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Feb 26, 2012 06:25 PM

Szechuan in the Boulder area?

Just moved from the Twin Cities to Boulder; I am already missing the many authentic Szechuan restaurants that were so enjoyable.

Are there any Chinese restaurants in/near Boulder that serve good authentic Szechuan dishes like Chung King Chili Chicken, boiled beef in spicy sauce, dan dan noodles, etc.?

Thanks, Karel

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  1. In a word: no. I don't think a Sichuan peppercorn has ever set foot in Boulder County.

    The closest sichuan/szechuan is probably SE Denver at China Jade. I feel your pain, it's the one cuisine I seek out when I travel.

    Just so you know, other chinese cuisines are likewise inadequately represented in Boulder.

    9 Replies
    1. re: caviar_and_chitlins

      Not quite true... you can get Sichuan peppercorns at Savory Spice Shop and Penzey's, and then make your own Dan Dan Noodles, Gong Bao Chicken, etc. if you're willing to put in the effort.

      But I get what you mean. South Federal Ave. in Denver is a haven of Chinese and Vietnamese places and I'd bet there's some good Szechuan food there. You could start with Lao Wang Noodle House, which has excellent Dan Dan Noodles and XLB soup dumplings (though they're not traditional Szechuan, the owners are from Taiwan I think, it's still really good). I'm sure there are others, though I don't know them - anyone else?

      South Federal is also where to go for dim sum, if you're into that. Star Kitchen is probably my favorite, but King's Land and Empress are also good. And if you want Korean, you're going to want to head to Aurora (Seoul BBQ is excellent.)

      Regarding Boulder's food scene generally, it's like many high-cost-of-living towns - there's great food here, but it tends to be trendy food that can cover the cost of high rent (think farm-to-table, small plates, Neopolitan pizza). First-generation immigrants who want to set up shop selling authentic food from their home countries without financial backers need lower rent/expense, so you don't tend to get that kind of cuisine here. Luckily, we're very close to Denver and there's a lot of strip-mall space between here and there, so there are lots of great holes-in-the-wall to discover. (For example, try Pho 79 and Pho Duy as well as the Pacific Ocean Seafood Market in Broomfield, only about 10 minutes from Boulder.)

      1. re: monopod

        Does Zoe Ma Ma, here in Boulder, have any Sichuan specialties? And does anyone know where to find a good Ma Po Tofu locally? I usually make it myself (and I toast the Szechuan peppercorns from Savory to serve with it -- yum!), but it would be fun to try other versions.

        1. re: vanillagrrl

          No, and no. Sorry. I really WANT to like Zoe Ma Ma, but everything there seems kind of bland to me. They have a sichuan peppercorn sauce that you can put on things, but I can't detect any of that numbing effect.

          1. re: vanillagrrl

            Update: Just tried Zoe Ma Ma again, and they seem to have improved their spicing (at least, for my tastes). The sichuan peppercorn sauce did have a bit of the numbing that I love, and the Za Jiang Mian was much tastier than I remember. Plus the braised beef soup (special on Mondays and Tuesdays) was quite good. I don't know if I just caught them on a good day today (or a bad day before), but it was much better this time.

          2. re: monopod

            South Federal Ave. in Denver is a haven of Chinese and Vietnamese places, but there is no authentic Sichuan.

            Lao Wang Noodle House is Taiwanese; the cuisine is completely different from Sichuanese.

            The only place I've ever had authentic Sichuan in Denver are China Jade and Ocean Forest Cafe (which is closed). China Jade has a couple solid Sichuan dishes on their menu, but not enough to made the drive worth it except very infrequently.

            1. re: eade

              also check out chef liu's in aurora. i've tried chef liu's, it is good, but i prefer china jade.


              golden shanghai near dtc


              1. re: eade

                Update to one more source of authentic Sichuan: He Xing Gardens in Lakewood has a few authentic Sichuan dishes.

                It's hit and miss -- the ma po tofu is an Americanized miss. The fish stew is a hit.

            2. re: caviar_and_chitlins

              The Sichuan perrercorn is in Boulder County. Yurihana in Gunbarrel has a special menu with dishes from many provinces, including Sichuan, They serve Mapo Tofu, Ants on a Tree, and other dishes.

              1. re: Pho_King_Awesome

                Aha! Now I see Yurihana's "authentic chinese" menu online. Will give them a try too. "Stir-fried pickled mustard greens, ground park and fresh soybeans" sounds pretty good!

