A Guide to Ordering at Grand Szechuan (Bloomington, MN)


As I never tire of saying, Grand Szechuan is our family’s favourite restaurant in Minnesota. We eat there more often each year than anywhere else—probably more than the next five places put together. Over the years—from well before I ever started this blog—we’ve introduced a good number of friends and colleagues to this great restaurant; and via the blog I’ve introduced a number of strangers to it as well. The introductions for friends and colleagues come with detailed suggestions—tailored to their tastes—on what to order. On the blog I once presented a suggested order but for the most part I’ve let my reviews function as a guide to the menu. But the menu is large and for people who aren’t just first-timers to the restaurant but also new to Sichuan food it also can be overwhelming. And so—sparked most recently by interest on the excellent Twin Cities East Metro Foodies Facebook page—here is a fuller guide to the menu that will hopefully result in not just a good first order but a second and third and fourth and fifth as well.

A few framing points before we get to the orders:

  1. This food—like most Asian cuisines served outside of high-end cheffy contexts—is meant to be ordered and eaten “family style”. And it’s best to go in a group so that you can eat a meal with a range of flavours and textures. The guides below assume a group of eight diners. I recommend highly that, like us, you order this way even if you are only two or four people and just take leftovers home to have a number of delicious meals in the ensuing week.
  2. The menu is large but is not quite as large as it seems. By which I mean that there are many dishes that repeat across different protein options. In the case of such dishes I will recommend the one that seems to me to be the best version and if you like it you can try the other iterations on subsequent visits.
  3. As I said above, you want a mix of different types of dishes. You should start with a couple of appetizers, most of which are served at room temperature or warm, before moving on to a mix of crispy, braised, stewed and stir-fried dishes. Soup is always nice too. And it’s good to eat your veg.
  4. You absolutely do not have to have a crazy high chilli/heat tolerance to enjoy Sichuan food. And at Grand Szechuan you can have a very good meal even without ordering anything very hot. That said, you should try to get at least a couple of hot dishes. Keep in mind that unless you look Asian or are known to the house you’re unlikely to get crazy levels of heat anyway without begging for it. If you’re worried ask for a dish or two to be “medium spicy” and you’ll be able to handle it alongside everything else that will be on the table. On the other hand if you do want dishes that are meant to be hot to be properly hot ask for “Sichuan spicy” and repeat yourself.
  5. It’s also possible to eat very well at Grand Szechuan ordering only vegetarian dishes. Accordingly, there’s a suggested vegetarian order below as well.

Okay, let’s get to it! Each recommended order is accompanied by a slideshow of those dishes so you have a sense of what you’re getting into. If any of the orders contains something you are averse to or don’t eat let me know in the comments and I’ll suggest a substitute dish.

First Visit

  • Chengdu Spicy Wontons. These are on the Szechuan Snacks menu at the very front. The dressing is spicy; if you want to reduce the heat don’t toss the wontons completely in it.
  • #6, Spicy Hammered Chicken. Don’t spoon the chilli oil over rice and you’ll be fine. And you shouldn’t spoon the chilli oil over rice even if you like very hot food.
  • #20, Dan Dan Noodles. This is a Sichuan classic and Grand Szechuan’s version is very good.
  • #32, West Lake Ground Beef Soup. A good relief dish.
  • #73, Kung Pao Chicken. Kung pao chicken is an American Chinese cliche but if you haven’t eaten it in a good Sichuan restaurant have you really eaten it? Best with a bit of heat but fine without too.
  • #116, Double Cooked Chinese Bacon. Chinese bacon=pork belly. This is a mild dish.
  • #147, Spicy Squid Roll. Aka “triple-flavour squid”, this is one of very best dishes served at any Minnesota restaurant.
  • #182, Mapo Tofu. Another Sichuan classic done very well here. This is best when pretty hot but will be good at medium too. Bear in mind this contains ground pork.
  • #191, Szechuan Green Beans. Don’t ask questions, just get them. Also mild.

Here’s a slideshow showing the dishes above. Scroll down for the next order. (The captions are from the original review posts in which these images appeared.)

Second Visit

  • #4, Pork Belly in Garlic Sauce. Shake the chilli oil off before eating the strips of pork belly.
  • #16, Bamboo Shoots in Chilli Sauce. Same deal with the chilli oil.
  • #34, Pickled Mustard Tuber and Shredded Pork Soup. This slightly sour soup is also a great relief dish to have on hand to deal with any heat that gets too much for you.
  • #62, Chengdu Grilled Lamb. Don’t like lamb? Get #61 Cumin Beef Filet instead
  • #81, Country Style Chicken. Little cubes of chicken fried to a perfect crisp.
  • #114, Fish Flavor Pork. Don’t let the name confuse you or put you off. There is no fish in this dish: the pork is just cooked in a way often used for fish. This is a stone-cold classic as well.
  • #164, Steamed Flounder Fillet. Now this does contain fish: a wonderful, mild dish of fish steamed with soy sauce, ginger and scallions.
  • #181, Szechuan Spicy Tofu. Despite the name this is not very spicy. The interplay between the crisp outside and the soft inside is very good though.
  • #197, Stir-Fried A Choy. A simple but very tasty dish of sauteed greens

Here’s the second slideshow; third order below.

