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Authentic szechwan option in Durham

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Past threads have extolled the virtues of Super Wok Cary and China Gourmet in Carrboro for good Szechwan food. Based on Greg Cox's recent favorable review of Happy China-- and the fact that they have decided to drop sushi as a menu option-- the outlook is good for a third option in Durham. Their website states that the chef has 15 years experience cooking Szechwan dishes. I hope to try it soon and report but if anyone has already tried it already or gets there before I do please appraise us of your experience.



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  1. Can't wait to hear a report. I'm a little iffy on G. Cox.

    2 Replies
    1. re: LulusMom

      Why? Just because nearly every restaurant he reviews is 3.5 stars? Thank goodness we have such great restaurants in the area. :-)

      Seriously though, Happy China is on our "Have to Get to It" list. I thought that the write up made it sound more interesting than the menu did, but I'm still looking forward to trying it. I too am looking forward to a report.

      1. re: LulusMom

        I got takeout from Happy China just after it opened, which was several months ago. If I remember correctly, I got the fish in Szechwan sauce and the eggplant in garlic sauce. My socks weren't knocked off, but I would certainly give it another chance. In fact, I may give it another chance tomorrow, on xmas day, in keeping with Jewish tradition.

      2. Husband and I went the day the review came out. Now, let me preface my remarks that our favorite is still the Chinese menu at Red Lotus. We just love those flavors and Szechwan runs a second for our palates. That said, I will go back to Happy China. There are dishes I want to try--braised beef, beef with chili peppers, the dumplings in red oil and more.

        The flavors didn't seem quite as strong as those in Carrboro or Cary, but as I mention later, memory may be faulty. I am afraid this review won't be very satisfying since we didn't order anything very exciting.

        The specialty menu was not huge, but there were enough interesting items to keep me happy.

        However, my order instead was safe (and a little boring). I got the Dan Dan noodles because Greg Cox had recommended them. My first Dan Dan so I don't really have anything to compare the dish to. I don't care much for peanut butter in my food so it probably wasn't the smartest choice. Don't you hate it when you order something that isn't your favorite when there are other choices (the special was pork with hot peppers)? It seemed nice enough and the leftovers were good for breakfast the next day (the flavors had melded a bit). A hint of heat that I enjoyed.

        Husband got Ma Po Tofu which I really liked. He thought the one at Super Wok was maybe better but it has been quite a while since we have been there so his memory is not to be trusted. The waitress was so cute--she was afraid it would be too spicy for us. It had a nice burn, but we could have even had a touch more.

        Odd things: They did not bring dinner plates--I only had the small plate my Dan Dan Noodles came on so was hard to try the Ma Po. Husband got a very small bowl of rice while the table of Asian young men next to us got large bowls of rice. Maybe it was because of what they ordered. In any case, I am sure we could have asked for both more plates and more rice. We were just lazy. Ice tea was very nice. Staff was very, very pleasant. They seems happy to be so busy.

        Service was a little slow but no doubt they were slammed because of the review. There were many more tables filled at lunch time than I remember from a previous visit and the phone was ringing off the wall. It did take a while to get our check, etc. but we were in no hurry.

        The portions seemed a little smaller than the dishes from the Chinese menu at Red Lotus (for about the same price) but we still had a takeout box, and, as with the Dan Dan, the Ma Po made great leftovers.

        I probably won't get back until after the holidays, but I am looking forward to trying more items on their menu. Will report when I return.

        1. Have had a Chinese co-worker (not Chinese American) go here and really enjoy it. That is all I can say about it at this time. It is in the old Pao Lim spot. Also the name of the place in Carrboro is Gourmet Kingdom.

          1 Reply
          1. re: burgeoningfoodie

            Thanks for the correction. Yes, I meant Gourmet Kingdom in Carrboro.

          2. I've eaten at Happy China twice recently and I've enjoyed it both times. I've had the fish in Szechwan sauce and the dry sauteed green beans. For such a simple dish, the green beans are outrageously good - lightly charred and tossed in a spicy sauce. I could eat a whole lot of that dish. The fish in Szechwan sauce had a pleasant spice and made for a nice warming dish on a chilly winter evening. I'm looking forward to working my way through the rest of the menu. It seems like they're doing good business so hopefully they'll be successful in that location.

