Gold Medal: Bamboo Garden
My favorite Sichuanese restaurant, not to be confused with the vegetarian restaurant of the same name in Seattle, is Bamboo Garden in Bellevue. The owners have taken what would be the “secret" Chinese language menu at many restaurants and created a “Walk on the Wild Side” menu. Servers educate diners, encouraging them to give one or more of these authentic and, to some, offbeat dishes a try. It’s this menu that contains pork tongue slices, rabbit chunks (bone-in) in chili oil, sour & spicy jelly fish, pork stomach with pickled cabbage, and much more. My favorite Chinese dish in Seattle is The Other Parts of the Pig ($11.95, pictured), with its “Dare to try pork intestines, pig blood cubes, tofu chunks, basil and pickled cabbage in a tangy broth.” It’s rich and earthy, and deeply delicious.
Silver Medal: Spiced
While I enjoy the entrees at Bellevue’s Spiced, I can easily make a meal out of Cold Dishes ($5.99 for three items), which elevates this restaurant to my second favorite in the Seattle area. You go to the counter to check out the fascinating options and place your order there for delivery to your table. Tempting are jalapeños & preserved eggs, pickled chili chicken claw, and sliced pig ears; pictured are “Spices Chicken Gizzard” (sic), Hot & Sour Seaweed, and Spicy Beef & Tripe Slices. If you still have room, explore menu sections like Green Chilli Hot Sauce, Pickled Chilli Pepper, Chopped Fresh Chilli Pepper, and Boiled in Chilli Bean Paste Sauce, with offerings like frog, kidney, pig intestines, sea cucumber, ox tripe, and spam.
Spiced: 1299 156th Avenue Northeast, Bellevue, WA 98007 (map); 425-644-8888
Bronze Medal: Szechuan Chef
Bellevue is also home to my third favorite Sichuanese restaurant: Szechuan Chef. Long a popular outpost for the Chinese community, this restaurant is now testing the taste buds of shoppers at the newly opened Wal Mart who are venturing in for a try. Szechuan Chef has an extensive menu that includes the classics, and I especially recommend any of the “Wild Chili” dishes (pork intestines, lamb, squid, etc.). Pictured are two from the cold appetizer section of the menu: House Special Chicken ($9.95), which reminds me of drunken chicken, albeit with a little more spice; and Szechuan Cold Noodle ($5.99), a refreshing dish with chili-spiked, vinegary soy sauce and sesame seeds.
Almost Medalling: Seven Stars Pepper
Making a strong play for my third favorite Sichuanese restaurant is Seven Stars Pepper, perched atop a strip mall at the intersection of 12th and Jackson in Seattle. This restaurant has a history of inconsistency, but it’s been better in recent visits. In season, Seven Stars is one of the places I send tourists who want to try Dungeness crab. Szechuan crab is the way to go, though those looking for less spice can order salt-and-pepper crab or ginger crab. As a fan of ma la Chong Qing chicken, let me point out that the dish is available on the menu, but I’d instead steer you to the hot pot menu for Szechuan Chicken Little Hot Pot ($11.99) for the bone-in version of the dish, with tastier meat.
Seven Stars Pepper: 1207 S Jackson Street, Seattle, WA 98144 (map); 206-568-6446
Sichuanese Cuisine Restaurant
Like Seven Stars Pepper, Sichuanese Cuisine Restaurant is also at the intersection of 12th and Jackson in Seattle. For me, this is where Chinatown transitions into Little Saigon in Seattle’s International District. It’s also one of the city’s most interesting food intersections, with Vietnamese delis, noodle restaurants, grocery markets, a Malaysian restaurant, and other Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants—the appropriately named Sichuanese Cuisine Restaurant being one of them. Split-broth hot pots are popular here, as are the inexpensive but tasty dumplings. Pictured is Ant on the Tree ($6.95), a house specialty of ground pork pieces clinging to “branches” of vermicelli noodles.
Spicy Talk Bistro
Chefs at Chinese restaurants move frequently, and the one at Spicy Talk Bistro is no exception. The current chef was previously at Seven Stars Pepper and Szechuan Chef, and is now working the woks at this restaurant in Redmond, a favorite of many who work at the nearby Microsoft campus. The menu is less adventurous than others in the area (look to the wall for more interesting specials), and you’ll need to sell your server on your ability to handle the heat if you want to go super spicy. Pictured is Chow Mein ($8.25) made with hand-shaved noodles, always a treat.
Szechuan Noodle Bowl
Szechuan Noodle Bowl is smallest of the Sichuanese restaurants, with a specialized menu. This hole-in-the wall in the International District is the place to visit for a quick meal of dumplings or noodles, with a few sides also available, like the popular green onion pancakes. In addition to the long pot stickers, I like Szechuan Beef Tendon Noodle with Soup ($6.50), pictured. The wheat noodles are just okay, but the broth is beefy and hearty, tinged with some chili. You can get plain beef, but I like the inclusion of tendon for some textural variety.
Szechuan Noodle Bowl: 420 8th Avenue South, Seattle, WA 98104 (map); 206-623-4198
Amidst the many Korean restaurants in the northern suburbs is Szechuan 99, located just off of Route 99, which takes Seattleites to the restaurant. It’s actually my least favorite of the Sichuanese restaurants, a bit dingy with hurried service. But if you’re in the area and craving Chinese-spicy, you’ll find some satisfying dishes. I recommend trying anything with house-made bean curd. Pictured is Hot Spicy Won Ton Soup ($5.50, medium, shown, or $7.50 large) which has red-hot zing to it.
Szechuan 99: 6124 200th Street Southwest, Lynnwood, WA 98036 (map); 425-774-9622