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Restaurants & Bars 23

Chowdown at Little Sichuan Express -- Report

Ruth Lafler | Sep 22, 200502:10 PM

Melanie, Caitlin and I were the only people who could make it on such short notice, but we were all hungry, and our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, and we ended up ordering enough food to easily feed six (we each went home with four containers of leftovers). The sacrifices we make so our fellow hounds will get a good survey of a restaurant!

This restaurant is semi-service: you can order at the counter, or they bring you a check-off menu sheet at the table. The menu is divided into several catergories: cold plates, mien & rice, soup "spicy food", "home style dishes", and vegetables/vegetarian.

We ordered:

Cold Plates: spicy combination; spicy pon pon chicken
Mien/Rice: spicy won ton w/hot oil sauce
Soup: Sour Cabbage with fish fillet
Spicy Food: home style boiled eel; spicy chili chicken (?)
Vegetable: stir potato strips; eggplant with garlic ginger sauce

There's another menu (isn't there always?), and although they originally gave us a Chinese-only version, they eventually dug up a copy in English. From that we ordered:

kaiyung snake gourd
tea-smoked duck

There are also specials on Chinese on the wall, but the staff speaks almost no English, so after having had little luck getting them to translate the Chinese menu, we didn't even try with the wall specials. Besides, did I mention we ordered enough food for six people?

Verdict: the food was much better and more complex than one would expect from the bare-bones nature of this operation (all the food is served and eaten from paper plates with styrofoam teacups, plastic spoons and disposable chopsticks -- the only exception was the soup and eel, which both came in large stoneware bowls). There was much chili oil in evidence, and the ma-la in some dishes gave proof of generous use of Sichuan peppercorns. In particular, I thought the spicy combination (thin-sliced tripe and beef) was very good, the potato strips were the best version I've had, the pon pon chicken was also deliciously spicy, the soup was more delicate but nicely sour from the cabbage, and the tea-smoked duck had a wonderful smoky flavor, although it was a bit dry. I also liked the eggplant, but then I always like Chinese eggplant. The kaiyung snake gourd turned out to be winter melon, cut into tile-shaped pieces, cooked until just al dente and with a mild sauce faintly tasting of dried shrimp -- delicate and refreshing.

The eel was a bit of a surprise -- I think we were expecting large eel cut into chunks, but instead, we got a bowl heaped with what at first appeared to be green beans but which were in fact miniature eel filets. There was a nice sheen of chili oil floating on top, and lots of crushed chiles for good measure. In spite of that, it wasn't unbearably hot. Initially I found the little eel filets to be a bit of a turn off, but once I managed to get past that, they were delicious, with layers of chile flavors and a mild afterglow.

Just in case we were still hungry (although they looked rather alarmed at the huge amounts of food we had leftover), they brought us a small plate of house-made Sichuan pickles, which were very good.

In short, I think the only dishes I wouldn't order again were the chili chicken (if that's what it was), which had dark, sticky-sweetish sauce, and the wontons in hot oil, which were not nearly as good as other versions I've had.

Enough food for six people (or maybe more!) came to $62 including tax.

Little Sichuan Express
34420-G Fremont Blvd. (in the 99Ranch Shopping Center -- it's easy to miss, both Melanie and I walked past it the first time)

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