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Looking for kickass Szechuan food

dkanter May 7, 2009 01:14 AM

So I've lived in the Bay Area for ~4 years now, and I haven't found a truly spectacular chinese restaurant yet that rivals what I'm used to. I've eaten at some good places, Kirin in the Richmond, and a couple of anonymous and solid (but not outstanding) places in China town.

I used to eat regularly at Lao Sze Chuan in Chicago, from 2000-2005 and it's just the best chinese food ever. The chef, Tony, has an amazing repertoire of dishes including standard americanized fare like Mongolian Beef, etc. He also has some great signature dishes and *real* chinese dishes (e.g. Yu Shiang Tendon). Apparently, he now has 3 restaurants, one in connecticut...


Anyway, I'm wondering if anyone here has any Chinese places they'd put on par with Lao Sze Chuan....



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  1. Robert Lauriston RE: dkanter May 7, 2009 07:34 AM

    China Village is the best Sichuan I've had. Z&Y Garden in SF is good. Links in this topic:


    8 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston
      Civil Bear RE: Robert Lauriston May 7, 2009 10:58 AM

      I'll second China Village. Best Cumiin Lamb and fish soup I have had anywhere.

      I'll also put in a "no" vote for Panda Kitchen. Everything there makes my tongue go numb and I cannot taste anything.

      China Village
      1335 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94706

      1. re: Civil Bear
        boris_qd RE: Civil Bear May 7, 2009 11:46 AM

        Civil Bear Said:

        "I'll also put in a "no" vote for Panda Kitchen. Everything there makes my tongue go numb and I cannot taste anything."

        Hmmm... actually that sounds exactly like authentic food from sichuan.

        1. re: boris_qd
          Robert Lauriston RE: boris_qd May 7, 2009 11:53 AM

          Yeah, lots of Sichuan pepper creates that "ma la" numb sensation.

      2. re: Robert Lauriston
        a_and_w RE: Robert Lauriston Jul 2, 2009 11:21 AM

        Count me among the converts to the cult of Z&Y. Finally got to try the cumin beef and chicken with explosive chili pepper. The latter was a revelation, one of the best versions of this dish I've ever tried. Better even than the diced chicken with chilis at Szechuan Gourmet in NYC. My only complaint is that I prefer the dish with bones in the chicken, but this was a minor quibble given how well spiced and fried the chicken chunks were. It was so good I actually went back for dinner by myself the next day to order it again!

        1. re: a_and_w
          david kaplan RE: a_and_w Jul 2, 2009 03:36 PM

          They will make it with the bony joints rather than boneless pieces if you ask; if you're not Chinese, you might have to insist, as I did. Z&Y used to serve the bony pieces by default until their recent chef change.

          It's much better with bones. My other current favorites there are:
          * smoked pork with leek
          * Yunnan fried rice cakes
          * tiger skin jalapeno peppers
          * Sichuan cold noodle

          1. re: david kaplan
            Robert Lauriston RE: david kaplan Jul 3, 2009 09:00 AM

            Is "tiger skin jalapeño peppers" the same dish they used to call "braised green pepper (jalapeño)" or something new?

            1. re: Robert Lauriston
              david kaplan RE: Robert Lauriston Jul 3, 2009 11:55 AM

              I never tried the braised pepper dish. The tiger-skin peppers have shriveled skins and are served in a vinegary thin sauce. I'll try to remember to take a picture next time.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston
                Ruth Lafler RE: Robert Lauriston Jul 3, 2009 11:42 PM

                Tiger skin jalapenos are roasted on a grill (leaving "tiger" stripes).

        2. c
          Cary RE: dkanter May 7, 2009 08:17 AM

          Do a search for Sichuan or szechuan chowdowns on this board. You might have to expand the search parameters to 2 years to get more results.

          1. d
            Deeg67 RE: dkanter May 7, 2009 09:29 AM

            China Village Albany is unquestionably #1 for me. I've also come to really like Crouching Tiger in Redwood City.

            1. c
              Calvinist RE: dkanter May 7, 2009 09:50 AM

              I quite like Country Panda Kitchen. In fact, I think I'll try to go back soon


              Panda Country Kitchen
              4737 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

              1. w
                wahbahdoo RE: dkanter May 7, 2009 09:56 AM

                My favorite Sichuan in the Bay Area is South Legend in Milpitas.

