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New SGV Hotness: What to Order at Szechuan Impression
The spicy Sichuan cooking at this Alhambra restaurant has Angelenos tingling
Have you checked your Weibo account lately? The Chinese language social media site has been buzzing with chatter about one of latest entrants into the San Gabriel Valley dining scene, Szechuan Impression. True to form, the restaurant has already developed a reputation for long lines during its daily lunch and dinner service.
Located in Alhambra right off Valley Boulevard, Szechuan Impression serves a selection of Sichuan dishes intended to be particularly nostalgia-inducing for ex-pats of Chengdu, the largest city in China’s Sichuan province. The interior is sleek and comfortable, decorated with colorful square paintings of Chinese figures and dishware that might remind you of a much cheaper Heath Ceramics alternative.
Much like Chengdu Taste—a neighboring Sichuan restaurant which boasts an equal reputation for long waits— the cooking at Szechuan Impression balances spiciness with subtlety, showcasing a cuisine that tantalizes the tongue while foreheads perspire and lips numb.
If your familiarity with Sichuan cooking is limited to mapo tofu and kung pao chicken, there are several entry-level dishes available at Szechuan Impressions which offer a fiery glimpse at this unique style of cooking . If you’d then like to move on to wine-marinated whelks and “fiery temper” goose intestines (both on the current menu!), well, that’s up to you.
QianJiao “Leg-crossingly Yum” Beef ($19)
Served in a large metal casserole pot, this opaque beef soup bobbing with slices of tender brisket and tripe looks (and tastes) a lot like Vietnamese pho. That said, there are no noodles, but rather flavorful soft-braised turnips and a sprinkle of cilantro and green onions on top (most customers eat this soup with a side of rice). A small saucer of crushed chile powder and fresh chiles is provided too, though you’re better off dipping the meat in the chile powder on the side, while sipping the velvety broth unseasoned.
Hou Dao “Honest Authentic” Dumplings ($7)
Wontons in chile oil has become a standard menu item at many Chinese restaurants (even non-Sichuan ones), but the hand-made version at Szechuan Impression will make you realize why it became such a crowd favorite in the first place. The wrappers are supple and slightly thick, while the chile oil vinaigrette the dumplings bathe in has the perfect balance of spice and tanginess.
“Mensao” Smouldering Crawfish ($23)
In Chinese, the term “men sao” refers to someone who looks cold and dull on the outside, but is actually wild and charismatic on the inside. How that applies to this heaping mound of wok-fried crawfish tossed with numbing peppercorns, dried and fresh chiles, and loads of garlic is up to your interpretation. Like a crawfish boil turned up to 11 on the flavor dial, expect this to get very messy. Luckily, as with the similarly prepared “Finger-lickingly Juicy” Spicy Crab, this dishes comes with a complimentary set of plastic gloves to keep your hands free of chile oils.
Leshan Bobo Chicken ($18)
This dish, which originates from a city south of Chengdu called Leshan, resembles a wood-tipped porcupine at first glance, due to the forty-plus bamboo skewers jutting upward from a ceramic pot brimming with spicy green chili sauce. The skewers of poached chicken and assorted vegetables are served cold, but the spicy sauce is quite warm, lending to a very interesting temperature contrast. The best part: you don’t need any utensils for this one.
Classic “Potato Strips on Street Corner” ($7)
A popular street food dish throughout Sichuan consists of packets of pan-fried, crinkle-cut potato strips tossed with chile powder, fresh chiles, and Sichuan peppercorns (sensing a pattern here?). The version at Szechuan Impression arrives on a plate, naturally, but the resulting spuds are as crisp and tantalizing as any gourmet frite you’ll find in town.
Szechuan Impression, 1900 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, 626-283-4622