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Sichuan in Boston Area?

I was in Philadelphia over the weekend and some friends took us to Han Dynasty in Old City. We loved it, most notably the dan dan noodles, but everything else was great too.

So, what I am wondering is, can we get a similar experience somewhere around Boston? I see mentions for Sichuan Gourmet and a lot of people seem to like it there (with some detractors of course). Has anyone been to Han Dynasty and can you compare it to anything in or near Boston? Or, where can I get some great Sichuan food, because I need another fix?

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  1. Have not been to Han Dynasty, but the places I like in Boston that offer what strikes me as pretty traditional Sichuan food include New Shanghai in Chinatown (the other half of its menu is Shandong/Beijing), Sichuan Gourmet in Brookline, Sichuan Garden in Brookline Village, and Thailand Cafe in Central Square (ignore the fact that half its menu is awful Thai food). I've had decent experiences at Zoe's in Somerville, but haven't been back there in a long time.

    Our Taiwanese places tend to do a limited selection of good Sichuan dishes, too: Taiwan Cafe, Dumpling Cafe, and Gourmet Dumpling House in Chinatown; Jo Jo Taipei in Allston; Mulan near Kendall Square, Cambridge.


    13 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      Thanks. I will definitely need to explore some of these options. Any particular dishes you'd recommend that stand out?

      I have been to Mulan a few times and enjoyed it, but no clue if I had any Sichuan offerings or not.

      1. re: ebone

        Obligatory nod to the sliced fish szechuan style at Gourmet Dumpling House.

        1. re: ebone

          Some standbys, which not every place will have all of: mapo tofu, beef with longhorn pepper, double cooked bacon, gingu fish fillets (which I think is the same as sliced fish Sichuan style), Sichuan meatball, rabbit with chili vinaigrette, tea smoked duck, cellophane noodles with minced meat, shredded potatoes with green peppers, mouth-watering (a/k/a saliva) chicken, dry-roasted whole fish, cumin lamb or beef, dry fried chili chicken, dry fried fish slices, steamed bacon with garlic sauce, tendon or fresh bamboo shoots with spicy wonder sauce, Sichuan wonton with spicy chili sauce, dan dan noodles, smoky hot chicken, old Sichuan chicken, minced pork with long beans, eggplant with yu xiang sauce.


            1. re: jgg13

              Indeed. "Our Taiwanese places tend to do a limited selection of good Sichuan dishes, too: Taiwan Cafe, Dumpling Cafe, and Gourmet Dumpling House in Chinatown; Jo Jo Taipei in Allston; Mulan near Kendall Square, Cambridge."


              1. re: MC Slim JB

                I really did a bang up job missing every point last night.

                Note to self: Don't drink and post. much.

                  1. re: jgg13

                    But then the site would be much less entertaining.

            2. re: MC Slim JB

              Zoe is sweet as a delivery place but I wouldn't send someone there.

              Outside of Chinatown I dig the Sichuan gardens in billerica and Framingham (in that order) or chile garden in Medford. As an ex central sq denizen if love to also say Thailand cafe (same disclaimer) but I hadn't had enough experiences, outside of them hosing up my phone order which I don't count

                1. re: jgg13

                  What have you got against Zoe's (Somerville) as a place to dine in? I've been eating there for years, and always appreciate both the food and the service. Although Chinese food as take-out is a cliché, most dishes are at their best right from the wok. I don't think you'd get the best of Zoe's (or any restaurant) by using them for take-out only.

                  I do wish that Zoe's luncheon specials were more adventurous, though. They don't reflect the range of what the restaurant offers on its main menu, unlike (say) MuLan, which has similar items (and quality) at lunch and dinner.

                  1. re: owades

                    Nothing really. The point that I made poorly was what I said later on below, that it's just not something I'd send someone out of their way in terms of sichuan food. If you're nearby, if you're getting delivery, etc - great. But if you're hopping in a car and travelling a ways there are better options for sichuan.

                2. re: MC Slim JB

                  Finally made it to one of your recommendations over the weekend, New Shanghai for lunch. In short, we really enjoyed the food there. We had dan dan noodles, wontons in red chili oil, cumin lamb and Hu Hsiang (sp?) eggplant. The noodles and wontons were especially great, but we liked everything we had. Good amount of heat in everything, but nothing overpowered.