Third Visit

  • Sweet & Spicy Noodles. From the Szechuan Snacks section of the menu, these chewy noodles tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce are rather good.
  • #1, Couple’s Beef. A Sichuan classic, this features thinly sliced beef and tripe tossed together in a hot dressing. Shake the oil off before eating the meat.
  • #12, Peanuts and Diced Tofu in Chilli Sauce. A nice mix of textures.
  • #37, Fish Fillet in Milky White Broth. Perhaps our absolute favourite soup here, this is wonderful in its own right and also works very well as an antidote to heat.
  • #111, Garlic Pork Ribs. My favourite of their various fried ribs options.
  • #125, Chengdu Style Saute Pork Belly. This stir-fry of thinly sliced pork belly is another favourite.
  • #148, Fish Fillet with Bean Jelly in Spicy Sauce. Stop wondering what bean jelly is and just get it.
  • #188, Tofu with Shrimp and Pickled Pepper. A wonderful mix of textures and mild, hot and sour flavours.
  • #193, Eggplant with Sweet Bean Sauce. Just lovely.

You know the drill.

Fourth Visit

  • #5, Mouth-Water Chicken. A bit fiddly because it’s bone-in chicken but it’s very tasty.
  • #10, Beef Tongue in Chilli Sauce. Don’t like the idea of eating tongue? Just think of it as thinly sliced steak.
  • #31, Fish Fillet Soup with Pickled Vegetable. As with the other soups, a very good relief dish and very tasty on its own.
  • #60, Unmatched Beef. A relatively mild dish of beef braised with vegetables.
  • #78, Griddle Cooked Chicken. A not-very spicy dish of chicken cooked with crisp cauliflower.
  • #119, Chairman Mao Braised Pork Belly. This is not health food but it is very good. A mild dish.
  • #146, Diced Fish with Chopped Dry Pepper. Best ordered hot, this is one of our current favourite fish dishes.
  • #189, Crisp Beancurd with Spicy Soy Sauce. Again, despite the name this is not particularly spicy—more a mix of sweet and sour notes with a bit of heat.
  • #192, Fish Flavor Eggplant. The eggplant version of the fish flavor meat dishes.

Advanced Studies

  • #3, Ma La Beef Tendon. Soft, thinly sliced tendon tossed in chilli oil etc.
  • #13, Elder Sister Diced Rabbit. Also fiddly because bone-in, also very good.
  • #19, Szechuan Cold Bean Jelly. Thick bean jelly “noodles” tossed in a hot-sweet-sour sauce.
  • #36, Fish and Lamb in Clay Pot. I’ve never quite figured out where the lamb is in this dish but this soup of delicate fish balls floating in a mild broth is excellent.
  • #59,  Tofu and Beef with Chopped Jalapeno. As tasty as it is a dramatic presentation.
  • #130, Spicy Pork Brain. You need a lot of people to eat this otherwise you will die. Best got at a very lethally hot setting.
  • #142, Ma La Fish Fillet and Tofu in Spicy Broth. Hot, tingly and excellent. Don’t drink the soup.
  • #179, Chengdu Spicy Shrimp. When got at the proper heat setting this dish of crisply fried whole shrimp is pretty, pretty hot. It’s also pretty, pretty good.
  • Tofu with Salted Egg Yolk. This is not on the menu but if you ask for it you will get it. You have to like soft tofu and creamy textures but if you do this mild dish will wow you.

Slideshow etc.

Vegetarian

  • #12, Peanuts and Diced Tofu in Chilli Sauce. A nice mix of textures.
  • #16, Bamboo Shoots in Chilli Sauce. Same deal with the chilli oil.
  • #19, Szechuan Cucumbers. Mildly spicy, this dish pleases me even though I don’t normally like cucumber.
  • #21, Szechuan Cool Noodle. I would get this more often if the kids didn’t require we always get dan dan noodles.
  • #35, Vegetable and Tofu Soup. Mild and lovely.
  • #181, Szechuan Spicy Tofu. Despite the name this is not very spicy. The interplay between the crisp outside and the soft inside is very good though.
  • #191, Szechuan Green Beans. Don’t ask questions, just get them. Also mild.
  • #192, Fish Flavor Eggplant. The eggplant version of the fish flavor meat dishes.
  • #198, Kung Pao Lotus Roots. All the pleasure of kung pao with crisp disks of lotus root.

