Has Boston died and gone to Sichuan heaven? Hounds are whispering that Top Garden may be every bit as good as Sichuan Gourmet … and maybe even better. “This was the best Sichuan food I’ve had in the United States,” says inveterate hound lipoff.

There’s an English menu missing some of the good stuff from the Chinese-only menu, though some of the items can be found under “chef’s specials” on the English menu. Avoid the appetizers section of the English menu (“Americanized,” sniffs lipoff), but delve deep into the “soups for two” section as well as the cold appetizers in the Sichuan cuisine section, and be on the alert for authentic dishes in the vegetables and seafood categories.

lipoff in particular recommends fu qi fei pian, slices of cold roast beef, tongue, and tripe with chile-peanut vinaigrette, as well as ma la zi ji (“numbing hot” chicken), “the best rendition of my favorite Sichuan dish.” The chicken was perfectly fried and in a wonderful sauce: “It was hot, spicy, numbing, piquant, sizzling, rich, sour, tangy, and zippy all at the same time. The peppers were dried and roasted just right, and the whole thing was airy, not oily. Wow.”

Ma po tofu was “among the best” lipoff’s ever had, with “pillowy soft” cubes of tofu and a “rich and deep” sauce with “bright and tasty” fermented black beans. KWagle speaks up for the triple-pepper lamb, which has three different peppers including a pickled one, sliced garlic, cilantro, basil, and peanuts: “outstanding.”

Lunch specials are available for a mere $6.55; dinner mains run $7 to $12.

Top Garden [Merrimack Valley]
1921 Main Street, Suite 1, Tewksbury

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