                  Would like to check out some of the others, but New Shangai was solid and we would go again.

                3. As a transplanted Bostonian living in PA who visits MA several times a year, I can testify that Sichuan Gourmet (at least the Billerica and Framingham locations) and Sichuan Garden (at least the Woburn location) compare favorably with Han Dynasty.

                  1. My favorite is Chili Garden in Medford. I'd recommend the Double Cooked Pork Belly, Dan Dan Noodles, Cilantro Salad, Ma Po Tofu, Beef Toungue with Green Peppercorn Sauce, and Spicy Pork Tripe.

                    18 Replies
                      1. re: joth68

                        Chilli Garden's rabbit in spicy sauce (a hot dish, not the appetizer of bone shards) is outstanding. Takes 45 minutes, which probably means they start with a frozen rabbit (or a live one!)

                        1. re: KWagle

                          I always thought the appetizer dish with all the bones was the board favorite. I didn't care for it. Will have to go back and try this one!

                            1. re: joth68

                              That's the one people talk about at other restaurants. Chilli Garden makes a hot rabbit dish that's similar to, but not the same as, "water cooked" or "with napa cabbage in fiery sauce." I assume someone on Chowhound other than me has had it--if not, go now! but call ahead or arrive early enough for them to kill the rabbit. :D

                              BTW, there are several variations of this dish for fish, in particular "water cooked fish" and "boiling fish" aren't the same.

                              I concur with Tatsu that CG is in the top rank. We should have a Chowdown there sometime.

                              1. re: KWagle

                                Is this the Rabbit with Chef's Special Sauce (S17) or the Rabbit with Dry Pepper and Peppercorn Broth (S18)? I'm going to be up that way Thanksgiving weekend.

                                1. re: KWagle

                                  One app that my friend, a long-time fan and owner of a well-known restaurant in Cambridge likes very much is the Cilantro Chili Salad. It is just that, longhorn green peppers that pack a surprising punch, and cilantro, dressed in a black vinegar like mixture. Nothing seems so spicy after that dish, even jingu fish, mostly because they are raw chilis basically, even if they aren't so hot scoville-wise.

                                  1. re: tatsu

                                    Agree--love that salad. (I also like the cold rabbit which is, yes, very bony.) The home-style lamb from the new specials menu is also good, moderately spicy, be warned it's a big bowl of soup with lamb breast pieces. A bit pricy at $20 for lamb breast I thought, but I'd get it again.

                                    1. re: Aromatherapy

                                      Talk about Chilli Garden inspired me to review it, and discuss the high quality ingredients used here.


                                      1. re: Aromatherapy

                                        A new specials menu at CG? Post it!

                                        1. re: KWagle

                                          On the foodler.com menu, "New Specialties." In the restaurant, it's a separate sheet.

                                          1. re: Aromatherapy

                                            It would be more useful if it included the Chinese. It's unfortunate they don't have their own web site. I'll have to go take a picture when I get back to Boston--the fermented sticky rice sauce sounds quite interesting.

                                            1. re: KWagle

                                              They used to post a menu on their website but it was usually outdated. At least this way it's current. The printed menu does have Chinese (Sichuan stuff only).

                                              1. re: Aromatherapy

                                                I can't even find their actual website anymore, just something put together by a delivery service using their name.

                              2. re: joth68

                                I revisited Chilli Garden in Medford a week ago and was surprised at how good it really is. I haven't been in a very long time, when I didn't know much about Sichuan food. It is now top three for me, the other two being Red Pepper in Framingham and Sichuan Garden II in Woburn.

                                1. re: joth68

                                  Chili Garden is great. My favorites are the Chicken with Sour Mustard Green and the spicy beef short ribs.

                                  1. re: joth68

                                    It may sound boring, but their appetizer Bamboo Shoots in Sesame Oil is outstanding. Fresh bamboo shoots, strong garlic kick, with shredded scallions. It's a nice "cooling off" dish in between the intense ma-la stuff.