A Greatest Hits Blowout

And here finally is the birthday banquet blowout I hope to eat at the end of February with all of our old Grand Szechuan crew if the pandemic permits.

  • Chengdu Spicy Wontons
  • #4, Pork Belly in Garlic Sauce.
  • #11, Pork Ears in Chilli Sauce. I would have recommended this above but I think the texture might be an acquired taste. Try this if you like the tendon.
  • #37, Fish Fillet in Milky White Broth.
  • #59, Tofu and Beef with Chopped Jalapeno. I didn’t recommend this above because I think this mix of soft tofu and fatty beef might also not be for everyone.
  • #62, Chengdu Grilled Lamb.
  • #130, Spicy Pork Brain.
  • #147, Triple-Flavour Squid
  • Whole walleye in spicy bean sauce. Another off-menu special
  • #182, Mapo Tofu.
  • Tofu with Salted Egg Yolk.
  • #191, Szechuan Green Beans.
  • #192, Fish Flavor Eggplant.

So, here it is. More information than probably anyone wanted. If you do try some of these order suggestions do let me know how you like your meals. Again, if there’s anything in any of these orders that you’re not jazzed by let me know in the comments and I’ll suggest a suitable substitute. And, of course, if you are a Grand Szechuan regular and are outraged to see one of your favourites omitted above, please feel free to write in to berate and add. Though keep in mind that even with seven orders detailed I have not been to include all my favourites either.


 

17 thoughts on “A Guide to Ordering at Grand Szechuan (Bloomington, MN)

      • You know I was actually thinking about just this yesterday after the response to this post went through the roof. I have reviewed Godavari twice (here and here) and had them atop my Indian restaurant rankings last year. But people going there who don’t know much about South Indian food may end up feeling overwhelmed and ordering the familiar stuff that they can get pretty much anywhere (if not done quite as well as it is at Godavari or Indian Masala). So, yeah, a guide to that menu might be useful too. But I’ll need to eat a couple more meals from/there before I can put it together confidently. Maybe in February or March?

        Speaking of my Indian restaurant rankings, I might post an updated version this weekend.

        Like

  1. This is absolutely fabulous! For someone with stomach issues that prevents me from having spicy food right now (ugh!) do you have any more great non-spicy options (meat-heavy, since only veggies aggrivate stomach issues too). I LOVE this list!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some more suggestions for excellent non-vegetarian dishes that are on the milder side:

      Stir-fried Sliced Noodles (from the Szechuan Snacks section)
      #50, House Stewed Beef Flank
      #91, Tea-Smoked Duck
      #109, Shredded Pork with Peking Sauce
      #117, Chinese Bacon with Lotus Roots or #118, Chinese Bacon with Rice Cakes
      #185, Tofu Combination in Hotpot
      #173, Salt and Pepper Squid
      #176, Fish Fillet in Ginger Sauce

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  2. The first few times we ate at Grand Szechuan we weren’t that impressed, so we put ourselves in our waiter’s hands and asked him to bring us what he would order. The first time we did this, we were served the Beef in Szechuan Chili Broth. The second time, it was the Piao Xiang Chili Fish Fillet. Both are spicy stews — winter comfort food — and we still still order them regularly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Piao Xiang Chilli Fish Fillet is another of our favourites. It could very easily have been on another version of the orders in the post.

      Haven’t had the Beef in Szechuan Chilli Broth in a long time. In that genre we usually get the #141, Fish Fillet & Tofu in Szechuan Chilli Broth (yet another favourite that didn’t make it into the main post).

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  3. I never eat at Grand Szechuan without first reviewing your recommendations. I’ve loved almost everything I’ve had, all of it per your guidance. But I DREAM of the triple spice/spicy squid roll. Might be my #1 restaurant dish in the Twin Cities, one I crave often.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for the excellent cheat sheet. My parents and I enjoyed a first visit and took your recommendation to order for 6 even though we were only 3. I had the good fortune to get the leftovers since my parents are headed back home out of state.

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  5. Thank you for this guide! The menu can be daunting. We’ve had two meals so far from your suggestions: szechuan green beans, spicy squid roll, and kung pao chicken, then the kung pao lotus roots and diced fish with chopped dry pepper. All delicious. Our favorite so far was the diced fish with chopped dry pepper but everything has been very good.

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  6. We recently moved to Bloomington and are looking for more great places to eat. Thank you for this guide! I’m excited to give it a try. Do you have suggestions for gluten free meals? I know soy sauce (which contains wheat) and flour are standard in many Asian cuisines. Do you have any suggestions for ordering safely at the restaurant? (We are not so sensitive that a drop or two of soy sauce would harm us, but can’t eat a whole dish with gluten.)

    Also, can you tell us what kind of takeout containers they use? We are making a conscious effort to not go to places that use polystyrine, and to support places that use compostable containers.

    Thanks again!

    Like

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