Tag Archives: Szechuan

Chengdu Impression: Sichuan in Chicago

Chengdu Impression (2545 N Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60614) is one of the places we could have sworn we have already written about. When we were back in Chicago, it was one of our go-to spots to take friends craving Chinese cuisine. In the past few years, the number of options for regional Chinese in Chicago has really exploded, and we are so happy about it. Sichuan food – known for its spiciness, both in terms of heat and the unique numbing effect of the Sichuan pepper – in particular is now available at several restaurants throughout Chicago, and Chengdu Impression is a standout. Since the restaurant opened several years ago we have been there at least 5 times (and maybe more), which is saying something, since we are usually on the hunt for something new.

The Chengdu Impression menu includes both Americanized Chinese favorites (orange chicken and General Tso’s) along with a section of Sichuan dishes. We never tried ordering the American Chinese dishes, choosing to stick to the Sichuan side of the menu, but we assume they are good, too! Over the course of our many visits we started to settle on some favorites. First up is a classic dish, the mapo tofu ($13.50, above) tofu cooked in a spicy sauce with the signature numbing Sichuan peppercorns. The version of this dish at Chengdu Impression is our favorite in the city.  We also like to start off with a small appetizer portion of Dan Dan Noodles (spicy noodles in a Sichuan peppercorn sauce, below). Another one of our favorites was the dry chili chicken ($14.50), breaded chicken pieces with a mix of chilies, which we have had at other Sichuan restaurants, but we love Chengdu Impression’s version because there is not too much superfluous breading, and still a nice amount of spice. A dish that was new to us was “Ants Climbing a Tree” aka Ma Yi Shang Shu ($13.95), a savory dish with vermicelli glass noodles, ground pork and a spicy sauce. For those looking for something different, a great vegetarian option is the YuShiang eggplant ($12.95) sauteed with sweet and sour sauce (you can also get YuShiang dishes prepared with meat).

The Sichuan dishes at Chengdu Impression are fresh and authentic, with generous portions. On one or our trips we even with with someone who had lived in Chengdu, and he was pretty impressed. We absolutely loved trying a new Sichuan dish every time we visited, and we can’t wait to be back in town so we can continue to work our way through the menu. Fortunately, the restaurant is still open, as of September 2020, for takeout. And if you are going to the iconic Chicago Blues Club, Kingston Mines, in the future, Chengdu Impression is literally the perfect place to eat, right across the street.

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Szechuan: Lao Sze Chaun

chinaLao Sze Chaun
2172 S. Archer Ave
Chicago, IL

During a recent episode of “No Reservations” where Anthony Bourdain jetted off to Melbourne – he ate at a Szechuan restaurant and devoured a delicious looking dish that was basically a pan of red chilis studded with meat. M, ever the capsaicin lover, was practically salivating at the screen. So we figured the next time we were in Chinatown we should go someplace for Szechuan food, known for its particular heat. We did a bit of scouring to test the Szechuan options in Chicago, and Lao Sze Chuan came out on top. Lao Sze Chuan is located in the heart of Chinatown and earns rave reviews for its more innovative take on this Chinese regional cuisine.IL00002

The interior is your basic spartan eatery, but, as always, decor matters little to us and we dove right into the intimidatingly massive menu. We stuck to the page of ‘specials’ since we were frankly overwhelmed by the massive amounts of choice. Though we didn’t venture too far afield, we especially enjoyed the demarcated section with “Very Chinese Specials” including Stir-Fried Pork Stomach with Dry Bean Curd ($7.95) and Pork Blood Cake with Chives ($8.95). It’s always a good reminder that we still have a ways to go to truly appreciate all of the world’s food – including offal.

M ordered Tony’s Three Chili Chicken ($9.95), a dish that constantly garners rave reviews when Lao Sze Chuan is mentioned. Despite the “3 Chili” label M found the dish not too spicy. In fact, it was not spicy at all. It was so unspicy in fact, that L even commented it was a bit bland. The only discernible spice was the few whole red chili peppers tossed into the dish. This was particularly perplexing – since we told the server to make the dish spicy, and to not tone it down. The chicken was mostly breading as well, which disappointed us a level further. As an accompaniment we ordered the garlic spinach ($7.95), perhaps in uninspired choice, but it arrived as advertised – garlicky and spinachy.IL00001

Our two table-mates had some formidable looking smoothies, which they reported that they quite enjoyed. We looked a bit longingly at the overflowing pastel fruit drinks as we picked through our bland chicken. Lao Sze Chaun left us scratching our head a little – everyone raves about its authenticity and flair, but we got neither. There was nary a hint of spice on even the dishes marked a spice-denoting ‘pepper’ in the menu and a dish named the “3 Pepper Chicken” didn’t even make us reach for a glass of water….

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