                                  2. In addition to the places already mentioned (all of which have been discussed many times on CH, as the search function would reveal) Red Pepper in Framingham is also excellent.

                                    Sichuan Gourmet and Sichuan Garden are often confused, once already in this very thread. I haven't had much luck at Garden in Brookline, but Woburn has been excellent. And I have no idea why anyone would avoid dining in at Zoe's, even before they moved across the street.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: KWagle

                                      Oops, I mixed them up. I outthought myself on that one, thinking "I always get these mixed up" and reversing them. Except that I had it right the first time ....

                                      Re Zoe - I think it is AOK and I've had many a dinner from them. I just think that if someone was going to be making a special trip that there are better options out there. If someone was in the area and/or sans car, well that's different.

                                      1. re: KWagle

                                        I totally agree taht Sichuan Garden in Woburn seems much, much better than Sichuan Garden in Brookline. I had one bad experience at Sichuan Gourmet in Brookline, shortly after they opened, but on a number of visits since then it has been every bit as good as the other locations of Sichuan Gourmet.

                                        But as good as both those places are, I think Red Peppers in Framingham is the best Sichuan restaurant in the Boston area now.

                                        Fuloon does not have as many Sichuan dishes as the Sichuan specialists --- Red Peppers, Sichuan Gourmet, Sichuan Garden, and Chili Garden --- but they have about a dozen Sichuan dishes, each of which is really excellent.

                                        Thailand Cafe, New Shanghai and Zoe's are all good restaurants that I enjoy, but I wouldn't go out of my way to go there for Sichuan food if I could just as easily go to one of the others. Boston's Sichuan food scene is extremely vibrant and broad.

                                        1. re: lipoff

                                          I'm glad you're having better luck with the Brookline SG. I hope you've gotten to try some of their special specials, by which I mean the ones unique to that location like the roasted meats in a foil package.

                                          I still think SG has the edge in terms of actual cooking technique, and consistency in preparation over both time and space, but I generally enjoy Red Pepper more nowadays. And IMO Chilli Garden has the most subtle flavors as well as several dishes, like the beef tongue with huajiao, that I haven't seen elsewhere, and more non-hot options.

                                          1. re: lipoff

                                            wow! this means a ton to me.

                                            i think red peppers is great and nobody really talks about it.

                                            that beef noodle soup is possibly the best cold weather soup i have ever had. the place cracks me up, the servers can be indifferent or quite attentive, who knows?. people at other tables (usually asian) are always eating from some tray of madness that makes me want to point and say "ill have that". the specials board is often in chinese characters.

                                            this is not the place you are ever going to see the Sherborn Historical Society have their monthly luncheon, but with a little luck and a smile even this generic white guy can get some really good (and not inauthentic) sichuan food.

                                            1. re: hyde

                                              I talk about it! lipoff talks about it too!

                                              Most of the stuff on the whiteboard is also on the "weekly specials" menu which is translated. If they're not giving you that menu you should ask for it. In particular, there's nothing "weird" hidden on the whiteboard--there are usually a few whole fish dishes on there, and some actually seasonal items. I think that's what I like best about RP--I can walk in, order food, and get what I order without any discussion or hassle.

                                              ("Thailand Cafe" is also like that, they literally don't care about pleasing the white trade. But their food is nowhere near as good.)

                                        2. sichuan gourmet in framingham
                                          new shanghai in chinatown
                                          chili garden in medford
                                          sichuan garden in brookline
                                          thailand cafe in cambridge

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. Sichuan Palace in Chelmsford is much better these days, and its worth it if you're up this way or if SG/Billerica is slammed (its tiny).

                                            Are there any truly uniques dishes at any of the Sichuan places or do they pretty much all serve the same ones? There must be hundreds of dishes, but you tend to see the same ones everywhere. Of course, I'm not really into offal so I realize I'm skipping over all of these dishes in my search for something new to try. For example, When Top Garden in Tewksbury was very good, they served a dish that was some kind of gourd/squash with white "bamboo fungus". It was mild, spice-wise, but very tasty. My Chinese friends loved it.

