A Chinese lunch

Yesterday’s Visitor’s Lunch was at one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in Chicago: Lao Sze Chuan, which of course features the food of Szechuan. We ordered way too much food, but it became leftovers. The restaurant became wildly popular when it opened as it was the first place to feature authentic Szechuanese food in the city. Now there are several branches in Chicago, as well as other states, but the original downscale spot in Chinatown is still supposed to be the best. That is where we went, and the food is as good as ever.

The dishes:

Appetizers: Chengdu dumplings and cold Szechuan noodles with sesame sauce.

Tony’s Three Chili Chicken (known to regulars as “chicken crack”:

Szechuan string beans with preserved vegetable:

Mongolian lamb (not a Szechuanese dish, but very tasty):


  1. randallschenck
    Posted March 1, 2019 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Suddenly I am very hungry.

    • Liz
      Posted March 1, 2019 at 2:37 pm | Permalink


      • Dominic
        Posted March 4, 2019 at 3:35 am | Permalink

        Flipping heck YES! 🙂

  2. Posted March 1, 2019 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    I lived in Hyde Park for a few years while my wife was at U of C law school, and we used to go to a Chinese place near campus–I cannot recall the name of the restaurant–where they had a dish called “Empress Chicken.” I’ve never had it anywhere else before or since, but it was wonderful. Does PCC(E) or anyone else know of the restaurant or the dish (and if anyone anywhere else makes it)? They also had really good egg rolls.

  3. Posted March 1, 2019 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    That kind of stuff is some of my favorite food. I eat at a restaurant named Szechuan at least once a week.

    I work with many first-generation immigrant Chinese colleagues. Most of them tell me that this is their favorite local restaurant.

    Love it! Bon apetit!

  4. merilee
    Posted March 1, 2019 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    We have quite a good Szechuan take-out joint nearby. My son worked there during high school and would bring great stuff home (with an employee discount) after his afternoon shift. I kind of try to forget that it’s there because some of the food is like the “crack” above. (Crispy spicy shrimp, pan-fried dumplings, Calgary beef (no idea how it got thst name, but it’s done kind of like your crack chicken)).

    • norm walsh
      Posted March 1, 2019 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

      Alberta beef would be more correct, but point made.

      • merilee
        Posted March 1, 2019 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

        Why Alberta rwther thsn Calgary?

  5. Simon Hayward
    Posted March 1, 2019 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Like you, I prefer the Chinatown branch – my wife likes the more upmarket feel of the one on Michigan Ave north of the river. Always good food. That deep dish “pizza” is no competition 🙂

  6. Adam M.
    Posted March 1, 2019 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m reminded of your old promise to give us some of your recipes for Szechuan cuisine. 🙂

  7. Peter
    Posted March 1, 2019 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Those Chengdu dumplings look wonderful. I prefer mine pan fried and then steamed, but will take them any way I can!

    • merilee
      Posted March 1, 2019 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      Costco actually sells frozen Gyosa Japanese dumplings which are quite similar. Pan-fried in about 10 minutes. I took a Szechuan cooking class eons ago and learned to make the dumplings from scratch, but it’s very time- and ingredient-intensive (something called “pickled vegetable” which I still had in the fridge for about 10 years). Easy enough to buy good ones. The Costco ones of course come packaged in the gazillions ( well, maybe 2 packs of say 25 each), but you can always just fry up a few at a time.

  8. Posted March 1, 2019 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I love Szechuan food though reading the menu is tough sometimes for those of us squeamish about eating all the animal’s parts. You made some good choices here.

  9. scruffycookie
    Posted March 1, 2019 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Everything looks *amazing*. I especially love green beans. 🙂

  10. Posted March 1, 2019 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    whoa yum!

  11. Vaal
    Posted March 1, 2019 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Oh…my…goodness. That looks perfect.

    It’s not fair.

    Now I must go on the hunt for Chinese food, which will fall short of the ones pictured here.

    (Actually, we have really good Chinese food in Toronto. Though one of my greatest regrets is moving away from the major Chinatown, making it much harder to get to good Chinese food)

    • merilee
      Posted March 1, 2019 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

      Szechuan Garden, in College just west if Spadina, used to really good many moons ago.

      • Vaal
        Posted March 2, 2019 at 5:21 am | Permalink

        Yes, been a while since I ate there.

        I’m distraught that my all time favorite comfort-food Chinese restaurant, Spadina Garden, serving Hakka-style Chinese food, closed down:


        I’d been going there since the early 90’s and haven’t found anything to replace it. Only pale second-choice alternatives that only remind me how great that restaurant was.

