name in Chinese is also rather a good sign, since it is E-Mei Xiao Guan, named after Sichuan's famous E-Mei mountain, one of the "holy peaks" of China. They have a number of relatively hard-to-find dishes, too, including two of my favorites, Fish Filet over Vegetable (H20) and Sliced Beef over Veg (H21).
re: James G
Sorry 'bout that. Yup -- Rockville's the place, in a nondescript strip mall. (See link.) It's next door to a kabob place that also appears to get a lot of business, and that also looks intriguing and worth checking out if I ever get tired of JNH.
My strategy has simply been to ask the very helpful proprietor pictured on the right (woman in red) for her recommendations, and she hasn't steered me wrong (or to conventional "American" choices) yet. Among the dishes I've sampled are E02, E07, E09, E11, E14, A46, H04, and T03, plus lots of stuff that's not on the printed menu. Haven't tried H20 yet, but if it's anything like the fish in H04 (which was a fesh whiting, by the way), I suspect it's awfully good.
re: James G
I used to go to Joe's when it was TERRIBLE (under the old management) - but the NEW Joe's is AWESOME! It's own and run by women - and seriously, makes Chinese like my grandmother makes! MEGA yummy, uber cheap --- and while the decore leaves much to be desired - once you get the spicy wontons - you won't notice ANYTHING except what's infront of you (the crispy shrimp is an all time favorite too!)...
We stopped here for a late dinner last night for the first time (from the Chowhound recommendations). There were only two of us so we only had a chance to sample 2 dishes, but we were extremely impressed. We had the triple pepper chicken (not on the menu but posted) which was one of the most delicious chicken dishes I've ever eaten, and a rich drunken noodles dish with beef and basil. The women that run this place are lovely and helpful.
My date, who seemed slightly put off at first glance of the menu (the duck tongues and feet are at the top of the House Specialties), told me that he now knows how Chinese food should *really* taste now that he's eaten here. Even novices like us will know how good this food is.
Thanks for recommending this one!