I have been teaching Sichuan cuisine for the past 12 years, first in Beijing, then in New York and now mainly on Zoom. Students generally expect to have four-alarm experiences when they come to cook. But in addition to the delicate balance of flavors, I emphasize the importance of using Sichuan pepper for the bad tingling sensation and the vital role of smoking in many of the dishes. Some, like shui zhu yu (fish in an oil broth with hot chili), are designed to have explosive heat, while others, such as kung pao chicken, are meant to be smokier than spicy.
And then, things like cucumber puree and other cold vegetable preparations are designed to be eaten as refreshing palate cleansers between bites of other, spicier dishes. Little Pepper has been a mainstay of Queens for nearly two decades, first in downtown Flushing and then on College Point Boulevard. Head here to enjoy one of the best and spiciest cold sesame noodle bowls in town. Mapo tofu is also excellent, with worse potency than other local versions and a thinner sauce.
And the flavor of their canned eggs is softened by chili oil and green peppers, with a wonderful softness that will make almost anyone turn into a canned egg. All of these dishes, plus other great options such as eggplant with garlic sauce and shrimp with hot chili oil, come with a lot of sauce. So be sure to also order some scallion rice, cooked with so many scallions that the rice has a bright green color, to soak it all up. Opened in Flushing in 1985, Szechuan House is arguably the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Sichuan in New York, although the ownership has changed several times over the years.
One of the main attractions here is the thinly sliced veal tendon with red chili vinaigrette, a perfect snack for those who like soft, soft textures and a hot and spicy sauce. Just as spicy are dan dan noodles, which at first seem harmless because of the small amount of sauce used compared to that found in other restaurants, until you realize that much of the heat is in the crushed red chili paste placed on top. For some balance, add some sweet treats to dinner, such as fried sweet potato pies, instead of saving them for last. The sweetness and starchy will help cool things between bites of fiery dishes.
Anyone near the Upper East Side who wants to try the bad flavors should head to Hui, on East 70th Street. Dried Pepper Chicken is a reinvented (and slightly more tropical) Chonqqing chicken that's crunchy and packed with sliced red chilies and sweet pineapple to balance the spices. The dry pot stir-fries here are also excellent and come with whatever protein you choose, plus potatoes, lotus root, mushrooms and a hearty amount of numbing spice. Larger groups should also opt for whole fish with chopped chilies, which comes with plenty of sauce that you'll want to cover all the rice and noodles.
Hui also has a small shaded outdoor area in the front, which is a welcome benefit that not many Chinese restaurants in the area have. Guan Fu, the first Chinese restaurant in New York to receive 3 stars from the NY Times, is a Sichuan destination that originated by a group of families from the former province of Sichuan. The owners Li Boru and Xue Wei moved to New York from China to open a restaurant that represented China's aristocratic cuisine, and in Guan Fu they do just that. Our absolute favorite here is fried eggplant stuffed with spicy pork.
Le Sia, a recent addition to the East Village, means “The Shrimp” and specializes in seafood that sells by the pound, boiled in a pot of herb soup and fried in a wok. Chef and owner Zac Zhang is a native of Beijing and wanted to bring Chinese-style crabs to New York, and that's what he does with Le Sia, where crab is the main attraction. Other favorites include garlic scallops with glass noodles and Enoki mushroom skewers with pork belly. The Han Dynasty is one of the pioneers in bringing authentic Sichuan cuisine to New York.
The restaurant opened its first location in Philadelphia, where locals are known to wait hours to try tasty dishes such as Wontons in bright chili oil, rabbit with peanuts in chili oil and chicken wings with dried pepper. So it's no surprise that owner Han Chiang has opened more than nine Han Dynasty locations in Philadelphia and New York, and plans to open 100 across the country. We love Flaming Kitchen because it offers Sichuan-style food with Cantonese and Shanghai-style influences, and it offers a little bit of everything we love. Start your meal here with classic dim sum and traditional dishes such as beef tongue and tripe with chili oil.
Then, eat your serving of Sichuan with a classic hot pot dish made with chili oil, dried chilies, and Sichuan peppercorns. The first restaurants in New York that called themselves Sichuan took an interim approach and served some Americanized versions of chicken, kung pao and mapo tofu, along with equally Americanized Cantonese, Hunan and North Chinese dishes. Many Sichuan fans in New York know Han Dynasty's small East Village restaurant, but there's also a much larger venue in the basement of CityPoint, in downtown Brooklyn. However, if a little heat is what you're looking for, try the braised goat hot pot with five intensity alarms, which is hard to find anywhere else in New York.