Chengdu Taste III (Los Angeles, December 2017)


I’ve previously written up two meals at Chengdu Taste, the celebrated and absolutely essential Sichuan star of the San Gabriel Valley. Though I call it essential—and it is—it has somehow been two and a half years since our last visit. This is partly because it has been one and a half years since our last visit, and partly because on our last two trips we’ve docked instead at Szechuan Impression—essential in their own right. We were resolute, however, that we would return to Chengdu Taste on this trip. Annd we were there for lunch on Tuesday, less than a day after arrival. They are now a mini-empire—with three locations in the SGV and one in Las Vegas—but the original in Alhambra (which is where we always go) is no less busy for it. We got there just after noon and were given one of two empty tables. When we left at about 1.15 there were a lot of people waiting inside the door. On a Tuesday. For lunch. But the food tells you why: our third lunch was as good as our first (and that was just about a year after they’d opened). There’s been no resting on laurels here. 

There were a number of dishes from our first two meals that we were eager to try again but we managed to restrict ourselves to only one repeat order so that we could explore more of the menu. It came down to either the jade green, spring onion chicken in pepper sauce or the dark red, flavoured pork crura/hock (both from our first meal) and the pork won out. We got four more dishes: the classic wontons in chilli oil; chicken/veg skewers in green pepper sauce; beef with baby ginger; and sliced fish with tofu pudding. I should say that this last is not actually what we’d ordered. We’d ordered the mild incarnation of the fish and tofu in earthen pot (so as to not blow our brains out with heat) but this was given to us instead. Because we have no self-control, we could not turn it away and ask for the relief dish we had in fact ordered.

Yes, the above is a lot of food for two people—indeed, two people could make a whole meal of just one of any of what we ordered other than the wontons. But it’s good food, and unlike people who live here, we don’t have too many opportunities to visit. And we’re lucky to have a home base here that we can take leftovers back to (more on the dangers of this below).

Launch the slideshow for pictures of the restaurant and what we ate, along with more comments on the food. Scroll down for price, service, value and the perils of Chengdu Taste leftovers.

All of this came to $90 or so with tax and tip. That’s a lot for two people but really it was enough food for at least six people. Which means the real price is $15/head—which is criminally good value for stupendously good food. Order error aside, service was very good: our server was very personable and attentive. It probably would have been a more rounded order with the milder fish/tofu dish we’d actually ordered but what we got was pretty damned good too. And if you’re thinking we didn’t order veg, there was a lot of veg in the skewers.

And now for the dangers of Chengdu Taste leftovers. There’s no question of not taking them home and not eating them once you have taken them home. The problem is that the hot dishes become even more lethal as the chillies steep in the sauces and so the hurt of one Chengdu Taste meal becomes the hurt of three Chengdu Taste meals and, well, you can imagine the rest.

Okay, on our next trip (maybe next summer) we’ll try for real to break out of the iron grip of Chengdu Taste and Szechuan Impression and actually try another Sichuan restaurant. Coming next week from this trip: two Japanese meals.

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