                                            18 Replies
                                            1. re: Dinsdale45

                                              Red Pepper certainly has some unique dishes: corn with duck egg, beef larynx, and Chongqing style tofu come to mind. Lao Sichuan (AKA Sichuan Gourmet) has some things it does much better than the competition, such as jingu fish and gan guo fish. Sichuan Garden Woburn has an excellent house special deep fried chicken with dry chilis stuffed with sesame. And CG has the rabbit, and beef tongue with cilantro and huajiao, among other things.

                                              So, yes.

                                              But angled luffa with bamboo fungus is not among them. You can get that everywhere.

                                              1. re: Dinsdale45

                                                It was rumored that the chef from Top Garden went there. Top Garden (Tewksbury), for a very brief time, was spectacular.

                                                Unfortunately by the time I made it to Sichuan Palace, the chef had changed yet again, so I have heard. I didn't think it was on Top Garden's level, but he might of been off that day. Who really knows? The Sichuan items were annoyingly intertwined with the regular menu, and there were not many of them.

                                                I can't substantiate any of these rumors. But I did look up Sichuan Palace and it looks like the owners changed sometime this year. I visited in May perhaps.

                                                1. re: Dinsdale45

                                                  We used to like Sichuan Palace years ago but our visits in the past few years have been disappointing.

                                                  1. re: hargau

                                                    Try it again. I've never been disappointed in the past half year or so. Then again, I don't know what you find disappointing.

                                                    1. re: Dinsdale45

                                                      A friend who lives in Derry NH has a cow orker who's Chinese. He reported in July that they had gone a few times and the food was good. I'm pretty sure that he hasn't tried the places we Chowhounds love, but presumably his cow orker does at least know about them.

                                                      1. re: Dinsdale45

                                                        I have been in the past 6 months. Just dont find the dishes to be very good. Seems anything i get that is sichuan there in the past 2-3 years has been basic food with plain red oil poured all over it. For instance the tasty Sichuan Dried Chicken dish which we love at S.G... What we got at S.P. was plain/unseasoned battered chicken bits drowned in plain red chili oil straight out of the bottle on a soggy doily. Got a pork belly with rice cake dish and same thing, fatty sliced pork with no seasoning other than chili oil straight out of the bottle. So greasy it was hardly edible.. We eat at S.G. at least 30x a year and while dishes may have the similar color red sauce they are not just oil/grease and they have much more complex complete flavors than that.

                                                        1. re: hargau

                                                          I don't know, I talk to the owner/manager all the time and he knows I want the authentic stuff, so they go a little heavier on the "ma" for me. Maybe they cook one way for what they see as acceptable for the American palate, and another way for Chinese customers. The dry chicken ("BaWang") I've had was very lightly battered, wasn't drowned in oil, and was really tasty. They also give you some meat rather than a 75/25% ratio of chile pod mass to protein. Same for the Kung Bo chicken. No celery and peanuts in brown sauce mess here. The dry beef and beef/tendon appetizers are great. The cumin lamb is as good as I've had at SG, and the dry pot fish fillet is also good. They recently expanded the menu, so I have some more exploring to do. I feel pretty lucky to have a go-to place in my hometown that doesn't dumb it down. Of course, your mileage may vary.

                                                          1. re: Dinsdale45

                                                            Went tonight. Got the dry Bawang chicken, Dandan noodles and Sizzling fish fillet in dry pot.. No sichuan pepper corns at all. The fish was neither sizzling nor dry, yet over battered and soggy. They chicken was as i remembered. The dandan noodles were odd as they seemed to use a mix of ground pork and ground mushrooms. I took pics so you can kinda decide.. Service was nice and friendly and the owner did ask us several times if everything was ok, which it was, just different/ not as good as others.

                                                            1. re: hargau

                                                              Well, sorry man if I led you astray. Did you ask them to include the "ma"? All I can tell you is that I think the food is pretty good. Its funny, at the company I used to work for, I knew many Chinese women who frequently dined out at the local Sichuan restaurants. For one, it was Sichuan Gourmet/Billerica, or nothing. Everything else was crap. She found fault here and there with Top Garden in its prime, S. Garden, etc. The rest of the Chinese women were more like me, in that they liked specific dishes at each place, but didn't really slam any of the restaurants. I feel I can recognize bad Chinese food, but when it comes to degrees of greatness, maybe I have a wider range of acceptable standards. I like what I like. I've had dishes at S. Gourmet that were good, but I can't say they were better than Chilli Garden, Thailand Cafe, S. Palace, or anywhere else. Its all good...unless its bad.

