To really enjoy the amazing diversity of Sichuan cooking, I suggest taking a trip to Chengdu, the fascinating and exciting capital of Sichuan. Although great Sichuan food can today be had in restaurants from Lhasa to Beijing, we recently sampled some offerings from the best chefs in Chengdu, and below briefly mention the names and phone numbers of the restaurants, as well as a few dishes that were really great.
The award-winning chef of Jin Jiang Chun (tel. 028-85155707, cell 13980064150) made us a banquet of 15 dishes, best of which were: cold rabbit in spicy peppery sauce, dumplings with a feathery-light crepe on top, spinach dan dan noodles, and a brilliant version of the familiar classic double-cooked pork. The chef claims he will soon open a branch in Lhasa. The cavernous dining room is unassuming, but also has great private dining rooms with mah-jongg tables.
Da Rong He, with two locations in Chengdu (tel. 028-87529378 and 028-85143232), has a noisy massive open dining room, all the better for spying on what your fellow diners are eating. Bone marrow is a favorite here, served with straw and plastic glove for fast sucking. Family-style tofu and braised beef with chili sauce were especially good, as were cold bean noodles with spicy peppery sauce. Vegetable dishes are rather bland.
Piao Xiang Restaurant (tel. 028-85531388), tucked away upstairs in the Yulin hotel, was reviewed by BBC's Fuchsia Dunlop in Gourmet magazine. The dining room is quiet, carpeted, tastefully decorated, and the service impeccable and very impressive. We ate three times here and all dishes were excellent. Their tea smoked duck and double-cooked pork with preserved vegetables were extraordinary.
Finally, if you miss some of the old-style street places from the hutongs and their narrow cul-de-sacs that have been torn down, check out the massive Carrefour supermarkets and sample their myriad dumplings and spicy baked goods. Their chili-dusted danish-like pastry with julienned preserved vegetables makes a great snack while shopping.
Two Tibetan places in Chengdu are worth mentioning:
Hidden up a flight of outdoor stairs, Chengdu's new Roman-holiday-themed shopping mall has an incredibly authentic Tibetan place with nice furnishings and both Sichuan and Tibetan dishes. The Tibetan name differs radically from the Chinese name, so just phone for directions (tel. 028-85109050, cell 13568857989).
Tang'gula, more of a nightclub than restaurant, has a great show that features traditional Tibetan songs as well as some Hindi hip-hop and Chinese numbers (sung by Tibetans!). Full bar. Don't miss this show, and do buy their video CDs, which are truly wild visual smorgasbords (tel. 028-83176638, cell 13678020827). http://www.jrtibet.com/