Our 10 Best Sichuan Restaurants in NYC
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