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Restaurant Fri Apr 06 2007
Cold spicy tofu with peanuts at Lao Sze Chaun
Sure, there are lots of Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, but it turns out that almost all of them of them (like the vast majority of Chinese restaurants in the US) serve Cantonese food. Now I'd never disparage Cantonese cuisine, which can serve up some real delights, but its the spicy Sichuan dishes that really capture my heart, so I've always been a little disappointed with Chinatown here in Chicago... that is, until a friend told me about Lao Sze Chaun.
Located at the northwest edge of Chinatown and offering an entirely different menu than some of its neighbors, Lao Sze Chuan can seem a bit of an outpost, but the food is incredible and immersive. I've been there enough times recently to try a number of the classics -- dry chili beef, mapo tofu, spicy pan fried sliced pork -- and they've all been outstanding. The appetizers range from the familiar (their potstickers are just like those you'd find elsewhere) to the new and different (ribs with mashed rice; cold spicy tofu with raw peanuts), but all are delicious. Probably the best thing I've had there is the crispy smoked tea duck, which amazed me with its unlikely combination of flavors and textures. I have yet to try the hotpots, so I'll be going back soon.
Lao Sze Chuan is open from 11:30 to midnight every day of the week, and it turns out there are satellite locations in Downers Grove and Palatine. The website (which has just been redesigned in the past month or so) is quite informative.