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May 5, 2009 02:06 PM

MSP Review: Little Szechuan

Is there any better Chinese restaurant in Minnesota than Little Szechuan? Their motto captures its essence:

一菜一格, 百菜百味 (Yi Cai Yi Ge, Bai Cai Bai Wei) or

“For each dish, each style. In a hundred dishes, one hundred flavors.”

In the course of two visits these dishes were devoured:

Szechuan Cold Bean Jelly – pleasing cold bean jelly noodles that contrasted with the numbing ma la heat of the chilies.

Potato Shreds with Green Peppers – estimable rendition.

Cumin Lamb – tender, flavorful pieces of dry-fried lamb with a healthy dose of cumin.

Gong Bao (or Kung Pao) Chicken – as good as it gets. Lightly stir-fried and not ladened with thick cornstarch glop. Just what your Sichuanese grandmother would have made for you.

Stir Fried Pea Tips – fresh with pieces of garlic. Just a tad overcooked but a great sight to see.

Dan Dan Noodles – Disappointment here as I make this a lot. Needed more meat.

Abundant evidence for me at Little Szechuan of accomplished Wok Hei. And best of all: no buffet. Ever! It will assuredly be a destination restaurant for me in the Twin Cities. They could do with a greater selection of veggie dishes and utilize a wider variety of Chinese greens that are available in the Twin Cities. Little Szechuan would fit right in the Big Apple – but they’d have to jettison the egg rolls, fried chicken wings and chow mien. (I understand they have to have these dishes for the uninformed and perhaps walk-in, take-out neighbors.) One menu quibble is the Chicken and Shrimp, Lettuce Wrap appetizers – this must be from a Vietnamese influence because it’s certainly not Chinese. When is that Light Rail link up to their door going to happen? A true Chinese cuisine palace. I’ll be back.

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  1. nice review of a board favorite. i rec the ma po dofu for your next jaunt-- they do it very well at LS. wrt vietnamese influence on chinese menu apps, i think this is very common in msp, and vice versa with chinese influence on vietnamese menu apps/mains. and then there is the cream cheese wonton, which is neither chinese nor vietnamese, nor anything else-- it's a weird msp phenomenon :)

    1 Reply
    1. re: soupkitten

      I think this trend was noted on my recent Cheng Heng thread - previous diners had reported very good spring rolls, which i found to be only so so, and it turns out they are probably about as native to cambodian as chili's are to scandanavian food.

    2. Little Szechuan is high on the list of to-dos, but I have a question. For dietary (and being from South Dakota) reasons, my wife trends toward noodle dishes at Chinese places. These appear on Little S's lunch menu, but not the dinner menu. Am I safe to assume that she can at least order lo mein on the side to accompany her main dish? Mean Kevin is tempted to pursuade her that jellyfish is just a chewy version of Dan Dan noodles, but that might not fly.

      1 Reply
      1. re: kevin47

        They do list six Lo Mein dishes on their paper menu but you are right, not online. I am pretty sure their entire menu is available during their opening hours (11 - 3 pm & 4:30 - 9 pm.)

      2. Two very different experiences...

        I had dinner here about a month ago with my wife and the couple who live next door. Every single item was unbelievably fantastic. In particular, the tea-smoked duck had a great flavor. And the battered shrimp with broccoli (don't recall the actual name) had a terrific sweentess that was a nice foil to the spicy dishes we shared at our table.

        Then I ate luch there yesterday.

        I ordered off the lunch menu. The lunch menu is more "mainstream" than the dinner menu (which contains many Szechuan speciaities), but I made it a point to order an item from the lunch menu that was also on the primary part of the dinner menu, the double cooked pork. From the photo on the dinner menu, it appeared to have scallions. Great. But, to be safe, I asked the waiter whether or not it came with bell peppers. I explained that no bell peppers is a good thing. "Not much pepper; just a little spicy." I tried to explain that spicy if fine, I just don't want the bell pepper vegetable. "No spicy peppers; you'll like." I ordered the dish not fully confident.

