Spicy, spicy Sichuan cooking in Alhambra. Did I mention it was spicy?
Oh, the Sichuan…it burns.
The first attempt I made to go to Chengdu Taste did not go well.
I was left sitting outside the restaurant with a mess of other people (all waiting to get in) on a Monday night. I swear there were at least forty people waiting out there with me, and…well, the restaurant seats only 55.
So, what to do. What to do. I was entertaining my Father. And we had no idea, absolutely no idea when we were getting in.
No, seriously. We had just gone to Golden Deli earlier in the day. There, the ladies that run that restaurant (also perpetually crowded) had a system. Everybody got a number. You get your number, then you go and wait for said number to be called. It’s not the most complex system in the world, but it works. You know where you stand. You can at least see your progress.
At one of the most highly regarded restaurants in Los Angeles? Ehhh, not so much. Wander in. Put your name in the notebook, then stay the @#$% out of our way.
What’s been fascinating to me, having now been to and observed a lot of restaurants in the last couple of months, is relationship between desire and pain. The desire of how good the food is in relation to the pain it takes to get at it.
Foodies around the world, will tell you that any amount of pain is worth it…to get at the thing you want the most. That that special bite of food is worth all the humiliation, all the pain, all the time to get at.
To a certain extent that’s true, but…c’mon. Let’s be real here.
At some point, you just wanna eat. And after thirty minutes or so of waiting, my Father and I decided we’d had enough.
Now, I’m sure you’re reading this going “Thirty minutes? What the deal with only waiting thirty @#$%ing minutes to get into a legendary Los Angeles establishment? You can’t give it more than thirty @#$%ing minutes??”
Well, sure I can. I’m just now sure how long I should wait with having absolutely ZERO idea of how long its going to take.
Seriously, that’s all Chengdu Taste had to do. Let us know just how long we could expect. Instead, all they did was set out a notebook and wish us good luck.
Still, me and Pops wanted to try it. So, we came back the next day for lunch.
Far, far more civilized atmosphere.
That and the fact that we came just as it opened.
We sat down. Looked over the same menu we saw last night, and ordered up. Despite being one of the most highly regarded Restaurants in Los Angeles…despite being on Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants List year after year, it…ahhhhh…seemed pretty normal to me.
Isn’t that always the way? You hear about these places, hear ‘em hyped up and up, and you start wondering if they’re Palaces plated in gold…you wonder if you’ll ever be allowed a table, and…you walk right in at lunch time, and it’s no problemo.
Anyway, where was I?
Chengdu Taste looks like every other Chinese Restaurant you’ve been in. It’s the food that throws you a curve ball. A very, very, very, very…well I could go on…let’s just say that the food is pretty damn hot.
WHAT SHOULD I GET?: (No online presence that we could find, thus no link.)
Well, we wandered into this menu a bit more carefully because it was lunch. We were not ravenous. We had the night to go over the menu (which we took home with us the night we surrendered in shame). So, coming into lunch, we had a plan.
While this counts as a Safety Tip, and will probably be repeated as a Safety Tip, bear in mind that each item on the menu either has one Chili next to it, marking Spice Temperature, TWO Chilies next to it, or NO Chilies next to it. The three Items we ordered had a maximum of one Chili.
And it almost kicked my natural ass.
I got the Sautéed String Beans as a main dish, and the Pork with Garlic Sauce appetizer. Both carried one Chilies. The Pork was actually not that hot. It was just tasty thin slices of Pork covers in a brown garlic sauce. Flavorful, tasty, and not at all ass-kicking. It was a bit…well…cool, or lukewarm. And my inexperience with this dish makes me uncertain if this was how it was supposed to come out. The Pork was completely cooked through, so…no danger there, but it wasn’t what you’d call piping hot out of the oven.
The Sautéed String Beans on the other hand were magnificent. They were tasty. They were prepared beautifully, and just about the most flavorful thing I’d had all week, and I’d had a lot of Korean and Chinese food that week.
They were also hot as hell…in the spicy good way you may like…but make sure you get some water.
There were red peppers mixed in with the String Beans, and…wow I couldn’t bite into one of those. I was too scared.
Still, the more I ate the String Beans, there is a semi-pleasant numbing effect the more and more you chew into these things. I doesn’t alter the taste, but it does alter how the heat punches you.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: Lemme say it again. Each item on the menu either has one Chili next to it, TWO Chilies next to it, or NO Chilies next to it.
And as hot as the one Chili items were…I cannot imagine what the two Chili items were like.
PARKING: Ehhhh, tough. Basically, you’re stuck looking for a space on West Valley Blvd. There isn’t any parking behind the establishment, and they don’t do Valet. (It’s not a Valet kind of a place…thank God).
Pretty much, I think you’ll find a space to park…but it you might be a block or two away from the Restaurant.
Chengdu Taste (Alhambra)
828 W. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91803
Tel: (626) 588-2284
Monday-Saturday: 11:00 am – 11:30 pm
Sunday: 11:00 am – 10:30 pm