RICHARDSON — Remember when we lived in a country where “Chinese” food meant leaden egg rolls and oily chicken chow mein? Remember moo goo gai pan? (And what the heck was that, anyway?) As American palates grew more sophisticated and immigration strictures loosened, along came the regional cuisines of Hunan, Canton and Sichuan.
Boy, are we lucky today. Right now, right here in Dallas (well, in Richardson and Plano, actually), you can find not only restaurants specializing in the best-known regional styles, but also, in the case of Sichuanese, a handful of places that offer distinctly different takes on this assertive cuisine. There’s the bright, precise version at Little Sichuan; the fiery and complex food at Sichuanese Cuisine; and the oily-but-authentic offerings at Royal Sichuan. The latest addition to this lineup is Sichuan King, a 2-year-old spot in Richardson’s DFW China Town Mall. It may not quite measure up to its elder siblings, but it offers distinct pleasures of its own.
The long menu includes plenty of Sichuanese standards, such as fine versions of cold noodles and Zhong’s dumplings. The cold marinated beef, sliced thin and sprinkled with dried pepper and peanuts, is also good. The same meat turns up in a more unusual appetizer, the beef rolls, where it has been rolled inside a pancake, wrapped in tinfoil and sliced into rounds.
Sichuan King also turns out some good classic entrees. The deep-fried chicken with roasted chiles features lightly battered, salty chunks of boneless meat. And the preserved pork with Chinese leeks — basically, y’know, bacon — is fatty, salty deliciousness. But another standby, lamb with cumin sauce, is unpleasantly flabby and wan.
Things here get considerably more interesting, if confusing, with the hot noodles, which are really soups, and the hot pots, most of which are actually dry. Sichuan-style beef sweet potato noodles is a big bowl of translucent tea-colored wide noodles in a fiery, oily broth with meat and tree ear mushrooms. It’s unusual, intriguing and delicious — and frustratingly difficult to eat with chopsticks and the small appetizer-size plates provided.
One of Sichuan King’s specialties is the house special hot spicy pot, really more of a stir-fry. It’s available in variants ranging from beef to pork intestine and duck head. Sorry, I can’t speak to the latter two, but the beef version, which can easily feed three, is a headily spicy mix of meat and vegetables with chile oil.
And four people could handily fill up on another house specialty, the Sichuan grilled fish. A whole tilapia swims in a soupy hot sauce, garlic sauce or sour pickle sauce, among other choices, joined by copious amounts of vegetables. The hot-sauce version is delicious — but you’d better have a high tolerance for the pleasures of picking fish from bones with chopsticks and a soup ladle. And as with the hot noodles, some bowls and spoons would make life a lot easier.
If the service, albeit friendly, could use a little more care, so too could the atmosphere. The decorative touches include a Coca-Cola fridge and an odd assortment of taxidermied creatures on the walls.
Still, aren’t we lucky? In many other cities, and in any earlier decade, there’d be a line out the door of this place. Here and now, we get to ponder whether it belongs in the ranks of Dallas’ best Sichuan restaurants.
Sichuan King (2 stars)
Price: $$ (appetizers $1.95 to $7.95, main dishes $6.95 to $15.95, hot pots and whole fish $17.95 to $29.95)
Service: Unusually for an authentic Chinese restaurant, dishes come out in conventional order - appetizers, soups and noodles first, followed by mains. The servers are friendly and helpful with unfamiliar dishes, but plates could be larger, and could be changed between courses.
Ambience: A basic, fairly bare-bones dining room with a soda cooler as its main decoration, plus some incongruous mounted hunting and fishing trophies on the walls
Noise level: Reasonably quiet; your conversation won't be disturbed.
Location: 400 N. Greenville Ave. (between East Main Street and East Arapaho Road), Richardson; 972-907-1186; sichuankingdallas.com
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Credit cards: D, MC, V
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: No alcohol; BYOB, no corkage fee.
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor