Chengdu Taste hit #46 on the top 75 best restaurants in LA inside Los Angeles Magazine’s May 2014 issue. That is pretty impressive considering the list doesn’t have many Asian restaurants and none from Alhambra. SGV is officially on the map! Prepare to wait anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour for a table. The Boiling Crab wait times can get a bit boring, but the wait is definitely worth it. We almost gave in to go to some cafe, but out patience was rewarded greatly. Chengdu, China is the capital of Sichuan province in southwest China and is a huge food city. I am happy to know that a little piece of it made it out to Alhambra. Score!
Mung bean noodles are slippery, taste like nothing, and has a consistency of hardened jello. It was the perfect vessel and blanks slate of all things flavor. This seemed to have been a favorite among diners as far as starters go. The house made chili sauce wasn’t as spicy as I thought it would be. Bite on the wrong pepper, and your mouth is in for a real surprise. The mixture of oil, Sichuan peppercorns, chili peppers, and a handful of other ingredients made this such a tasty dish. A little sweet, spicy, and tangy, this was a fiery component that was a little teaser of what was to come.
The cumin lamb is probably the most popular dish at the restaurant, and I could see why. The dish is generously coated in cumin and chili peppers. The lamb was tender to the point of almost the texture of ground meat. Some pieces were slightly fatty which was very unctuous in flavor. Some were saltier than others, and fatty too — not complaining really. It’s just the luck of the draw. These cumin lamb bites were incredible and would probably order them at every visit. I had a pile of toothpicks at the end of it all — a large pile.
The boiled sliced fish in hot sauce was a doozy. Albeit quite salty, this chili on chili molested dish was interesting and honestly delicious. The fish was delicate and quite mild in flavor. The soup/sauce that it swam in was quite the contrary. The heat from this dish is like no other. Hot wings and sauces like Tabasco give a little pinch on the tongue kind of heat. Red sauce from King Taco or green sauce from Mario’s is more of a mouth full of fire. This dish though, was more of a tongue numbing feeling. The sensation was interesting, and at a certain point, I was worried I was reacting to an allergy. The Chinese peppercorns really do a good job in numbing your tongue. It tingles and the feeling leaves you a bit on a high level.
The double cooked pork fried rice was a let down. Not that it didn’t taste good, and not that it was cheap. I just felt like I could make this at home. Honestly, the dishes we ordered would have went well with just plain white rice. This fried rice though, had nice slices of pork belly. I guess it wasn’t all for nothing.
The last dish of boiled vegetables, meats, in a Sichuan style special hot sauce was interesting. It was similar to a Korean budae jjigae that includes almost anything in the fridge and pantry into a pot of soup. This hot pot had duck blood, intestine, stomach, beef, and Spam. I can live with the duck blood, intestine, and stomach, but the sight of the Spam made this feel like home. The intestine had a nice texture but the funk level was higher than usual. The duck blood had a nice soft texture and subtle flavor. I didn’t really like the soup base for this. It didn’t have that kick in the face heat or bold flavor. This would be pretty nice on a cold winter night. It was warm, comforting, and that Spam just hit the spot.
The lines are long, and everyone in the area and maybe beyond want to eat at Chengdu Taste. After my experience here, I can see why. The flavors are powerful and daring. The spice levels are out of this world! I had such a good time dining here.