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May 15, 2010 07:02 PM

Sichuan in Seattle

A few years ago, I read Fuchsia Dunlop's book, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper. I then went out and bought a copy of Land of Plenty. Although Uwajimaya happily sells just about everything you need to cook Sichuan food at home, I quickly realized that my apartment's electric stove was not exactly designed for authentic Chinese cooking methods. As a result, I have had to farm out my Sichuan meals to local restaurants. Here's what I've found so far:

Sichuanese Cuisine (ID): Not very exciting, at least if you don't order hotpot (that's what all of the Asian folks in the restaurant seemed to have done).

Chiang's Gourmet: Surprisingly good, given that Sichuan isn't really the focus. Certain dishes seem a bit pricey (e.g. lamb), and the staff has occasionally tried to talk me out of ordering things like pork belly and offal, but I am almost always happy with the food. The spicy stuff is genuinely spicy, if not tinglingly-so.

Szechuan Chef: Apparently it used to be good, but I can't say that I was very impressed when I ate there.

Spicy Talk: This is where the former owners of Szechuan Chef went. I've been underwhelmed both times I visited, first by the pork with pickled vegetables and secondly by the dan dan mein (I was hoping for ya cai and ma la, but all I got was chicken and sesame seeds).

Szechuan Noodle Bowl: If you ignore the first part of the name, it is pretty good. The dan dan mein is just noodles in sesame paste, but the other things I've eaten there have been tasty.

Bamboo Garden: Probably the best so far, but they were stingy with the Sichuan peppercorns even for supposedly spicy dishes from the "wild side" menu. Still, it's a decent lead.

So far, the only really good Sichuan food I've had in the area was from Utopia Cafe. Despite the fact that I'm a beer-drinking white guy with a beard, they happily gave me full-on spicy food that actually delivered on the promise of Fuchsia Dunlop's recipes. Alas, it has already been replaced by a generic-looking Vietnamese restaurant.

My remaining leads are Spiced, on the far side of Bellevue, and Three Sisters, in Tacoma. Is that really it? Where do you guys go for authentic Sichuan? Do you have any tips for getting places like Bamboo Garden and Spicy Talk not to assume that you're just some sweet-and-sour-pork-eating sissy?

Szechuan Chef
15015 Main St, Bellevue, WA 98007

Bamboo Garden
202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

Szechuan Noodle Bowl
420 8th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104

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  1. I'm reading Shark's Fin and Sichuan Peppers right now! And, coincidentally, we passed by Chiang's Gourmet and decided to give it a go. I'd been once before about a year ago and remember having a really great "casserole" dish. Anyway, we had the Pork Belly in brown sauce and the Ja-jiang mien. The pork belly was good and not too sweet, but not as soft as I would have liked. The noodles were wonderfully garlicky with just a hint of spicy hotness. What else would you recommend there?

    1 Reply
    1. re: maybelle

      My three favorite dishes at Chiang's Gourmet:
      -Pork with pickled vegetables
      -Noodles with pork and drybean curd (is that the ja-jiang mien you ordered?)
      -Cold spicy beef

    2. What about Seven Stars Pepper Szechuan? I've heard great things but have never been. Also, the last time I went to Sichuanese Cuisine (ID), which admittedly has been a while, it was the closest I'd ever had to the food I had in and around Beijing...

      Seven Stars Pepper Szechuan Restaurant
      1917 S Jackson St, Seattle, WA

      Sichuanese Cuisine Restaurant
      1048 S Jackson St, Seattle, WA 98104

      1. Just become a regular at BG and keep assuring them you like it spicy. I imagine, in that location in downtown Belleuve, they get enough American customers that can't deal with heat, so I think they play it safe if they don't know you. I like BG more than places that are Chowhound favorites in NYC and the SF Bay area.

        I'd love a report on Spiced if you make it there. I'm not sure how 7 Stars is anymore--we defected to BG long ago.

        1. I've been interested to try Spicy Talk. Despite what you say, I'll probably still go and give them a spin.

          Spiced is probably more heavy on the spices than Bamboo Garden, but the ingredients used at Spiced is inferior. Everything tasted a bit starchy to me. Although their cold dish selection ($6 to fill a bowl) is pretty nice.

          Szechwan Noodle Bowl doesn't work for me. It tasted like plain noodles and ingredients with spice sauce added on as an afterthought.

          My current fave is Szechwan 99 in Lynnwood. About the same fire level as BG but with even better and fresher ingredients. The handmade tofu in their bean curd fish is pretty hard to beat - silky and almost melts in your mouth amidst the spice and peppercorns. Their spicy beef noodle soup is great for lunch.

          Bamboo Garden
          202 106th Pl NE, Bellevue, WA 98004

          1 Reply
          1. re: HungWeiLo

            To be fair, Spicy Talk is probably a better experience if you don't go in with Sichuan on your mind like I did (and/or if you don't show up at 2 PM on a Saturday). I may give it another shot simply because the prices are reasonable and it's the only reputable Chinese place I know of in downtown Redmond.

          2. I'm a fan of Szechuan 99 in Lynnwood. It's the same chef as the old Szechan Bean Flower. They were better when they were Bean Flower but they are still good. They were just not Americanized when they were Bean Flower but they still do have some great Szechuan dishes. The chef specialties are reliable. The house special bean curd dishes are stand outs. Red Pepper chicken or Szechuan chicken are really good. Seafood delight while not spicy is excellent. Hot braised beef is a good one, too. If you stay away from the dishes that are demanded by the American diner and look for the chef special icon on the menu you can eat really, really, well at 99.

            Szechuan 99
            6124 200th St SW, Lynnwood, WA 98036

            2 Replies
            1. re: seattleviking

              I actually applaud their decision to go Americanized - it keeps them in business longer to do what they're good at. I smile at the diners getting their bigass plates of sweet and sour chicken, secretly thanking them for subsidizing my bean curd beef or fish.

              1. re: HungWeiLo

                slightly off topic but maybe you guys will know: does the dish i used to get at szechuan restaurants in the 70's as shrimp with chili sauce come under a different name now? i'm talking about the simple orange sauce slightly corn-starchy, heavy on ginger with garlic and chilis, only green onions for vegetable, often a little broccoli for garnish. best with lots of large prawns (though on east coast menus in my youth they were all called shrimp) a couple of restaurants in town that i have found carry it under the name i'm accustomed to (chiang's gourmet and chef liao) but they aren't quite how i remember it. hunan in portland makes a rendition that is spot on though. i know it's probably not authentically szechuan but it seems it used to be a standard on american-chinese menus that purported to specialize in szechuan and now isn't. any information you have to share would be appreciated. thanks.