            3. Found Szechuan food only two blocks from my house... Five Spice in Boulder (28th and Iris) has some authentic Szechuan dishes:

              While it satisfies my craving for Szechuan, it's not as good as the restaurants I went to in the Twin Cities. When you order, make sure to mention "extra spicy" as they usually assume that Boulderites can't handle spicy food.

              4 Replies
              1. re: kzuiderveld

                Excellent tip. I may head there this evening for some mapo dofu and dan dan noodles!

                1. re: kzuiderveld

                  OK, I went and checked it out. You have to specifically ask for the "Traditional Chinese" menu, they don't give it to you automatically (at least, they didn't give it to us, but we don't look very traditionally Chinese I suppose).

                  Dan Dan noodles were OK but not great. Ordered them spicy, should've gone "extra spicy." Not spicy hot, and no evidence of that great numbing Szechuan peppercorn effect, unfortunately.

                  Mapo Dofu was better - still not noticeably spicy (also ordered "spicy"), but the flavor was good and the texture great.

                  Lima beans, pork and mustard greens were very tasty. Sauce was perhaps black bean based - kind of salty, but really good with the strong greens. "Lima beans" were in fact edamame, which is a better deal in my book.

                  But the showstopper was the eggplant and pork hot pot with scallion pancake. Rich spices (a lot of five-spice in there, I think), soft eggplant and meltingly tender pork belly and shoulder, with a delightful pancake to eat it with. I'd get that one again in a heartbeat.

                  We also ordered beef and broccoli off of the main menu for the little kids, and it was very mediocre. Stick to the Traditional Chinese menu and order everything "extra spicy" (as kzuiderveld points out above) and you'll get what I think is probably the best Chinese in Boulder.

                  1. re: monopod

                    thanks for the report, monopod- I'm going to give it a shot soon and the eggplant and pork dish sounds great.

                    1. re: monopod

                      Thanks for the tip! Will try it out.

                      Boulder - Longmont - Loveland - Fort Collins seem to be plagued with "ethnic" restaurants that take all the styles and dishes of all the regions of an entire country, and put them on one menu. It's certainly that way for Mexican food, just like Chinese.

                      I prefer to experiment with different regions!

                  2. More good Boulder news for those in search of Sichuan food. Pho Basil on 28th Street has an extensive menu including boiled beef, dan dan noodles and more.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Pho_King_Awesome

                      Went to Pho Basil today and had the boiled beef, Dan Dan noodles and Chung King spicy chicken. The latter dish was the important one as it was her favorite when we were living in Minneapolis. Fortunately, Pho Basil did a great job at it! The other two dishes were pretty good but a little different from what I was used too. The boiled beef dish was not the usual Szechuan boiled beef I expected, but was still decent.

                      Quite a lot of variety on the menu - Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Chinese... Not always good, but the Szechuan dishes were good enough for us to add the restaurant on our "must go" to list.

                      1. re: Pho_King_Awesome

                        Sorry to say that I have to disagree with kzulderveld's review of Pho Basil. Went last night with the family and the universal conclusion was "bland, bland, bland." Dan Dan Noodles tasted like there were no preserved vegetable, no chiles, no sichuan peppercorns, none of the interesting flavors - just pork covered in soy sauce and oil over unflavored noodles. Not even close to real Dan Dan mien.

                        But the biggest disappointment was the pho (which we expected to be good since it's in the restaurant's name and all). Hands down the worst pho I've ever had. The broth tasted like nothing but a watery beef broth - no spice at all. The meat (I got brisket, ribeye and meatball - it also came with a hefty portion of tendon/gristle, not sure if that was intentional or not) was all overcooked to the point of being flavorless and tough to chew. And they didn't bring the standard accompaniments - basil and bean sprouts had already been added and were soggy and wilted, no tray of fresh herbs, sprouts, and onion to add a fresh note. I had to ask for hoisin and sriracha, and the waitress seemed confused when I asked for them. Seriously? These accompaniments, with minor variations, are pretty much universal in every pho I've ever had (which is a lot).

                        I ate a few spoonfuls and then had them pack up the rest, which is almost unheard of for me. At home, I realized they had filled the to-go container with the noodles and meat and apparently only had room for about 1/2 cup of broth, so that's all we got. If I ask for my soup to go and you dump out 3/4 of the broth before packing it up, that's not really cool with me (even if it's lousy broth - was planning on perking it up at home with spices and charred onion/ginger).

                        So, unfortunately, serious thumbs down on Pho Basil. Very unlikely we'll be returning.