By no means am I an expert in Chinese food. I know nothing. But I knew, prior to my first China Szechwan visit, that I had never had Chinese food worth raving about. Ah, how times so deliciously change.
China Szechwan is a new restaurant located in a dying strip mall on the Southwest corner of Ft. Lowell and Campbell. Only a recommendation would lead you to even consider entering. Not because its outward appearance is terrible, but because it’s so easy to pass over as just another Chinese restaurant. China Szechwan is not just another Chinese food restaurant. What’s interesting is that the owner previously owned a different Chinese food restaurant on the East side, but decided to retire and travel around China. After discovering Szechwan, it was time to give the restaurant business another go.
For starters, they have two menus: a standard American Chinese menu, and the Szechwan menu. I know only of one other Chinese food restaurant that does this in Tucson. It’s called Ba Dar. I’ve heard that a special menu, or second menu, or secret menu is the first indication that you’re in for better than average Chinese. Whether or not Chinese restaurant owners have gotten wind of this and are beginning to use it to their advantage, I know not.
I’m not going to go into all the standard stuff about ambience and service. The lighting is terrible, the art is bizarre and cheap, and it’s noisy. Fine.
On our first visit, we ordered Spinach in Garlic sauce. This is fresh, whole spinach, with stems (that were pleasantly edible), with real garlic swimming in some kind of delicious broth. It was perfectly salty, garlicky, and cooked to tender perfection. I’ve never raved about a dish so simple (well, maybe once at Chez Panisse, I did), but this was unbelievable. One for one. Let’s see what else you got, China Szechwan.
Out comes the Twice Cooked Pork. It was a plate of slow cooked pork belly with either celery or leek. Two for two. A salty, rich plate of Chinese pork belly, tender and flavorful as you can only imagine it should be.
Next up was Chicken and Jalapenos. As in fresh, bright green, spicy jalapenos. This dish was no joke. Bursting with rich, juicy and flavorful chicken and spicy as hell. Not typically my thing, but well done.
On my two subsequent visits, we also tried Cucumbers in Garlic Sauce, Pork with Eggplant, Ginger Chicken, and Kung Pao Chicken. So far, every item has been the best I’ve ever tasted of that dish. The Cucumbers in Garlic Sauce is unlike anything I’ve had in a Chinese restaurant. Cold, chopped cucumbers tossed in chili oil with garlic. It’s a perfect starter.
Tucson may not be San Francisco, NYC, or Los Angeles when it comes to food. But, for awhile we were lacking even one great Chinese food restaurant. That is no longer the case.