P. Punko’s two favorite Szechuan joints are Zone 88 and South Legend.
South Legend’s menu has some standard items, and some exotica. There is Szechuan pickled vegetable—the perfect appetizer. It’s just a bunch of supercrunchy mixed pickled vegetables in a chile oil. There is spectacular Chongqing fish—pieces of light, white fish, battered and fried to a perfect, greaseless crisp, with a huge mound of red chile pepper and some sort of magic Szechuan fairy flavor dust.
There is shredded pork with fermented fish flavor, with a nice, pronounced, unsweet tang. There are excellent Szechuan cold noodles, with sesame paste and just the slightest tingle of Szechuan peppercorn. There’s a superior version of dry fried green beans. And there is Szechuan-style beef jerky—the only dish at South Legend where the numbing, tingling flavor of Szechuan peppercorns is in abundance.
Zone 88 has more insane exotica, and more brutal use of Szechuan peppercorns. There are Chongqing spicy chicken wings, which are like South Legend’s Chongqing fish, but, unbelievably, even better. Bits of superjuicy, perfectly fried chicken—slightly sweet, very savory, quite numb-tingly, and superhot. It is the world’s best bar food. There is also similarly fried spicy squid—just a pile of crunchy tentacles dusted in magic fairy Szechuan flavor dust.
The Szechuan cold noodles here are less numb-tingly, but spicier than South Legend’s, and also quite good. And there are great wontons in chile oil, with clear numb-tingly notes.
South Legend [South Bay]
1720 N. Milpitas Boulevard, Milpitas
Zone 88 [Portola]
2428 San Bruno Avenue, San Francisco