            1. We had a less than stellar first impression when we first tried them for lunch. The shrimp in garlic sauce was noticeably sweet. However we went back last weekend for take out and it was much better. The Hot & Sour Soup was peppery and right. Others have commented on the dry sauteed string beans and I agree that they are delicious. The Ma Po Tofu off the Szechuan menu, though, was great (if you like spicy). It drove me to tears in a good way. Will be back to check out some of the other choices.

              1 Reply
              1. re: PeterB

                I tried them a couple of weeks ago and got shrimp in garlic sauce and dan dan noodles. I wouldn't recommend either one - the shrimp dish was well cooked but disgustingly sweet. The dan dan noodles were heavy on the peanut butter and also very sweet. The vegetable dumplings were not great either - skin too thick. I want to give them another try though, since some of the other reports sound good.

              2. My husband and I have been four times now. Overall it's been great, but characterized by vast inconsistency. The Americanized Chinese is pretty standard. Good, nothing outstanding. Mostly we get ordered from the authentic Szechwan menu, and it varied between "best thing I've eaten in a month" to "I can only take one bite of this." Double cooked beef, which Greg liked a lot, was the latter for us. On the other hand, the wonton soup with red chile oil -- which is not a soup at all, but rather dumplings on a plate with a tiny bit of broth, and red chile oil drizzle -- I could eat every single day.

                1. Forgot to mention that the Ma Po tofu was outstanding. Upon glancing at the other reviews it looks like I am not the only one that liked it. It was crazy-hot, though!

                  1. Second the motion on the dumplings in red chili oil. I almost DID eat the entire serving of sauteed green beans. Amazing dish. I had the fish fillet with peppers -- ate all the green ones, only could manage two of the red ones! Wife had the crispy duck. This was a whole half a duck, enough left over to combine with some pho broth for dinner the next night. So much more to try. The Asian students with Duke sweatshirts and tees at adjacent tables were having large bowls of goodies.

                    On the small plates: it appears that the norm for those around us was that one should move a bit of stuff from the serving plate/bowl to one's rice bowl, and go from there. We asked for plates, and got two small plates delivered. I don't know why we bothered.

                    It was all good. Will return with a group. So much to try, so much to learn.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: igopogo

                      Went to try out Happy China for lunch today, took my parents. We all ordered lunch specials (not items from the Szechuan menu) and found the Americanized Chinese food to be below the standard of other places we go (Red Lotus, Ming Garden, Gourmet Kingdom.)

                      We were all disappointed because the setting is quite nice and the ingredients were fresh and plentiful but the whole was less than the parts. My dad hit it on the head when he said the food was lacking character. He had the Sha Cha Shrimp (we both really like the Sha Cha Beef at Red Lotus), my mom had Pepper Steak without the peppers (i.e. beef and onions) and said it was lackluster in comparison to other variations of the dish in the area, and I had the Kung Pao Shrimp, which I ordered spicy and found it to be not particularly spicy and not particularly interesting. The egg rolls were crisp but contained nothing but cabbage (as far a I could detect). My dad found the won ton soup (which he had to pay an extra $2 for as only Hot and Sour or Egg Drop are included with the lunch special) to be bland (and it only contained one wonton, and no sliced pork on top.) So perhaps the Szechuan menu is great but I won't be back for my standard luncheon fare.

                      1. re: omoshiroi

                        This thread is about the Sichuan food and so I'm not sure why you thought that the regular food would be any good. I work with people from Sichuan province and had I known people were curious about the non Sichuan menu, I could have saved you the trouble of ordering the Americanized Chinese ;-) Hope you try the other menu and find it to your liking. Truth be told if the price doesn't matter you can probably order from the dinner menu if that is the only menu that has Sichuan items.

                    2. I, too, wanted to like this place. We went for a late dinner last week. I ordered the szechuan double cooked pork and my husband had salt and pepper shrimp. My dish was all pork belly which is not what I expected -- just too fatty. My husband had been assured that the heads were not on the shrimp but when the dish was served,. there they were. Plus there was a super heavy breading and not much spice at all on the shrimp dish. Both were disappointing. Maybe we didn't order right. What's good here -- on the authentic menu.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: TerryG

                        According to noted Sichuanese cooking expert Fuscia Dunlop, pork belly is authentic in twice cooked pork. I understand your desire to eat less fatty pork To avoid this in the future, you could ask for "lean". Salt and pepper shrimp should be served with the heads on b/c they're delicious. Heavy bread coating sounds off putting