        It was teeming with green and red bell peppers. No biggie. I just picked them off. But the rest of the dish really lacked much spice or flavor, and was on the greasy side. Double cooked pork tends toward the greasy, but if any place could do it right, I thought it would be LIttle Szechuan. Wrong.

        The hot and sour soup was also more bland than representations at most other places. My companions noodles with pork were similarly uninteresting (and those were from the Szechuan part of the main menu). At tleast the dried sauteed green beans were solid.

        So I wonder if it's a different kitchen staff at lunch or what. But it was like eating at two different restaurants.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Brad Ballinger

          Huh, interesting. I wonder if the weekday lunch-time menu caters towards worker-bees from the Capitol and, therefore, a "a broader palate?"


          1. re: Brad Ballinger

            I had a similar experience with lunch at LS this week. (It's been my luck to have been able to hit a couple of places across the river for lunch.)

            I, too, ordered the double cooked pork. My only point of comparison is the double cooked pork that T-Express serves faster-food style in the Towle Building. I like their version but figured it may not be that authentic. So when I saw it on LS's menu, I went for it. The bell peppers were a surprise to me. Didn't think that it was the normal preparation either. The pork was a little spicier than T-Express and a little higher in quality, but not especially impressive.

            Looking at the lunch special menu, it does appear to be more "Americanized" than the "authentic" dinner menu. There were some noodle soups though that seemed a bit more adventurous. Was not in the mood for soup that day, but that may be the way to go.

            1. re: bob s

              That's one dish I did not have there - but bell peppers in "Twice Cooked Pork" ? Don't know why they would be putting them in there - this dish should just be thin slices of pork belly, leeks, hot sauce and some optional fermented black beans.

              1. re: bob s


                If you are looking for authentic double cooked pork try Tian Jin. Teahouse used to make a good version and may be worth checking out also. I am surprised Little Szechuan is using bell peppers. Now that 2 people have reported this, really makes me wonder what's going on there.

                1. re: dave43

                  I suspect it's on the "American" side of the ledger for them. Either that or it's a way that they think they can stretch the meal for their lunch special. It's the only mediocre thing I have had there - although I always order from the "authentic" menu at dinner.

                  As for Tian Jin, I will try it when I am out that way, but doubt that I'll be able to convince anyone to make the trek to Chanhassen. We live in Uptown and spend a lot of time in St. Paul. SW Metro is really off of our radar.

                  1. re: dave43

                    Dave - three of my dishes at TJ (Kung Pao Chicken, Cumin Lamb and Twice Cooked Pork) all came with the same vegies: red and green bell peppers. And all three tasted the same. Traditional prep of all those dishes does not call for bell peppers.

              2. I stopped in again during a recent trip and tried three of the six dishes I had the first time: Kung Pao Chicken, Cumin Lamb and Stir Fried Pea Tips and can report no falloff there as regards to quality.

                1 Reply
                1. re: scoopG

                  I went again last sunday and got my usual Pork in Spicy Szechuan Broth and this time it was a total clunker. The mouth feel of the pork was mushy yet at the same time gummy if that makes any since. There was also a major drop off of flavors and spice. Might have to seriously look into Teahouse for my next Szechuan journey as it seems to me these new chefs haven't quite got it right the last few times I have been there.

                2. Managed to get back here and can genially report they are still toothsome. Maybe just a slight downturn from my previous visit. Their Ma La Pork Shreds were a little tough but had yummy flavor. Quick Fried Lotus Root was warm and not too spicy. Jellyfish in Scallion Sauce passed muster and Cumin Lamb, though well seasoned, the meat was a little too chopped-up for my taste. Fresh Pea Shoots were satisfying. A few photos....

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: scoopG

                    Since a couple of disappointing experiences at LS last year, I've been going the extra 2 or 3 miles to Tea House 2 at White Bear and I-94.

                    1. re: JimGrinsfelder

                      Maybe the next time I stay in downtown St. Paul! I've been to the Plymouth location and have always wanted to try the White Bear Lake location for their weekend dim sum too.