                                                              1. re: Dinsdale45

                                                                We didnt ask for anything specific other than to mention "we like it hot"... And the owner came over and looked at what we had and said "ahh you like it hot!"
                                                                Do these photos look like what you normally get? Maybe they make the dishes different for different people, i dunno. I tried to show in the photos the depth/amount of oil in the fish dish (see lower left of photo where i moved aside the fish) and on the chicken plate...

                                                                1. re: hargau

                                                                  Was the owner a young guy with good English skills? I've told them that I understand the concept of ma la, and they always give me what I want. Sometimes they have a different way of interpreting things, and I think if you say you like it "hot", they just throw a few more chile pods on there. With Sichuan cuisine, don't you have to expect chile oil as a major and distinctive component? It's like ordering Tex/Mex and commenting on all the melty cheese. I try not to eat rice, so I'm not soaking up all that oil, anyway.

                                                                  Your photos do represent what I've had. I like the fish because it isn't swimming in oil like the poached version. I don't find it overly breaded or soggy, just tender. I always get good ma. Same with the chicken. Unlike other places I've tried, the pieces are always meaty, seasoned, and numbing/spicy, not just over-fried quarter inch nuggets covered with a pound of chile pods. The dan dan noodles don't blow me away, but EVERY Sichuan place does them a little differently. I don't think there is a "right" way, but heavy on sesame paste doesn't do it for me. I like their version, but is it the best I've had? Probably not.

                                                                  Funny, the last time I was there, the owner saw me and said, "extra ma la, right?" I said yes, but they piled on the peppercorns so heavily that my favorite cumin lamb was inedible. I'll have to tell them to rein it in next time.

                                                                  I guess I'm not that critical in this regard because my most important criterion is that they rise significantly above the brown sauce and celery glop of most Chinese restaurants. I don't expect them to ascend to levels of greatness. They give me a very good option for very good (maybe not great) authentic Chinese in my hometown, in the suburbs, without all the cool options of the city. I hate to see comments that may make people avoid the place just because it may not measure up to very high standards.

                                                              2. re: hargau

                                                                I agree that overall, Sichuan Gourmet is way better, but I've had some good dishes at Sichuan Palace. Specifically, I like their Ma Po Tofu better, and its very nice to have on their lunch special menu.

                                                                1. re: hargau

                                                                  My wife ordered food for me last night. Sizzling fish and beef in spicy sauce. No ma, not much la. I guess you have to tell them how to make it, otherwise they fall back on the default prep for non-Asians. Still tasty, though.

                                                                  1. re: Dinsdale45

                                                                    Yea im pretty much done with SP. Too bad as it used to be in our regular rotation years ago, before the ownership changes.

                                                                    We went for Taiwanese last night at Asia Gourmet at the concord rotary. They have some Sichuan on the menu but its similar to SP with simply oil on stuff. They do Taiwanese ok though, we like the soup dumplings.

                                                              3. re: hargau

                                                                by the way, when i last went to SG with someone from Chunking, the waitress said that SG is part of a Chinese chain of restaurants. I wondered if the one in Manhattan is also part of the same chain.

                                                                In any case, SG is an example of a chain of restaurants that produce very good food. Perhaps not aiming at the highest level but very satisfactory.

                                                                1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                                                  I think she may have meant the chain being Billerica, Framingham, Brookline, Sharon locations... I dont consider a local restaurant with a few locations the same as a "chain" restaurant... http://www.laosichuan.com/en/aboutus.php

                                                                  1. re: hargau

                                                                    i am only transmitting what the waitress said to my friend. And if she is to be believed, then SG is part of quite a large chain of restaurants.

                                                                  2. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                                                    Szechuan Gourmet in NYC has expanded and now has a total of four restaurants in NYC - three in Manhattan and one in Flushing. They use the old Yale romanization (Sze) instead of pinyin (Si).