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Monday, December 4

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Restaurant Fri Apr 06 2007

Something different in Chinatown

tofu and peanuts
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.

pan fried sliced pork (spicy)
Spicy pan fried sliced pork

Mapo tofu

crispy smoked tea duck
Crispy smoked tea duck (with hoisin sauce)

pot stickers
Pot stickers

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rachael / April 6, 2007 10:00 AM

Ah! Their tea smoked duck is the best - good call. I also can't get enough of the spicy cabbage they bring to the table when you sit down. Dang I'm hungry...

Gino / April 7, 2007 7:29 PM

"Lousy Chaan," as we refer to it among my friends in family, is tremendously overrated as is Joy Yee's, as evidenced by the proportion of Chinese to non-Chinese in those places. The service is terrible and on the occasions I've been there, downright hostile. Recommend Spring World's Yunnan influenced cuisine at the other end of the mall, the new KS Seafood, which is Taiwan-based, almost kitty-corner from Lousy in the mall, or Mandarin Kitchen, which I think is Shandong/Beijing-influenced, two doors down from Phoenix, for your northern fixes, but, here in Chinatown, the (Chinese) South Shall Rise Again.

Gino / April 7, 2007 7:33 PM

Also, owing to the influx of professionals from Taiwan to the western suburbs in the post-1965 era, I'd also say International Mall in Westmont, for more Taiwanese goodies, especially Sunday when everyone and their family seems to flock there for noodles and starchy goods. =)

paul / April 8, 2007 11:09 AM

interesting... when we were there there were only a couple of non chinese in the restaurant. but in any case i'm not sure how that would be evidence that the restaurant is overrated.

also, in my experience there the service has always been very friendly.

Gino / April 9, 2007 10:21 AM

Service aside, which on every occasion I've been there was brusque at best, hostile to the point of ripping a menu out of our hands while we were still reading it, we agree that tasty is as tasty does!

Without being disagreeable, I would also say that in a city which is divided along ethnic and racial lines as ours is, and given I am a local resident of the neighborhood, and my daily observations of what non-natives order traditionally in Chinese restaurants, that I tend to be suspicious of restaurants that draw a larger non-Chinese crowd, and also that I have a strong preference for restaurants that are frequented more by natives than non-natives as a test of authenticity. It is what it is.

paul / April 9, 2007 10:45 AM

again, i can only disagree with you on the service.

but i wonder: are you at all concerned that these attitudes of yours might be perpetuating the racial and ethnic divisions you mention? your version of agreeableness doesn't exactly make me want to go back to chinatown anytime soon...

Gino / April 9, 2007 10:28 PM

Heh. It's just food, folks. 8D

You really think I could give a pile of chilis if you come back or not? I'm not looking for your approval. In the long term it matters little what you or I think. The attitudes and divisions in this city, the daily conversations people have amongst themselves about how they choose to see, think, and talk about people in different parts of the city will persist whether you and I mouth liberal platitudes towards race and ethnicity. I'm just pointing out what I see as a local from this neighborhood. You know. The one you happen to be "a little disappointed with." I'm just saying. Not to say that you're not enlightened cause you choose to eat the more "exotic" foods. They're certainly not exotic to us. But if that is your enlightenment, well. Maybe you could do a little soul-searching of your own. . .

Again, it's just mapo dofu, folks. No need to get your panties in a bunch. =)

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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