        • merilee
          Posted March 2, 2019 at 9:01 am | Permalink

          It seems to have moved around the corner and down Spadina,@and now spelled Sichuan. The other one was actually written Szechuan GaLden in the phone book. There used to be a great Chinese seafood joint on the north east corner of Spadina and Baldwin, called something like Xian Yuit. Maps only shows a Sang’s seafood, which may be the same thing. Excellent stir-fried lobster sith black beans and garlic.

          • Vaal
            Posted March 2, 2019 at 11:37 am | Permalink

            Much obliged for the info merilee. I’ll check it out.

    • Posted March 4, 2019 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Toronto has several Chinatowns by now. Vancouver does, with the “traditional” one being not worth it anymore from what I understand. Heck, even Montreal does sort of (traditional part of Brossard and part of Cartierville/St. Laurent).

      • merilee
        Posted March 4, 2019 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        Markhan (just north of Toronto) has a HUGE Chinatown.

  12. dd
    Posted March 2, 2019 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    Is Szechuan food usually spicy? Vietnamese is my thing….

    • Posted March 2, 2019 at 12:04 am | Permalink

      Yes it is.


      • merilee
        Posted March 2, 2019 at 12:14 am | Permalink

        Usually spicier than, say, Cantonese, but the heat varies. I can’t take super spicy without getting embarassing hiccups.

      • merilee
        Posted March 2, 2019 at 12:14 am | Permalink

        Usually spicier than, say, Cantonese, but the heat varies. I can’t take super spicy without getting embarassing hiccups.

  13. Rita Prangle
    Posted March 2, 2019 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    My parents used to take us to a restaurant in Chicago’s Chinatown years ago, it was always a fun treat. I think the Restaurant was called Great China, and it was on the 2nd floor of the building.

  14. Mark R.
    Posted March 2, 2019 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Is Hot and Sour soup a Szechuan soup? I love it, and it’s the only Chinese soup I can think of that is actually spicy. I also love any dish with Szechuan peppercorns and I enjoy the mouth numbing sensation it offers. I recently bought a “La Yu” (chili oil) made with Szechuan peppercorns- an amazing ingredient.

    • merilee
      Posted March 2, 2019 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      Yup, I learned how ro make that soup in my Szechuan cooking class. It’s great with the szechuan peppercorns, which I recently restocked from amazon. Might have to look for the oil. Gochugarum (sp?) is really good Korean chile powder/paste.

      • Mark R.
        Posted March 3, 2019 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        Thanks for clarifying. And yes, I love Korean chili paste too (won’t try to spell it) 🙂

        • merilee
          Posted March 3, 2019 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

          The Korean guy at my local Korean store got a chuckle out of my pronunciation of gochu….I even put said chili powder and/or paste in non-Korean dishes. It’s fairly easy to control the heat.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted March 2, 2019 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

      Best Hot & Sour I ever had was at Mei Ling in Metuchen NJ. We ate there regularly but one night ~1979 when we craved Chinese happened to coincide with a blizzard. We called and they were open. Threw a set of chains on the trusty Falcon wagon and off we went. The place was empty, but the H$S was way better than we’d ever had there before. We figured thay made it for themselves, figuring that nobody would show up.

      And Szechuan green bean was a staple there for us. Once they were out of green beans so we asked if they could make it with broccoli. They hesitated. We said just pretend the broccoli is green bean. It was great, of course. And a few wks later it appeared on the menu.

      • merilee
        Posted March 2, 2019 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

        Szechuan broccoli can be great!

      • Mark R.
        Posted March 3, 2019 at 11:42 am | Permalink

        Yes, nothing is as satisfying as H&S soup on a cold winter’s day.

  15. Posted March 4, 2019 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Does Lao Sze Chuan still do the practice of having more dishes available if you bring a native speaker?

    • Posted March 4, 2019 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Maybe not, since the “exotic” stuff seems to be on the menu already (“spicy duck chin”!)

    • Posted March 4, 2019 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      That’s a common issue with Chinese restaurants which I discovered long ago. Good to bring along an Asian-y friend. Even better if they speak the same language as the restaurant help. It is getting better though. It has been a long time since a waiter has brought me a fork to replace my chopsticks without me asking for it.

      • Posted March 6, 2019 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        The funny case was the hybrid: my sister and her husband took me to a place in Kingston (Ontario) that had a “Chinese menu” and a “Canadian” one, but the first was available in English too. I suspect given the demographics that this was because of the large number of *Korean* students at Queen’s University, but …

        • Posted March 6, 2019 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

          We have quite a few places with dual menus but they are mostly Thai and Sushi. I’m not sure where it got started but we’ve had Thai places with sushi bars inside for a couple of decades at least.

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