                South Legend
                1720 N Milpitas Blvd, Milpitas, CA 95035

                1. Chandavkl RE: dkanter May 7, 2009 11:20 AM

                  Chicago has very little authentic non-Cantonese Chinese food, and I would expect the Bay Area Sichuan restaurants to be superior. Add to the list Classic Sichuan, 148 El Camino Real in Millbrae.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Chandavkl
                    Pandora RE: Chandavkl May 10, 2009 01:26 PM

                    In defense of laoszechuan, I remember it being very good when I lived in Chicago 7 years ago. And in defense of Chicago, there was a place in the burbs that had the best you tiao ever (and I'm from San Gabriel).

                    Here, in San Francisco, I like Spices! the best, particularly their lamb hot pot thing.

                    1. re: Pandora
                      a_and_w RE: Pandora May 11, 2009 10:08 AM

                      This may be heresy, but I think sichuan in the Bay Area actually surpasses the San Gabriel Valley.

                  2. g
                    germanbreakfast RE: dkanter May 7, 2009 04:15 PM

                    China Village is always a good bet.
                    Also good, in Oakland Chinatown Spices 3. They serve a Taiwanese style of Sichuan food according to my friend. The spicy bacon steamed with rice flower appetizer is amazing.
                    And in Fremont (in the Ranch 99 shopping plaza) is Little Sichuan Express, my personal favorite. Though I haven't been there for a year( I should really go) when I went the food was trully the best sichuan I've had not in New York. Chongquing chicken wings, boiled beef, any noodles, it was all great.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: germanbreakfast
                      Ruth Lafler RE: germanbreakfast May 8, 2009 12:56 PM

                      Since no one else has, I'll point out that there are also Spices! locations in San Francisco (I, II, and, I think, IV -- oops, seems to be closed).

                      Spices II
                      291 6th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118

                      294 8th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118

                      1. re: germanbreakfast
                        DezzerSF RE: germanbreakfast May 10, 2009 10:07 AM

                        Little Sichuan Express moved to the Newark Ranch 99 Center, and dropped the Express.

                        Little Sichuan
                        35233 Newark Blvd Ste F, Newark, CA 94560

                      2. a_and_w RE: dkanter May 8, 2009 11:09 AM

                        I've tried several sichuan places in NYC and LA, but China Village in Albany is still my gold standard. If the manager, Mr. Yao, takes your order, be sure to heed his suggestions. But don't be afraid to try things that look good to you -- he can be a little aggressively helpful.

                        1. bbulkow RE: dkanter May 8, 2009 04:06 PM

                          It sounds like dkanter is in san francisco.

                          An interesting question would be whether there are any good sichuan places in SF city limits. Any takers?

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: bbulkow
                            Robert Lauriston RE: bbulkow May 8, 2009 04:27 PM

                            Spices 1 & 2 and Z&Y Garden. Unfortunately Zone 88 closed.

                            Z & Y
                            655 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                            1. re: bbulkow
                              sfbing RE: bbulkow May 8, 2009 05:07 PM

                              If I had to choose in SF, Panda Country Kitchen. Spices is too Taiwanish for me. Also, ZY seems to have changed hands and the food isn't quite as good as it used to be.

                              1. re: sfbing
                                Ruth Lafler RE: sfbing May 8, 2009 08:24 PM

                                Z&Y changed hands in the last few months? It wasn't that long ago they had that great chef from the Chinese consulate.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                  sfbing RE: Ruth Lafler May 8, 2009 09:15 PM

                                  This may be the first time I've had the new chef. Maybe it was an off day--chongqing chicken was a little soggy. The spicy fish with tofu had mostly broken bits of tofu and the fish was overcooked. Plus, our female waiter was really aggressive pushing the egg rolls and fried won ton.

                                  The food was fine--just not as good as it was before. My favorite incarnation was when it first opened and they made their own tofu.

                              2. re: bbulkow
                                Ruth Lafler RE: bbulkow May 8, 2009 08:24 PM

                                You mean aside from the ones already listed?

                              3. bbulkow RE: dkanter May 8, 2009 06:08 PM

                                dkanter, what do you think about those recs?

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: bbulkow
                                  dkanter RE: bbulkow Aug 19, 2012 01:24 PM

                                  Hey, so I wanted to thank everyone for the recommendations. Here are a few thoughts:

                                  1. Z&Y is good, especially if you go with a native speaker. However, I do like a little variety : )

                                  2. I found a place called Dong Bei Mama (4737 Geary Blvd) that is superb, although it's definitely more than just Sze Chuan style. It was recommended to me by a long-time native, born in China.

