Our 10 Best Sichuan Restaurants in NYC
Grand Sichuan House
Braised whole fish with hot bean sauce at Grand Sichuan House
When Sichuan sailed into town in the '70s, it was spelled Szechuan, and the food was a pale evocation of one of China's foremost regional cuisines. If chile oil was used, it was just a drop, and the sole vector of a timid spiciness was dried red chiles, which you were often advised to pick out of a dish before eating it.
Now we have real Sichuan restaurants in every corner of the city, and more are moving into neighborhoods that never had them before. Yes, the food is often overwhelmingly spicy--if it causes you to break a sweat, you're eating the real thing. And now that Sichuan peppercorns are legal in the U.S., you don't have to feel like an outlaw when asking that they be used liberally when ordering at any of these places. Here are our current favorite Sichuans, a cuisine we can't get enough of.
[Note: an earlier version of this piece listed Szechuan Chalet as number 10, but several friends noted by Twitter, e-mail, and in the comments that the place has closed and reopened, and is not nearly as good. Pending a recheck, we've promoted number 11 to number 10.]
10. Grand Sichuan House: Unexpectedly located in Bay Ridge--never a stronghold of Chinese food--GSH excels at spiciness, fully deploying the four vectors of hotness: fresh green chiles, pickled red and green chiles, dried red chiles, and, best of all, Sichuan peppercorns, which numb the mouth like Novocaine and cause a drink of water afterward to taste like metal. Here, the fish in spicy bean sauce (shown above) is spectacular, and so are the conch in wild peppery sauce, Chengdu dumplings, and toasty red chong qing chicken, strewn with sesame seeds. 8701 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-680-8887
9. Grand Sichuan: Ever since the flagship at 9th and 24th in Chelsea shut under mysterious circumstances, speculation has run high about which is now the best Grand Sichuan in the city. For years, new recipes have been tested at the St. Marks branch, so that's our current choice. The chong qing chicken there--rife with nicely toasted red chilies--is the best in town. Shown above: ox tongue and tripe in chile oil. 19-23 Saint Marks Place, 212-529-4800
8. Spicy Bampa (f/k/a Bamboo Pavilion): Dan Dan noodles (above) display remarkable sublety, and the beef tendon in bright red chile oil has never tasted better than at this Bensonhurst incendiary specialist. And where else can you step across the street for Italian pastries and a demitasse of espresso afterwards? 6920 18th Avenue, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, 718-236-8088
7. Wu Liang Ye: This stately old-timer situated on the parlor floor of a townhouse near Times Square--both restaurant and property said to be owned by the Chinese government--has been the refuge of adventuresome business lunchers for more than a decade and produces the city's best version of tea-smoked duck (above), prettily ringed with marshmallow-shaped bao. Any of the appetizers laked in red oil are a good bet, too: scungilli, beef tendon, and shredded tripe are all exceptional. 36 West 48th Street, 212-398-2308
6. Lan Sheng: This favorite of the Midtown Lunch crowd has been duking it out with the Szechuan Gourmet across the street a couple of years now, but we think Lang Shen--boasting cooks from the Wu Liang Ye chain, supposedly arrived in the midst of a labor dispute--has triumphed. Rabbit with pickled chiles (above) and yellow croaker Chengdu style are two of the most memorable offerings. 60 West 39th Street, 212-575-8899
5. Legend: The menu at this recently discovered sleeper on the edges of Chelsea is all over the map, including Vietnamese and Cantonese dishes, too, and one only wonders how much better the place could be if it just stuck to Sichuan. Nevertheless, such basics as dan dan noodles, hot pots, Chengdu fish, and beef tendon with spicy and peppery sauce (above) are rendered with admirable fidelity. And you can wash them down with cocktails.88 Seventh Avenue, 212-929-1778
4. Hot Kitchen: When HK set down in the East Village, it only provoked skepticism among jaded aficionados of Chinese food. How could it be any good? But it was very good, with a particular penchant for pickled chiles and a roster of excellent dishes that ran to fish head with minced peppers, tea-smoked duck smokier than usual, spicy wontons in red oil, and lamb with cumin flavor (shown here). Even the Shanghai soup dumplings--not part of the Sichuan canon--are superb. 104 Second Avenue, 212-982-3858
3. Chengdu Heaven: Make your way downstairs to the food court at the legendary Golden Mall to find the most unreconstructed working-class Sichuan vittles in town. That means a concentration on peppercorn-sprayed noodles and diverse organ meats (try crunchy pig ear) floundering in chili oil--you're sure to leave sated, not much poorer, and wearing droplets of the oil. Golden Mall Basement, 41-28 Main Street, Flushing, Queens
2. Land of Plenty: For an unusual upscale take on the fiery cuisine, LOP is not to be missed. Not stinting on the chile oil, it turns out superb renditions of ma po tofu (above), cumin-dusted lamb filets, and especially "braised whole fish filet with soy bean sprouts in roasted chile spiced broth." 204 East 58th Street, 212-308-8788
1. Little Pepper: This Sichuan mainstay, once located downstairs in a hardscrabble strip mall, has moved far afield into College Point, so you have to conspire how to get there. The food remains top notch, with a profuse use of all vectors of hotness--and a nice mix of not-hot dishes, too. Every meal is superb, but bring an army of friends in order to sample as widely as possible. 18-24 College Point Boulevard, Queens, 718-939-7788
Braised ox stomach and pork blood in spicy soup base
Wonton in hot and sour sauce
Lotus root with dried pepper Sichuan style
Braised sliced fish in spicy soup base
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