                                  3. I am planning to hit up Spices and Panda Country Kitchen soon, since I've heard really good things. Will try and report back.

                                  1. re: dkanter
                                    Robert Lauriston RE: dkanter Aug 19, 2012 01:36 PM

                                    Dong Bei Mama has Sichuan dishes held over from when it was Panda Country Kitchen, but the focus is Dongbei. Numerous reports here:


                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                      davidg1 RE: Robert Lauriston Aug 21, 2012 10:34 AM

                                      I would absolutely recommend Dong Bei Mama for their Sichuan dishes. Actually, I've never found Sichuan food in the Bay Area as good as this except China Village.

                                      I recommend the Fish a la Szechuan (photo), Chongqing crispy fish (photo), sauteed string beans are perfect (photo), fish filet in dry wok is really great too, ma po tofu, fish filet with tofu, eggplant, green onion pancakes, vegetable cakes, etc. As you can see from the photos, there are lots of peppers, sichuan pepper, garlic, green onions, other vegetables, cilantro. Just great. Wonderful deep flavors and some of my best meals ever.

                                2. c
                                  cwujd1 RE: dkanter May 9, 2009 08:30 AM

                                  Fortune House Sichuan on a little side street in, of all places, Pleasant Hill. It's been on this board before. I understand the ancestry goes back to China Village in Albany. Let the host guide you if you want an authentic experience. Don't miss the sesame flatbread.

                                  - Chris

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: cwujd1
                                    rworange RE: cwujd1 May 9, 2009 01:33 PM


                                    Sichuan Fortune House
                                    41 Woodsworth Ln, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523

                                    1. re: rworange
                                      baron45 RE: rworange Jun 20, 2009 09:40 AM

                                      Here's the recent but brief review from the SF Chronicle:


                                  2. calvarez RE: dkanter May 14, 2009 01:42 PM

                                    I might put Classic Sichuan Restaurant (in Millbrae right near the BART) above China Village.

                                    Z & Y is good, but I think their Hunan dishes are stronger than their Szechuan dishes.

                                    Also LOVE The Noodle Shop in San Mateo but they are Hunan, not Szechuan.

                                    6 Replies
                                    1. re: calvarez
                                      Melanie Wong RE: calvarez May 14, 2009 05:18 PM

                                      What dishes do you recommend at Classic Sichuan?

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong
                                        calvarez RE: Melanie Wong May 15, 2009 07:01 PM

                                        We really liked the shui ju yu and the cumin lamb. We also got a noodle and greens dish - I was expecting equal parts noodle and bok choy, but it was almost entirely noodles with just little tiny shreds of seaweed-like greens - can't remember the name, but it was excellent.

                                        1. re: calvarez
                                          calvarez RE: calvarez Jun 22, 2009 11:09 AM

                                          Update: After going back recently, I'm going to have to un-recommend Classic Sichuan Restaurant. It's definitely above-average for "Chinese food", but not for Szechuan. They rely too heavily on basic red pepper flakes instead of Szechuan peppercorns - so the effect is quite spicy but not the distinctive mala flavor.

                                      2. re: calvarez
                                        Robert Lauriston RE: calvarez May 15, 2009 07:28 AM

                                        Z&Y added Hunan dishes?

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                          calvarez RE: Robert Lauriston May 15, 2009 06:53 PM

                                          Oops, meant Yunnan. But they do have a "Hunan smoked pork" dish on the menu which is the best incarnation of that I've ever had.

                                          1. re: calvarez
                                            david kaplan RE: calvarez May 16, 2009 07:35 AM

                                            With the new-ish chef at Z&Y, they've added smoked bacon to the menu in several dishes. Yunnan rice cakes come with smoked bacon, dao miu (pea shoots), and picked mustard greens, speckled with bits of fresh (if I recall correctly) chili. I like the combination even more than Bund Shanghai's rice cakes with spinach and bacon across the street. Z&Y also offers the smoked bacon stir-fried with leeks.

                                      3. rworange RE: dkanter Jul 3, 2009 11:50 PM

                                        This place just opened July 1st, 2009. If you give it a try, hope you report back

                                        El Cerrito: Happy Golden Bowl - Seriously Szechuan ... Dim sum, house-made noodles and much, much more

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